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Database preserves Indianapolis' Muslim history

The internet is permanent. Future generations will have access to what modern-day people post, making the internet an important resource for studying history. Last month IUPUI took advantage of the internet's permanence by publishing the Indianapolis Imam Warith Deen Muhammad Community Collection, a free database preserving mementos of Indianapolis'

as banquet books that are 15 to 20 pages long.

"I have a longstanding relationship with this community, and together we sat down, and we talked about making the historical sources of the study of their lives available to the whole world, and they were excited about it," Curtis said.

From May 2018 to June 2019 Curtis and IUPUI University Library collaborated with Saahir and the local Muslim community to collect artifacts. Sometimes community members gave items to Saahir or Curtis, and other times Saahir hosted donation drives at a local mosque. Then library employees scanned the items, entered them into the database and returned them to their owners. Jennifer Johnson, digital scholarship outreach librarian and interim co-director for the center for digital scholarship at the library, said because local members of the Muslim community chose what items to contribute, they were the curators of their own collection

"IUPUI University Library has been working with community and cultural heritage institutions since 2006," Johnson said. "Since IUPUI is a fairly young university, we don't have a lot of stuff, so we coined the term, 'We have the technology, and they have the stuff.'"

Curtis said the collection's coolest item is a 3D scan of a Fruit of Islam jacket, which signified membership in the paramilitary branch of the Nation of Islam, from the 1970s. The scan allows viewers to see every inch of the jacket's inside and outside from the creases to the crescent moon and star patches on the shoulders.

Getting the jacket was initially difficult. Saahir said the jacket's owner was hesitant to lend it because he, like others in the local Muslim community, feel outsiders control the story of Muslims in America more than they do. The owner worried IUPUI would take control of the narrative of Muslims in Indianapolis away from Muslims in Indianapolis.

Saahir changed the man's mind when he showed him how IUPUI ran the database. Not only did staff promptly return donations but they also consulted with the community on how to describe each item. Saahir said this convinced many people, including the jacket's owner, to trust IUPUI.

"For the Muslim community one of the biggest beauties of this project was IUPUI did not dictate to us what could and what could not be included, how it would be described or even the key search words," Saahir said. "So often one of the biggest fears of smaller groups and minority groups is the bigger society depicts and describes them. We had none of that here."

Curtis said the database will be an important historical record both for Muslims in Indianapolis and scholars studying the history of Islam in America, but he's also excited for people who are not Muslim or scholars to use the database. He believes as people see the obituaries, letters and photos of celebrations they will learn that American Muslims are regular people.

"One of the first things that viewers would notice is just how important men, women and children are to the life of the community and just how beautifully mundane the family relationships are," Curtis said. "They will see the community celebrating. They will see community members learning together and mourning together. It establishes this Muslim congregation as part and parcel of Hoosier life."

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

Donate to the database

The deadline to provide mementos to the Indianapolis Imam Warith Deen Muhammad Community Collection has passed. However, IUPUI is open to accepting late submissions depending on the item. Those wishing to add to the collection can do so by contacting Michael Saahir at for approval. Once approved, the donation will be included in the database.

Check out the archive

View all 1,336 entries in IUPUI's Indianapolis Imam Warith Deen Muhammad Community collection at

Muslim community. "We are capturing information that otherwise would just go to the dust," Michael Saahir, Imam of Nur-Allah Islamic Center, said.

Dr. Edward Curtis, professor of religious studies at IUPUI, got the idea for the collection from the trend of academic institutions creating online databases that are free and open to everyone. He believed such a collection could preserve the nearly 100-year history of Muslims in Indianapolis, so Curtis successfully pitched the idea to IUPUI. The collection currently has 1,336 entries, including letters, photographs and 3D scans of clothing, with some entries such

New leadership tries to recharge Martin University Alumni Association

Dorothy Herron was shocked when she went to an alumni event for Martin University in 2016, where an alumnus was receiving an award. There were about a dozen people there.

"Where is everybody?" she asked.

Herron learned getting 12 people out to an alumni event was actually considered a success. It was apparent then that the alumni base was disconnected, and that can be especially harmful for an institution like Martin University that caters to underserved communities. Alumni are the ones who made it, and they're supposed to give back. "I realized I hadn't done my part," she said. "… Martin had been so good to me. It changed my life."

Three years later, Herron, a 2006 graduate, is about to become president of the alumni association. She and other officers took their pledges Aug. 24 at the school and will start their new roles Sept. 1.

Herron believes at least part of the reason the alumni association hasn't been very strong in the past is because the institution serves mostly nontraditional students who have jobs and families.

"We got our degree, we just went off into the wild blue yonder," she said. "… I didn't understand that once I graduated I needed to make it my business to give back to this


New alumni officers have various goals — get local businesses and churches involved, help graduates find jobs, etc. — but there's a common theme: The alumni base needs to be more active in helping Martin University and its students.

"We care about the community," said Loraine Morris, second vice president. "We love Martin University."

Morris said one of her priorities is to help Martin increase its enrollment numbers. The university did not provide exact enrollment, but spokesperson Lauren Hurse said enrollment has been between 300 and 400 students for "the past several academic years."

There's also the legacy of Father Boniface Hardin, who founded Martin University in 1977. Hardin wanted to create an institution that would serve low-income minority students. That's what Martin has done, but Herron and other officers want to make sure Hardin's legacy is still honored.

"We want to add on to that mission," Herron said. "And one thing he represented more than anything was love and caring."

Officers aren't yet sure what exact financial situation they're walking into, but they know there isn't much money.

Ann Pimpton, secretary, said a fully functioning alumni association should be an "ambassador" for the university, acting as a "bridge" between students and the community. Meeting that goal will take money, and the strategic plan includes hosting events over their two-year terms to raise more funds. They also hope to get support from other community organizations.

Herron said she wants everyone who's part of the association to be "turning the wheel in the same direction." "I believe if we're all on board working together with the mission in mind, we can pull where there's unity."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis has more challenges before giving

It's been a little more than four months since Central Indiana Community Foundation unveiled its five-year strategic plan for Marion County and announced it would partner with the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis to dismantle racism. It was a boon for the philanthropic initiative, made up of volunteers, letting the steering committee move ahead with fundraising and start making plans for how they'll use the money.

August is Black Philanthropy Month, a time to recognize the role of Black philanthropists and quiz their future.

A new set of challenges await the Legacy Fund, which will educate community members about issues facing the local African American community and develop civic leaders. The fund will include a giving circle, where donors go through a year of education on issues in the community and decide where they want their money to go. It will also have an endowed fund, which leaders want to get to $10 million in 10 years.

Eight steering committee members and 100 founding members need to decide where they're going to put that money. Similar funds have a focus on specific issues, but that's not what this Legacy Fund will be.

In the months leading up the formation of the Legacy Fund, Kiahna Davis, a steering committee member, estimated there were three similar groups forming around the same time. They came together in late 2018.

Roderick Wheeler, the first founding member and a member of the steering committee, said passion is what brought everyone to the

table, but it's going to take more formal structures, including various committees, to guide their giving.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," he said.

Once the Legacy Fund has its 100 founding members in place by Nov. 1, they'll begin the process of building leadership teams and committees, which Wheeler hopes will make it easier to determine their priorities.

"I think all eight of the steering committee members have a different focus, but that's what makes us unique," said Tavonna Harris Askew, a steering committee member. "It's probably really wonderful because we have eight different ideas in eight different focus areas."

There will be a constant point of unity, though: A philanthropic initiative with African American leadership should be in the best position to help African Americans and educate other organizations about how they can do the same.

"Traditional philanthropy, they don't understand some of the organizational mechanisms that the Black community uses that I think an all-African American board understands," Davis said, adding that "traditional philanthropy" is influenced by wealth and usually led by white people.

There are organizations out there — sororities, churches, etc. — that traditional philanthropic initiatives often overlook because leadership doesn't recognize the importance of those institutions for African Americans. Or they don't know how to get involved.

"When you look at things in our communities today," Askew said, "there are 10,000 problems, and at some point someone has to prioritize the problems. What I think is important may not be what you think is important. There are issues that are prevalent in the African American community that we think are important that should be in the top 10."

As of Aug. 23, the Legacy Fund had $185,000 in pledges. Founding members — which can include families — contribute $2,000 and can make payments, as long as everything is in by Nov. 1. Central Indiana Community Foundation will match $100,000.

Davis said 100 founding members have made at least a partial payment, and the steering committee will discuss whether to open that up to more people.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Be ever vigilant against cyberattacks — even at work

Hackers target more than politicians, CEOs and celebrities. Like many businesses, Recorder employees recently received scam messages. The email included an attachment aimed to infect computers with malware. Thankfully, no one opened the attachment and the computers were unharmed, but it served as a reminder that cyberattacks are a part of everyday life.

Phone calls and emails are common tools for hackers to trick people into giving away important information such as usernames and passwords or financial information. They might call an elderly person pretending to be a tech support professional who needs access to the computer, impersonate a boss who needs an employee to transfer funds or send a malware-ridden email claiming the recipient won a prize. Therefore, it's best to confirm the identity of people contacting you through unfamiliar emails or phone numbers. For example, if someone calls you from Microsoft, hang up and call a different Microsoft number to confirm the first caller's identity. Also exercise caution when people you don't recognize promise something over phone or email.

"If I get an attachment out of the blue from someone I never communicated with that's promising me something

that's too good to be true, I would absolutely not open that," John Davidson, program coordinator for cyber intrusion at the FBI Indianapolis field office, said. "I would delete that immediately out of the system."

Davidson also recommended people be careful of unfamiliar or new websites because those sites can inject computers with viruses and malware. Tools built into web browsers are a good way to identify risky websites. For example, some browsers feature a green lock icon to signify safe websites and a caution sign to signify risky ones.

Kevin Mabry, owner of cybersecurity company Sentree Systems, said the best defense against cybercrime is education because people do not fall for scams they recognize. There are free resources such as to learn about cybersecurity. In addition, Mabry said employers should offer continual cyber-security training to employees because hackers' methods change so quickly that some cyber-security measures can quickly become outdated. In addition to quarterly seminars, Mabry provides his clients weekly "micro-training" in two-to three-minute-long videos about cyber-security. "Some states are forcing companies to offer cyber-security training," Mabry said. "It's getting crazy. You need to know what's going on because cybercrime is not going to get any better."

Mabry emphasized that large corporations are not the only employers who should offer cyber-security training. He said small businesses with 500 employees or less are more likely to be targets of hacking because such organizations are more common than large corporations and typically have little to no cyber-security. Hackers usually target small businesses with ransomware, a program that locks people out of their systems until they pay a ransom, or steal information regarding the businesses' important clients or associates in order to attack them as well.

"Think of it this way," Mabry said. "If you are a fisherman and there's a small pond, and in that small pond you can barely see the water because there's so many small fish in there, would you rather go there or a sea?"

If you are the victim of a cyberattack, Davidson recommends immediately calling the FBI. The bureau will not kick down doors and confiscate computers like in the movies. Instead, agents will talk with the victim to learn about their technology to discover how the hacker breached the system and what was done so they can track down the culprit.

"In an incident response capacity, we will be looking to work in partnership with the victim," Davidson said. "Because the victim knows their network and infrastructure much better than we do, and we need to understand the abnormalities they are seeing."

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

Learn about cybersecurity

The following are free resources with educational tools about cybercrime.

United States Department of Justice:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation:

Indiana Cybersecurity Hub: