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Bloomington program aims to teach boys leadership skills

November 14, 2018

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — On a recent Thursday, about a dozen boys from Fairview Elementary stood in the school cafeteria and recited the following words:

“We, the young men of the Krimson Leadership Academy, hold ourselves to higher standards and never settle for less,” they said. “We, the young men of the Krimson Leadership Academy, will lead by example and stand for what is right.”

They kept going through the remaining principles, saying they would exceed expectations and overcome stereotypes, create their own opportunities and understand that their words have power.

One after another, they recited their weekly affirmation: “I am a leader, and I will be successful.”

The Krimson Leadership Academy is a 10-week leadership training and identity development program for young men of color in fourth through sixth grade at Fairview Elementary School in Bloomington.

They work on positive affirmations and being confident in who they are.

Brian Richardson is the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He created the program, based on a mentorship program he ran for college students in Ohio three years ago.

When he and his wife moved to Bloomington, he decided to bring the program to Fairview.

“I was really saddened to hear how some people spoke about Fairview,” Richardson said. As the school with the highest concentration of children living in poverty, some people made unfair assumptions about Fairview. “The information I would hear were things I would hear about my own school when I was a kid. People are placing limitations on the school, limiting the ability of the kids who go to the school, and the parents, and the administrators. And that’s not fair.”

Former principal Justin Hunter connected him with Whitney Thomas, the school’s Family Advocate and Volunteer Coordinator. They helped Richardson bring the program to the school and continued to help after they left for different jobs.

During the 10-week course, Richardson talks to students about character traits and principles of good leaders. He brings in community leaders, men of color such as members of the Commission on the Status of Black Males. Robert Morgan, Fairview’s family advocate and volunteer coordinator, often helps with the program, and his son is a participant.

Richardson brings in members of IU’s Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity to teach the kids how to put on ties. The “K″ in “Krimson” is a reference to the fraternity, of which Richardson was a member in school. On “Tie Day,” the fraternity brothers teach the kids to knot their neckties for a professional look. At the end of the day, the students get to keep the ties. Richardson supplied them the first year, supplementing donations with a few of his own. Now Kappa Alpha Psi holds an annual drive to collect ties for the students.

It’s all about building confidence and getting the boys to believe in themselves, lessons they carry home and into the classroom. The academy already has a sister organization for young women of color at Fairview: “Bloom,” run by IU graduate assistant Keyandra Wigfall.

“For them to see their value, for them to see they can be more, that’s priceless,” Richardson said.

He plans to expand the program to Arlington Heights Elementary.

Back in Fairview’s cafeteria, Richardson and Morgan asked students to take out a piece of paper from their folders and label it: “This Is Me.” Richardson told each boy to draw a picture of himself and label it with the traits that make him unique.

Many of the characteristics students wrote were silly, but they also included genuine statements: They were smart. They were unique. They were good at football, dancing, math. They were brothers and sons and leaders.

Everyone, Richardson said, has something that makes him or her special. “And if no one else tells us that, we have to tell ourselves that.”

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Source: The Herald-Times

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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