Approximately 100 people attended the “Black Lives Matter in Culver: Focus on Education” community outreach event conducted at the Culver Town Park on Friday, July 10. The program featured speakers who talked about growing up Black in Culver, blessings and an invocation from local clergy, and other educational activities aimed at enacting anti-racism in participants’ daily lives.
Attendees also received a historical perspective on Culver’s Black community; and heard a letter from Culver resident Charles “Mick” Henley, who is a cousin of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who, in 1955, was lynched while visiting family in Mississippi.
The informational session also provided answers to frequently asked questions regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, systematic racism, and the removal of confederate statues. The evening ended with people hearing tips on how they can become an ally of the anti-racist movement and were encouraged to continue talking about what they can do.
The program included 21 people from the community, including faculty, staff, and students from Culver Academies who partnered with CCHS alums, Culver community members, and local clergy Rev. Lynn Young of the Grace United Church of Christ and Bishop Douglas Sparks of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana. Jessica Harding (Diversity and Intercultural Life), Evan Dutmer (World Languages and Culture and Leadership), and Angela Osterman Meyer (Science) co-organized and facilitated the event, while Shalena Eaton (CGA Counselor), Oliver Eaton (Humanities), Aaron Bardo (World Languages and Cultures), Ingrid Dehler-Seter (Fine Arts), Lou Canelli (Humanities), Don Fox ’75 (Leadership), Rev. Sam Boys (Spiritual Life), and Nathaniel King (CMA Counselor) all had prominent program roles.
Brianna Kinyanjui, who graduated from Culver Community High School in 2017 and will be a senior at Saint Mary’s College at Notre Dame, said she has only faced overt racism once: as a nine-year-old when she got into an argument with another student on the bus ride home. That student called her the N-word out of anger, but it has affected her ever since.
But the “micro-aggressions” she has faced have also impacted her as well. People will tell her “they don’t see color,” yet they tell her how articulate she is and how she “acted white.” And, while they say they “don’t mean anything by it,” she said, it shows their racial ignorance.
Kinyanjui said she doesn’t regret growing up in Culver, but that she wants to see her town “get better” and become more empathic to all people of color. Having these uncomfortable conversations now will help move people from “not seeing color” to being anti-racist.
Joseph Asad Lee ’03 (top photo), who was raised in Culver and now resides in South Bend, told how he was given a script while selling cars in San Diego that instructed salesmen how to direct the conversation based on the individual’s race and/or ethnicity. The stress of following that script made him physically ill and he eventually left his job even though he was making a very good income, he said.
When he returned home, he went into road construction. He faced micro-aggressive behavior from his co-workers, but he was eventually promoted to be manager’s assistant, he said. One day, his boss called him in and apologized for assuming “certain things about you.” That is when he realized this man had “critically examined” his personal beliefs and changed. It was a powerful moment in their relationship, he added.
“Let’s be color-aware. Let’s be color-brave,” Lee said. When we demand that of ourselves, that will “let us be anti-racist.”
Jacinta Ndubuisi-Obi ’23 talked about the systematic racism that has occurred in America for more than four centuries. And racial injustice doesn’t just impact Black people, she said, but indigenous people, and other people of color. She quoted former President Barack Obama, who talked about everyone being brave enough to work on closing the gap between “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be.”
Alyssa Kinyanjui shared a letter from long-time Culver resident Charles “Mick” Henley, who wrote about man’s inhumanity to man and asked, “When will it ever end?”
Henley wrote about how much pain the death of his cousin, Emmett Till, had caused his entire family. “As an only child, his mother would never see her son married with a family of his own. This has lived with me and my family forever,” he wrote. “You never forget injustice.”
Henley added that he hopes sharing his story will help enhance empathy, compassion, and awareness. And he hopes to see the day that everyone can live as brothers and sisters.
Culver Academies counselor and coach Nathaniel King told people it is important to remember “what lens you see through.” That quote comes from international cricket player Michael Holding, who is Black. That is why it is important for education to be more inclusive. History is not complete without including the contributions of Black people.
King noted the invention of the light bulb. While Thomas Edison is credited with creating the light bulb, it was Black inventor Lewis Howard Latimer who developed the carbon filament, which made the light bulb last longer. Most Americans know Edison’s name, but few are familiar with the life and work of Latimer.
King said his parents immigrated to England from Jamaica, so he is a first-generation Englishman. His children are first-generation Americans and his wife is originally from Bulgaria. With such a mix of cultures, King said it is important to his family that the children are introduced to and “embrace the differences” each provides.
Parents are the “ultimate role models,” he said, and he asked everyone to look at “what are you doing in your home.”
Historian Jeff Kenney said the history of Culver, Culver Academies and the Black community goes back to when CMA combined with the Missouri Military Academy. The support staff came with Col. Alexander Fleet and became the first wave of a permanent Black residents between 1896 and 1899.
Highlights include Culver having the first integrated basketball team in the state in 1922; the establishment of the Rollins Chapel in 1912 and the church officially joining the African Methodist Episcopal Conference in 1917. Also, Charles Dickerson led the wait staff and Roy “Sheep” Scott was the head custodian at CMA for many years, he said, and Thelma Scott graduating from Howard University is another highlight.
Kenney also described a community tragedy took place in the 1940s which some folks in the area still remember. Four black children went through the ice on Lake Maxinkuckee and died. Reading the newspaper accounts and hearing white residents speak of it again reveals a somewhat surprisingly strong sense of shared grief and pain.
Action items included Franchesca Ramsey’s five things people can do to become an anti-racist ally, which also answered some frequently asked questions about Black Lives Matter. The program ended with an exhortation to attendees to think and talk with each other about what they will do to combat racism and actively support Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color (BIPOC).