When Taran Richardson was in high school at Tindley Accelerated Schools, he developed an appropriate motto for himself: #NoSleepInMySchedule.
Richardson, who graduated this year, was a four-sport athlete at Tindley and put the motto on the back of his warm-ups for all of his sports: cross country, basketball, soccer and track.
He made the Dean's List his junior and senior years with a 3.7 GPA and graduated as salutatorian. That was while serving as class president all four years of high school, working a part-time job at Walmart and earning Eagle Scout honors.
"It's me essentially saying I'm gonna persevere and push through," Richardson said in an interview.
Now, Richardson is on his way to Howard University, one of 65 colleges he was accepted to, where he'll study astrophysics.
"You know how you want certain things for your child? For me, it's like, wow, it's really happening," Rita Richardson, his mother, said. "I'm so proud of him. He is an awesome, wonderful kid and has been since the day he was born."
A mother's praise doesn't mean Richardson followed a straight and easy path from birth to Howard, though. Rita didn't like the direction her son was going in middle school, when Richardson started looking at what his classmates had — a cell phone, more name brands — and began prioritizing material pursuits over his education. He even drew Nike symbols on his socks.
Education must come first, Rita would tell him, which is why Richardson enrolled at Tindley in seventh grade. He wasn't on board at first — he had to cut his dreadlocks and the
middle school was boys-only — but Rita told him he could meet girls at the YMCA.
Richardson said the education environment — Tindley's motto is "College or Die" — helped him change his mind. Plus, he was able to get the school to change its hair policy as class president his sophomore year.
Patrick Jones was the middle school principal when Richardson was there and became his mentor. Jones was the type of principal to call home when a student was just having a bad day — not necessarily a disciplinary thing — and that's how he came to appreciate how much respect Richardson has for his parents.
"He's just a genuinely good person from the first time you meet him," said Jones, who is now senior vice president of leadership and equity at The Mind Trust.
Those who know Richardson describe him as an unassuming leader who has no problem taking charge with his actions. When he was in middle school he helped younger Cub Scouts and was part of a leadership program.
Richardson was also involved with Stop the Violence Indianapolis, which empowers young people to take charge in public safety issues, and helped build a broadcast studio for the organization.
His accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom led to recognition from the Carlton S. and Jennie Chaney Microlearning Center — which is named after Richardson's great-grandfather and great-grandmother — and Emmanuel Connection Microlearning Centers during a virtual event July 25.
"Success is something that is never guaranteed," Richardson said during the event, "but just because it isn't guaranteed does not mean that it's unreachable."
What Richardson didn't know about the program celebrating his accomplishments was that he was also getting a college stipend from the Chaney Fund, which was started by his great-grandfather and is meant to help support the family's academic ambitions.
Richardson said he was appreciative of the gift and hopes to continue his great-grandfather's legacy while pursuing his degree and aiming for his dream job at NASA.
It's an honor to receive these types of recognitions, Richardson said, but that isn't the reason he works hard and lends a helping hand.
"It's what I feel is right," he said. "We should try to better ourselves and better our community with our actions. It should be a daily thing."
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick
Mmoja Ajabu was 19 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He was in the military at the time, in training in Missouri. He and the other Black soldiers in his base were relegated to a remote part of the base and told they would be shot if they attempted to leave as the white soldiers went out to "quell the rebellion in St. Louis," he said. "I started understanding at that point what the hell was going on," Ajabu said.
Now, over 50 years later, Ajabu sees little difference in the struggle for civil rights. Protests popped up all around the nation — including in Indianapolis — following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May. While chants of Floyd's name and "No justice, no peace" filled Monument Circle for several weeks, local activists will tell you the demonstrations weren't just for Floyd. For many, the viral video of Floyd's death was a painful reminder of deaths more close to home.
Dreasjon Reed. McHale Rose. Aaron Bailey. Michael Taylor.
These names — all Black men in Indianapolis who died either by police-action shootings or while in police custody — have been repeatedly brought up throughout the protests. Crowds calling for answers and justice for these men have been nonstop for months. From marches throughout downtown to early morning "No justice, no sleep" rallies outside the homes of Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police (IMPD) Chief Randal Taylor, those participating often remind one another that "this isn't a moment, this is a movement."
But, a movement needs leaders. Luckily, for the hordes of people who have been protesting, several young Indianapolis residents were more than willing to step up to the challenge.
NiSean Jones, 22, formed Black Out for Black Lives after she attended the first protest in Indianapolis following Floyd's death. She said she didn't want the demonstrations to be a "one-time thing," and was inspired to organize events to continue to shed light on civil rights issues.
Jones isn't surprised many local organizers are young adults. She knows what it's like to grow up in the age of social media, where hate crimes and injustices frequently go viral.
"A lot of the people who come to the protests are around our age, like 18 to 30," Jones said. "In our lives, we've witnessed horrific events that have happened between Black people and police, where George Zimmerman walked off scot-free [after killing Trayvon Martin], and those injustices we're seeing are only magnified due to social media. ... So, our generation knows what's morally wrong, and we're trying to change those things."
'The process is never beautiful'
Over the past several months in Indianapolis, demonstrators have been arrested, tear gassed and some beaten with batons just minutes past a curfew imposed by Hogsett.
Jones, who was tear gassed while demonstrating, said the experience taught her what she was fighting for.
"It was traumatizing," Jones said. "To see people bloodied up, crying and on the verge of passing out because they can't breath. ... But I felt like that was something I needed to witness, because it was something my ancestors went through. It was beautiful to see people in my community come together, but the process was ugly. The process is never beautiful, but the outcome is what's beautiful."
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana filed a lawsuit on behalf of Indy10 Black Lives Matter against IMPD for its use of tear gas on protesters.
Jessica Louise, an Indy10 representative, echoed Jones' argument that exposure to tear gas is traumatic, and took issue with IMPD's use of the chemical agent, especially in the midst of a pandemic which attacks the respiratory system.
IMPD officials claimed tear gas was used as a final resort after protesters began damaging the City-County Building on the evening of May 29. Protesters claim the damage done in the city that weekend occurred after IMPD deployed tear gas.
'You cannot change a system'
While protests throughout the city are ongoing, Jones hopes the demonstrations and the conversations they start inspire those who feel passionately about social justice to invoke change in other ways.
"Protesting is not all we have to do," Jones said. "You cannot change a system, you have to break it. To do that, you have to vote. You have to be active in your community."
At many demonstrations, there are designated tents to get people registered to vote, and organizers, including Mat Davis, who formed the Indiana Racial Justice Alliance, frequently reminds crowds of the importance of their voice and their vote.
At a June 13 event at Monument Circle, Davis brought City-County Council President Vop Osili to speak to the group.
"The way that we're able to fight, the way we're able to make change in our city is when you are behind us," Osili told the crowd. "When you say 'Get it done' and your voice is heard. ... What we need is your voices to continue. ... The only way that we will have true change, true transparency and the voices of our people is if you continue to speak, continue to shout and hold us accountable."
'Understand the enemy'
To truly make change and make one's vote count, however, Ajabu believes one must know what they're fighting against.
"You have to understand the enemy," Ajabu said, "and the enemy that they are fighting is tyranny. Tyranny is defined as the government being able to do something that a citizen can't, and not be held accountable for what they did."
To help organizers and activists better understand tyranny, Ajabu recommends signing up for an online course, led by Dr. Lasana Kazembe of Indiana University, that focuses on the history of tyranny throughout the world.
"I'm saying to the youngsters that they got to understand the makings of tyranny," Ajabu said. "As an OG, if I might use their language, I want to help. Become knowledgeable of what they're fighting for. You can't defeat an enemy of which you're not knowledgeable."
'Taking the steps to get free'
Ajabu has been fighting for the same cause since 1969: freedom.
Before going to college in the 1970s and becoming a commander in a local chapter of the Black Panther Party in the 1990s, Ajabu began questioning race relations in the United States while serving the country in Vietnam.
"In January of '69, the Vietnamese had loud speakers on the perimeter of our base, and they were asking Black soldiers why would we fight them when the country we were fighting for was fighting us," Ajabu said. " ... As a veteran who is a recipient of the second highest medal that the government gives a soldier — a Bronze star — I didn't earn that medal to come back here and be treated like this. ... We're tired of limited acceptance. We want to be free, and we're taking the steps to get free."
As a leader in IUPUI's Black Student Union (BSU) in the 70s, Ajabu was arrested for his activism. Today, IUPUI BSU president Sha-Nel Henderson is still advocating for Black students at IUPUI.
During a June 19 demonstration through the downtown campus, Henderson and other students were calling for reparations for the Black families displaced by the creation of IUPUI, courses looking critically at Black history and racism in Indianapolis, and a student center specifically for Black students.
As a group of roughly 45 IUPUI students marched through campus chanting "We're the change," it became evident that, in 50 years, not much has changed.
"Where IUPUI is built today, there once stood a strong Black community," Aahron Whitehead, a member of the Indiana Racial Justice Alliance, said. " ... We want IUPUI to basically repay the community for their actions."
'Elicit a change'
While Jones doesn't believe protesting is all that's needed to bring about change, she knows it helps.
"In order to elicit a change, you have to talk about it," Jones said. "Protests allow that."
Through Black Out for Black Lives, Jones doesn't just want to talk about police brutality. Systemic injustice, she says, goes much deeper than that.
"Every time I see a police officer behind me, my heart shouldn't drop to my stomach," Jones said. "I'm scared to have a baby. ... Black women have the highest mortality rate when it comes to delivering a baby. I shouldn't have to fear that."
Jones went on to discuss discrimination in corporate America, the prison system and economic disparities that sometimes lead to an increased crime rate.
"I come from Haughville; I come from poverty," Jones said. "I took one route, and a lot of people took a different one. I've seen friends who dealt [drugs] die due to the streets. We don't talk about how traumatic it is to be Black and young in America."
Jones wants to use her organization to educate Black children about the Black leaders they don't learn about in school to let them know their options are limitless.
Her end goal is the same as Ajabu's: not just limited acceptance for Black Americans, but freedom.
"America can't exist without people of African descent," Ajabu said. "... I would just like to say to the youngsters, don't despair. It ain't over. If we work together, we'll eventually be free."
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper
The alumni of John Hope School have many stories to tell about the teachers, the friends, the neighborhood that raised them from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Bill Gibson, from the class of 1958, remembers a teacher coming to his house one rainy evening in the fifth or sixth grade because he was acting up in her class. Gibson is hesitant to say he remembers something for certain, but the details from that night are clear: His mother was upset and embarrassed, and his siblings made fun of him for a month.
"Back in the day, parents did not want a preacher or teacher to come to the house to talk about their kids," he said.
Gibson, a 76-year-old retired information technology worker, looks back on that day fondly, though, because he came to learn his teacher would only take the time to do that if she really cared for her students.
Betty Glenn, from the class of 1953, can remember her music class walking the halls around Christmas time to sing carols. Classrooms would stay silent and leave their doors open as the class
walked in uniform and kept tempo.
"It was so mesmerizing," she said.
Glenn, 80, also enjoyed her home economics class, where she learned how to cook and make an apron.
"It means everything to me," she said of her time at John Hope. "Wonderful memories I'll take until the end."
This year is the 100th anniversary of John Hope School #26, which was off of west 16th Street on the south end of Martindale-Brightwood. Most students graduated to Arsenal Technical High School or Crispus Attucks High School.
The former John Hope building is now home to The Oaks Academy Middle School.
Alumni planned a reunion in June but had to cancel it because of COVID-19.
John Hope is where Ron Lovett, a 1971 graduate who helped organize the alumni event, met his best friend in sixth grade, when a boy named Rod Coffman moved to Indianapolis from Louisville.
"I'd do all his artwork and he'd get A's," Lovett said laughing.
He has some of the same memories as Gibson — teachers who took an interest in their students beyond the classroom. Lovett said he never got a house visit, but he had friends and cousins who did.
Lovett is part of an alumni group that meets regularly and said he hopes to be able to have a reunion next year.
"It's heritage," he said of John Hope. "It's a legacy school."
The oldest living alumnus of John Hope is 103-year-old Jimmie Luton, who lives just a couple of blocks from the old school. Luton was part of the class of 1932 and said music was always one of her favorite classes.
"It was just like being at home," she said. "The teachers were gonna make you obey just like mom and dad."
Luton went on to Crispus Attucks, where she graduated in in 1936, and worked in box offices at various Indianapolis theaters, including Walker Theater Company, before going into a factory job and later becoming a beautician.
Back in her day at John Hope, the teachers were free to use the paddle on students who misbehaved, an education experience Luton is nostalgic of (though she said she never met the fate).
"It just breaks my heart because they're not like they used to be," she said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick
Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) could change course and go to e-learning for all students instead of giving students the option of virtual learning or going to a building.
The IPS Board of School Commissioners will vote whether to begin the 2020-21 school year remotely at the next board meeting July 30. Students and staff were set to return to the classroom Aug. 17. It is unknown at this time if that date will change.
If the recommendation is approved, IPS students will continue e-learning until at least October, in hopes that COVID-19 cases in Marion County will have decreased by that time.
In a press conference earlier this month, IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said school administration were flexible with reopening plans, and she didn't want to have a "blanket response that we would put into place."
This story is ongoing, and will be updated online at indianapolisrecorder.com.
All Doris Fields knew about her father was he was Jamaican — and he wasn't present in her life.
With Fields' mother unwilling to talk about him, she was left in the dark. She joined the Indiana African American Genealogy Group (IAAGG)
shortly after its formation in 1999 with an interest in tracing her roots.
"I did a DNA test in 2011, and put it on Ancestry.com," she said. "I was getting hits, you know, but only third and fourth cousins."
Without her father's correct name and lacking additional information, she didn't have enough to connect the dots. Years later, however, she finally had a breakthrough that changed her life forever.
"I got a note in February of 2019 from someone who claimed to be my half sibling. When I saw it, I thought, 'Oh my God. This is big,'" Fields said. "I called Charles Barker, president of IAAGG, to tell him about what I'd found. He said, 'Girl, you done found your daddy.'"
Since then, she's visited her half siblings who live in London. To her relief, they accepted her with open arms.
Like Fields, Charles Vaughn, vice president of IAAGG, felt that the organization was a helping hand in discovering his long-lost family members.
Retiring after 41 years in the corporate world, he joined IAAGG in 2018. He decided it was time to pursue the genealogy journey he'd always wanted to embark on.
"My two brothers and I were raised by our mom. I really didn't know my dad, or his family at all," Vaughn said.
After conducting extensive research, he was able to organize the first-ever Vaughn family reunion in the summer of 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. He described the family get-together as extremely rewarding.
The way Vaughn sees it, he couldn't have done it without the support of IAAGG. To date, the organization has 110 members, but he predicts that number will rise to over 150 before the end of the year.
"Many of our members are resources themselves, and experts in genealogy," he said. "We have monthly meetings where we discuss various topics that relate to genealogy."
Nichelle M. Hayes, one of IAAGG's genealogy experts, said the initial research process is no easy feat. In fact, she's been on her research journey for over 25 years.
"A lot of your research becomes 'I don't know this' or 'I can't find that.' And then you spend years trying to find the answer to that question," she noted.
Hayes, who never knew much about her paternal side of the family, came to some tough realizations after her father died.
"I didn't know the exact day of my grandmother's death, nor did I know where she died or was buried," said Hayes. "That literally probably took me 20 years to figure that out."
Although many don't know where to start retracing their history, Hayes has a simple piece of advice: Start with yourself and then expand outwards.
"Write down all the info that you know about yourself. Then write what you know about your parents, grandparents and so on," she added. "Don't be that ancestor that can't be found in 72 years when they crack open this year's 2020 census."
Contact newsroom intern Mikaili Azziz at 317-924-5143. Follow her on Twitter @mikailiazziz
The Indiana African American Genealogy Group (IAAGG) will host a virtual conference.
What: Helping You Tell Your Family's Story
When: Sept. 19
Where: Online. Register at iaagg.org For more information, or to start your genealogy journey, visit iaagg.org.