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A case of David meets Goliath on the gridiron

When Jackson State University and Kentucky State University meet at this year's Circle City Classic Sept. 28, it will be a metaphorical David and Goliath matchup as Division II Kentucky State takes on the much larger Division I Jackson State.

However, true fans know the Circle City Classic is not just another football game. Between the pageantry and excited alumni who attend, the Circle City Classic is a celebration of HBCUs.

"Those institutions have been educating our people, African Americans more specifically, for over 100 years," Darryl Peal, managing director of external engagement and strategic partnerships at the NCAA, said. "They are part of the very foundation and the success of African American professionals and intellectuals."

Jackson State University

The American Baptist Home Mission Society founded Jackson State University in 1877. Back then the school's name was Natchez Seminary, and it was located in Natchez, Mississippi. The goal was to provide newly freed slaves from Mississippi and neighboring states with a religious education. The school moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 1882 and became Jackson State College in 1899. Jackson State College changed its name to Jackson State University in 1979. Today Jackson State is a state-sponsored public university with a mission of training diverse leaders.

With almost 10,000 students, Jackson State is not only a Division I school but also Mississippi's fourth largest college. NFL Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Robert Brazile are part of the university's proud football history. Jackson State previously competed in four Circle City Classics — the last appearance a loss to Florida A&M University in 2003. John Hendrick, head football coach at Jackson State, believes the Classic is a good way to give his players a new experience.

"Over half our team has never flown on a plane before," Hendrick said. "... It's big for them to have an opportunity to see things they haven't seen, go places they haven't been and compete in a football game in a pro football

Kentucky State University

Kentucky State University has its roots in an 1885 conference of Kentucky political leaders. They discussed ways to improve the state and decided it needed an institution to train African American teachers. In 1887, The State Normal School for Colored Persons opened with three teachers and 55 students in Frankfort. Like Jackson State, the university underwent a few name changes before becoming Kentucky State University. The name changed to Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute for Colored Persons in 1902; Kentucky State Industrial College for Colored Persons in 1926; Kentucky State College for Negroes in 1938; and Kentucky State in 1952. Today the school has 135 full-time faculty members and 55 undergraduate degrees ranging from computer science to mass communication and is a Division II School with just under 2,000 students. It might be smaller than Jackson State, but Kentucky State's win over Robert Morris University, a non-HBCU Division I private university, earlier this season proves it can compete against larger opponents. In addition, Kentucky State is no stranger to the Classic. It competed in five Circle City Classics — 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 — beating Central State University each time.

"Our guys know they have an opportunity in front of them to do something that Kentucky State has never done in the history of the university, and that is to defeat two Division I teams in one year," Charlie Jackson, head football coach at Kentucky State, said.

Celebrating the culture

Before the game there will be celebrations of HBCU history and culture. First, the NCAA will reveal a new HBCU exhibit in its headquarters at the NCAA Classic Coaches Luncheon Sept. 27. Before the game, there will be a parade with floats, marching bands and celebrities including Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams. Korey Wise, one of the Exonerated Five, will be the grand marshal.

During halftime Jackson State and Kentucky State will face off in another competition: the Circle City Classic Battle of the Bands. ESPN's official HBCU band rankings lists Jackson State as number one among all Division I HBCUs, and Kentucky State is a finalist in HBCU Digest's yet to be decided 2019 Best Marching Band Reward. With two acclaimed bands going head to head, many fans are looking forward to the musical performances as much as the football game.

"You can't listen to a HBCU band and not want to move and get up," Tracey Bush, a Kentucky State alumni said. "A HBCU band is incomparable. The excitement of the band is just as exciting as the football game."

For alumni, the Classic is also a chance to reconnect with old friends they haven't seen since college. For example, Kentucky State alumni will host several get togethers at The Alexander hotel, and Jackson State alumni will attend a tailgate at Lucas Oil Stadium before the game.

"Come out and experience the HBCU love," Bush said. "At the end of the day no matter which team wins, it's still all about HBCU love."

The Circle City Classic is an important event for future students as well as past students. There are more HBCUs in the South than the Midwest, so Joseph Phillips, a Jackson State alumni, said many local prospective students don't think about HBCUs as an option for college. The Circle City Classic exposes youth to HBCU culture and can encourage them to attend one. The event also raises money for students to attend HBCUs.

"Seeing the band, watching the team play and seeing the atmosphere of how former students and alumni have come together at this particular game, it will cause them to want to find out more about the institution and also find out who the alumni in this area are," Phillips said.

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


Van Jones to keynote poverty conversation

Van Jones, a political commentator and former special advisor to President Barack Obama, will be the keynote speaker for "Uncomfortable Truths; Healing Impact," an event organized by the Faith and Action Project, 7-9 p.m. Oct. 1 at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University, 4602 Sunset Ave.

The event is free, but tickets are required. Visit the Clowes box office or go to butlerartscenter.org. There's a limit of two tickets.

Jones, a CNN contributor and host of "The Van Jones Show," has weighed in on many social issues including mass incarceration and racism, but his Oct. 1 speech will deal with poverty and his experience working with people to create economic opportunities.

Following his speech, Jones will participate in a conversation with Eastern Star Church Senior Pastor Jeffrey Johnson Sr., Dennis Bland from the Center for Leadership Development and Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana Vice President Betsy Delgado.


Gun violence is a public health crisis — treat it that way, advocates say

Communities should look at gun violence through the lens of public health, not the criminal justice system, Marcus McAllister and other panelists argued Sept. 19 at the sixth annual Patachou Foundation Speakers Forum at Newfields.

McAllister is an international trainer for Cure Violence Global, formerly CeaseFire. He was the keynote speaker and told those in attendance about how the Cure Violence model — which uses violence interrupters who have a natural connection to the communities they're working in — saved his life and is helping reduce violence

in the neighborhoods where the model is deployed.

"Can you imagine the police going into the neighborhood asking, 'Anybody been disrespected?'" he laughed.

Gun violence is like a disease, he said. If someone close to you has a cold and sneezes, there's a chance you'll catch that cold. It's the same thing with gun violence: If that's what you see happening around you, you're more likely to replicate that behavior.

Shonna Majors, director of community violence reduction for the city of Indianapolis, and Lisa Harris, CEO and medical director at Eskenazi Health, joined McAllister to answer questions about what their respective agencies are doing to stop gun violence and how they're approaching the issue as a public health crisis.

Harris pointed out that food insecurity is a stronger predictor of many diseases, including gun violence, than even poverty. That's because growing up without reliable access to healthy food can affect brain development, which can eventually have a negative impact on social relationships and mental health.

Harris said at one time about 30% of people who went to the Eskenazi trauma unit with a gunshot wound were back for the same thing within two years. That's down to less than 5% today, she said.

That dip could be in part thanks to Majors, who has used real neighborhood people — as opposed to government bureaucrats or the police — to interrupt violence.

Majors said it "made my skin crawl" to work with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and city government officials when she started a little over a year ago because she understood those weren't the people neighborhoods would respond to. So she added those natural mediators — called Peacemakers — to do a lot of the groundwork.

Majors was accidentally shot in the back when she was 16 years old, and the bullet is still next to her spine.

"That was the only time in my life I was happy to be thick," she joked, "because the doctor said if I wasn't, I would be dead."

McAllister said he experienced the trauma of gun violence when he and his brother had to go to the police station when was 9 years old. He learned he was one of the last people to see his father's friend, an "uncle figure," before he was murdered.

All three said the most important thing for people to do now is talk to elected officials and give them ideas about how to end gun violence. They said it's also important to hold people like them accountable.

"Locally and across the country," Harris said, "this needs to be an issue that's top of mind because this is an issue that's becoming existential."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


Children's Museum demolition hits a brick wall

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission voted in early September to declare the vacant rake Apartments building on the near north side as historically significant, a move that, if ratified, ill protect what used to be a luxury apartment complex.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, which owns the building, kickstarted this process when it announced plans to demolish the building and temporarily turn the property into a surface parking lot before deciding what to do in the long term.

Eight of the nine members on the commission voted to add emergency protection to the building, which has been vacant for nearly three years. One member abstained from the vote.

Bill Browne, president of the commission, did not respond to requests for comment.

Brian Statz, vice president of operations at the museum, said the commission's vote to protect the building was "not unexpected." Before making plans to demolish, museum leadership worked with Indiana Landmarks, a nonprofit that helps save and revitalize historic places, to find something to do with the building.

The children's museum didn't want to take on the cost — estimated in the millions — to make the necessary renovations to the building. Between that building and another vacant building next to it that used to be a Salvation Army — which the museum could still demolish — the museum pays

about $200,000 a year in taxes, utilities, insurance and maintenance.

The museum instead sent out a request for proposals to hotel operators. One company made a proposal, Statz said, but the company didn't answer follow up questions and the museum had doubts about its finances.

The request process was confidential, and Statz declined to provide details about the request or offer.

Even if it's just temporary, the museum would have to grapple with the optics of making a surface level parking lot right next to the newly opened Red Line. Looking ahead, Statz said one possibility for permanent use of the land with the old Salvation Army on it is expanding the outdoor Sports Legends Experience.

The Metropolitan Development Commission will have to ratify the vote to give protection to the Drake Apartments building. That's expected to happen within the next couple of months. There will also be a public hearing.

Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, said he was "disappointed" to learn of the museum's plans to demolish the building.

"But we also feel there are some stones left unturned in looking for a solution or alternative to demolition," he said. "I don't believe all options are exhausted."

One of those options includes the city stepping in to provide economic incentives tax abatement, for example — to a developer willing to take on the project of restoring the building.

Andrea Watts, a spokesperson for the Department of Metropolitan Development, confirmed the city could offer economic incentives to a developer and said the department has met with the museum.

The museum could also simply sell the property, and the protection would carry

"The city is within its rights to do what it's done," Statz said. "We're hoping to work out an arrangement that's a win-win for the city and the community."

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


Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative and The Mind Trust join forces
The new education partnership to positively impact east side community

Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative, with its large cultural footprint and mammoth presence over the religious landscape of Indianapolis, will eventually have two new public schools in the traditionally underserved area where the church's main campus is located on Indianapolis' east side. The Mind Trust, a local education nonprofit, is working with the church on this effort.

Rooted School Indy, part of a charter network, will open a high school at the church, and Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative is working with The Mind Trust to launch a middle school for seventh and eighth graders. The targeted launch dates for those schools are 2020 and potentially 2022, respectively. As a charter school, Rooted School Indy has a charter approved by the Mayor's Office of Education Innovation. The middle schools has components that still need to be finalized such as establishing a name and identifying a leader. It's also too early to know the exact structure of the middle school.

The schools will represent an expansion of The ROCK Initiative's education component. Eastern Star developed the initiative as a way to help the community in areas such as financial literacy and housing. The church already has a deep relationship with Arlington Woods Elementary School #99, which is located directly across the street from the church. Components of that partnership include Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative providing school uniforms, technology and summer meal programs.

About Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative

Eastern Star Church The ROCK Initiative works to improve the quality of life in the 46218 community by:

• Building a sense of community by the people who live and work in the neighborhood.

• Enhancing the range of housing options available within a one-mile radius of Eastern Star Church.

• Growing the overall financial security of residents living in the neighborhoods.

• Enhancing both formal and informal educational opportunities available for neighborhood residents.

About The Mind Trust

The Mind Trust believes that every student in Indianapolis, no exceptions, deserve access to a high-quality, world-class education. The organization works toward this goal by:

• Engaging civic leaders, families, and communities to build support for changes that give every student equitable opportunities to attend a great school.

• Providing talented educators with the time, expertise and supports to design and launch new schools in Indianapolis.

• Recruiting talent and providing schools with the individualized supports they need to attain and sustain high-quality outcomes for every student.

"We don't believe that you can enhance a community and not have some kind of educational thrust to that," said Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star.

According to IndyVitals, which measures demographic data at the neighborhood level, the Arlington Woods area has a poverty rate of 39%, about 14% higher than the greater metropolitan area. About 45% of students were enrolled in a public school rated A or B by the state in 2018, slightly lower than Marion County as a whole.

Eastern Star Church has a conference center with enough space for Rooted School Indy, which will start with a ninth grade class and add a grade level each year. The school is part of New Orleans-based Rooted Schools. The successful model of Rooted is why it won the Charter School Design Challenge and why supporters believe it will be successful.

"Rooted's success has the potential to transform an entire community by supplying homegrown talent to our region's fastest-growing companies, raising the median income and improving the quality of life for students and their families," said Rooted School Indy's leader, Ma'at Lands, who grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and graduated from North Central High School.

Johnson said Rooted School Indy could take up the entire space available in the conference center and the church would be willing to invest in a stand-alone building for the middle school.

"We're willing to make whatever investments we have to make in order to make it happen," he said.

Eastern Star Church is working with The Mind Trust to launch the school. The Mind Trust will recruit a school leader who will go through the organization's nationally-recognized fellowship program. The fellow will receive extensive training and support in developing a model and launching the school.

"We're not sure who the school leader is going to be," said Brandon Brown, CEO of The Mind Trust, "but we're going to do this in partnership with Eastern Star and make sure that we are helping to find a highly qualified leader that shares the neighborhood's values and that hopefully looks like the kids they're going to be serving."

When the launch process comes to an end and all schools are open, students and families on the city's east side will have access to high-quality education options from pre-K through 12th grade. Students could go to Arlington Woods — which has applied to become an Innovation Network School, meaning it will have the independence of a charter school but Indianapolis Public Schools gets credit for academic outcomes — and then advance to a middle school and high school in close proximity.

There are some examples around the country of churches starting schools and working with charter networks. Public schools can teach religion courses, but it is illegal for those schools to have a religious influence over students. With two schools set to be on or near Eastern Star's campus, Johnson said the church will not try to sway those students when it comes to religion.

"We're citizens of Indianapolis," he said. "Because we've accepted Jesus Christ as our personal savior doesn't mean we're no longer citizens. Our faith pushes us to operate a community."