In this interview, ACA staff members are joined by 100 Black Men of Indianapolis staff members Joseph Eldridge (director of operations), Marcus R. Hatcher (Summer Academy director), Keli Reese (manager of programs) to discuss Juneteenth and 100 Black Men of Indianapolis’s Summer Academy program.

This is the first in a two-part blog series featuring the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis’s Summer Academy.

Alicia Danenberg (ACA): Hi everyone! My name is Alicia, and I'm the director of educational content here with ACA. My wonderful colleague Christen will introduce herself in just a moment. We’d like to welcome our guests today from 100 Black Men of Indianapolis (“the 100”), who we are so excited to be joining us while their summer academy is going on.

Keli Reese: Hello, everybody! My name is Keli Reese. I am the manager of programs for 100 Black Men of Indianapolis. We have seven educational programs within our organization, and I have an opportunity to manage those. I am an Indianapolis native and an educator by background. About 22 years in education, and most of those years have been spent with 100 Black Men of Indianapolis.

Mainly, with the Summer Academy, I served as a teacher, a consultant, a program director, and now I am in this particular role. I'm married, and I have five kids, and all five of my kids have been part of the Summer Academy. Two have aged out but they have all been part of it, and it’s just truly part of who we are as a family. So thanks for having us.

Joseph Eldridge: Hi. I am Joseph Eldridge, and I have the privilege and honor of serving as a director of operations for the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis and I am excited that this year we are celebrating 40 years of mentoring here in Indianapolis. Our Summer Academy is one of our foundational programs that we offer here at the organization because again, we believe in not just the mentoring aspect throughout our seven programs from pre-K to college. We love our Summer Academy because it gives us a chance to kind of get that intense six-week learning for all of our students, and kind of launch them off into their next school year.

We are excited about all the great things that go on within the organization as well as our Summer Academy program. And we just thank you for the opportunity for us to continue sharing our mission and our vision.

Marcus R. Hatcher: Hello, and I am Marcus Hatcher. I serve as the current Summer Academy director. I've sat in this role — this is my second year I have 19 years of experience in education and as well as Keli and Joseph, I'm an Indianapolis, native and this is truly a labor of love.

I have three children. My oldest has aged out. My middle will age out next year, and then I have one that just started in the pre-K class. And one thing I love about just this program is it really combats that summer learning loss. When it was first started, it was created to combat the summer learning loss. So we have to let our parents know and our scholars know you will be learning. We do have fun. We dance, we go on field trips, but they are truly having pretests and post-tests. We track how they're doing, and then we have metrics. We follow how they do during the school year. So again, this is a labor love for me, and I've enjoyed it.

I've served as a fifth-grade teacher, a consultant, part-time site director, but this will be year 15 for me.

Christen Peterson (ACA): I'm Christen Peterson. I am the grants and inclusion manager for the American Camp Association. With Juneteenth approaching the 19th of the month, can you tell us more about how 100 Black Men has celebrated this holiday over the years with mentors, camp participants, and partners? What have you all done in the past? I know you have it off this year, but what have you done previously?

Joseph Eldridge: Over several years we've partnered with several other organizations for their Juneteenth celebrations. One thing that we believe is that we don't want to recreate the wheel. There are a lot of fantastic Juneteenth events. There'll be several events that are going on leading up to and including Juneteenth. Sometimes we are partnering with organizations with our presence. We're partnering with those with speaking opportunities. And also just being a community partner. So as an organization, it's supporting what has been established. We've been around organizations that have made Juneteenth a staple of who they are and what they do, and so we feel it best —when we talk about partnerships and relationships — to partner with people who are doing it well and allowing us to be a part of that.

Even this year, we’ve incorporated some Juneteenth celebrations into our Summer Academy curriculum. I'll let Keli and Marcus speak to what we do as a program, because that's the one program that is operating during Juneteenth.

Marcus R. Hatcher: Our teachers, the actual day of Juneteenth they have off, as well as July 4th and 5th off, because we want to honor the holiday, and but we also want them with their families, or taken taking care of self-care. I want to say that at the beginning.

Last week, third, fourth, and fifth [grades] were read a story from the one of the volunteers with the national coalition of 100 Black Women on Juneteenth, because, knowing the history of Juneteenth — I know it's huge in Texas, huge in the South, and I know it's a federal holiday, but some students are not aware what Juneteenth is. So as educators, we do that kind of pre-assessment, or what we call a check-in to see “What do you already know?” That's the first step. Secondly, we build on it. Like Joseph said, we partner with different organizations, sororities, etc., that have done an entire curriculum on Juneteenth. We are big on technology, so they had a whole PowerPoint, music videos, and everything. But what I share with the teachers is to make sure the instruction is on their level.

My pre-K students are not learning about the Emancipation Proclamation, but they are learning about Abraham Lincoln, the Union soldiers, and why we have this day off. I just left a sixth-grade class, and they were doing Jeopardy. And the one of the questions was History, who freed the slaves? Then they said Abraham Lincoln. But then the teacher asked, and I asked, “So what's the significance of Juneteenth?” And they were discussing it. So we have those discussions as well, but we also talk about why it's celebrated and why it's important. Because, historically, Indiana was not a slave state. When you come above the Mason Dixon line, for many people it's been, “Why are we celebrating this?”

Christen Peterson: My next question is about suggestions for other camps, and what I'm hearing is making sure whatever you're doing is age appropriate, making sure that you're tagging on to whatever is already happening in your community, so if there are events happening, not recreating the wheel and finding the folks who are the pillars of the community that are doing the work already. So if you don't know about that holiday, if you have never celebrated before, who is the person that knows about the holiday, and can celebrate it, and making sure you're connecting with them and learning from them. Are there any other suggestions you would give to camps who maybe don't know about this holiday, and they've never celebrated it before, and they're curious about how they can do it at their camp? Do you have any advice for them?

Keli Reese: My thought is with the adults to be the learner. For the adults running it to be the learner. If you're not the expert, do not present as the expert. Tap in. And so if I don't have the resources, I need to at least start there. So I'm not going to go to my Black families and say, hey, can you tell me about it? I'm going to go to the ones who have availed themselves as the teacher, as the leader, as the trainer. And so that's my thing is starting with the adults. Because truly, kids typically don't have a problem with understanding culture and understanding history lessons like that. It is when the adults are maybe insecure, afraid to tap in, don't want to offend, just kind of a bit fragile that it can become an issue. My thing is for the adults to lean in and for the adults to become the learner. And our kids are going to learn from us that way.

I don't want to just sit in “well, I don't want to offend,” and then I don't move. No, I don't know about this, I'm going to lean into the one who does. I'm going to seriously Google. If we just don't know, I'm going to find the resources within my community of people who identify themselves as the expert, and I'm going to present myself as the learner. And I think when we're in that posture, that the teaching of it will happen. The celebration or making sure that things are appropriate will happen. But it has to start with the adult being willing to say, “guess what? I'm in the learner seat right now. And I'm specifically going to the ones who have availed themselves to be teachers. And I'm not going to assume that people who look like that will teach me.”

Christen Peterson: Smart. Thank you, Keli. My next question is about when you have seen your students have those lessons in their classrooms. How do you feel that learning about Juneteenth and Juneteenth celebrations have positively impacted your students, staff, and families in the past, or even this year?

Marcus R. Hatcher: Confidence. This goes back to the “What They'll See Is What They'll Be,” and “building a better me.” Again, that representation. So you hear different narratives in different academic environments. So now I am learning that, “Oh, wow! I didn't know this part of history.” So now I understand, when I hear different narratives about work ethic and intelligence and things like this, this gives me confidence to succeed. Some of our students do extremely well, and we encourage them, but some students hear things in their classroom that don't build their confidence. So when they're coming, it's not just academics here. It's an enrichment, and it's a chance to go home and say, “mom and dad, did you realize that the Union soldiers went through the country and went to Texas and delivered this message?” So building that confidence.

Joseph Eldridge: The only thing I would add onto that is I think that is another example of representation. When we're teaching Juneteenth, or you know that piece of history, they realize that that is not a separate part of history, that it is a part of history. I think it talks representation, but also inclusion and belonging. This is something that is so important and is so valuable and so needed. It is just a part of our history, and so obviously with Summer Academy, we do it with intentionality. It's about making sure that our that our scholars in our Academy have a holistic experience. I think a part of the holistic experience is having holistic information. Making that a part of our curriculum is just really making it a part of who we are, what we do. But I believe that the kids and families ultimately see that this is just a part of who we are, and it's not something that’s put to the side. and you know yes, there is. It's not just a part of our curricula. That's a part of our environment. That's a part of the vein of our Summer Academy, and we make it a learning experience. But then, again, we really want to make sure that our students, our scholars, feel represented, and they feel just a part of history.

Christen Peterson: Thanks, Joseph. And I just want to acknowledge and celebrate you all for sharing this part of history with your young people. Personally, I did not know about Juneteenth as an Indiana resident because I did not learn that in school. The only reason I learned about it is because I worked at a local museum, and the group of black historians came for a Juneteenth event, and I was sitting at the museum and I said, “Oh, I don't know about this.”

I learned about the holiday as an adult, and I've been celebrating it since, but it was not a part my K-12 education, which is really sad. So I think it's very powerful that they are getting that part of history when they're spending time with you. So thank you all for what you do. Speaking of celebrating the holiday, how do you all celebrate the holiday as individuals? Since you will have the day off and the organization has made a commitment to giving you all rest and time to celebrate with your families, what will you all be doing?

Marcus R. Hatcher: A friend of mine texted me that Fort Benjamin Harris, a former military base, is having an event on Friday, so my family will be attending that. Saturday at Military Park there is a huge event with bounce houses, vendors, clothing, food, and we tend to go every year. I love it because I see familiar faces and family. [Author’s Note: These events occurred the weekend prior to publication.] My sister is an educator who has been teaching for 23 years — on the actual day we are having a cookout at my home, and then I'm going to go purchase fireworks for my kids. We also do celebrate the 4th, but this is a tradition. My mother's made the menu, and I will be on the grill.

Keli Reese: We also like to do those cultural and family events. On the day of I will actually be out of the country, so I'll be celebrating from a plane. But Military Park is where we plan on hitting up. One of my former students actually won the Miss Juneteenth junior division, so I'm so excited to go and celebrate her and support her.

Joseph Eldridge: Ditto to what both Keli and Marcus said. Although I will not be out of the country, I'll be in the country. But I'll be going to several events in celebration of Juneteenth, and then, on the actual day, something that my wife and son and I have done our last several years is that we just spend the day with each other and then we actually find a community service project to participate in. We are in Brownsburg, [Indiana,] so that is not something that is taught or celebrated [in our school district], but one thing that my son is very intentional about is knowing his history and knowing who he is, so for us it becomes a yearly reminder of the importance of the day, but then also, representation matters for him. So it is also kind of a day of reflection, and just a day of reminding him who he is, his value, his significance, and just making sure that I'm pouring into him, so when he gets older in a couple of years, and he transitions from high school to that next part of his life, that it is just a part of who he is. That it is a part of his DNA to be able to celebrate milestone accomplishments, but also historical significance. So it also becomes a day for me to reflect upon my relationship as a father and a parent, and then making sure that I am teaching him everything that he needs to know to be a well-rounded young man.

Christen Peterson: Perfect. You all are doing so many beautiful things for this holiday. I already have plans, but next year I might be tagging on to your celebrations. So thank you all for sharing.

Alicia Danenberg: Thanks, Christen. My first question is a little bit about the history of 100 Black Men of America originating back to the 1960s. Can you tell us in your own words your experience working within the organization, and how it's grown to serve 100+ chapters worldwide?

Joseph Eldridge: Yes, and so speaking from the national perspective, being founded in 1963 in New York City, former mayor David Dinkins, Jackie Robinson, Livingston, and just some community leaders were seeing some of the conditions that were going on in their community and decided to come together to form the 100 Black Man at that time of New York because again they saw that there was a need for men to come together to address some of those issues In 1986, there were about 10 founding chapters, of which Indianapolis is one of those chapters, those chapters came together, and we formed the 100 Black Men of America.

There's about 110 chapters across the United States. We also have a chapter in London and a chapter in Turks and Caicos so we are an international organization of mentors who really see the value of mentoring and empowerment of young people throughout the country and across the world. And actually, right now, leaders and mentors and members and program participants from all those chapters are convening at our national convention in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some teams that will be competing in our African American history challenge competition as well as our financial literacy competition. So again, they're not just going there for education, but they are there to compete and learn and also connect with probably about 10,000 of their peers from across the country and around the world.

Marcus R. Hatcher: I want to add in a little thing. Indianapolis's moniker is Naptown. So we are very gracious and humble, but I do have to say this as a member of the 100 as well. Last year, nationally, the Indianapolis chapter won the National Chapter of the year. So I wanted to add that in. Indianapolis brings it!

Alicia Danenberg: Absolutely. And another congratulations on that! Can we talk more about the vision and the motto of the organization? And if you all could tell us more about “What They See Is What They'll Be,” and how those attending the Summer Academy and your other programs are impacted by that motto?

Joseph Eldridge: I think, when we think about “What They See Is What They'll Be,” if we were to dwindle that down to one word, it would be representation. We will serve about 400 students every single year within our standard programs, and I think one of the things that we see is that our kids love to see representation of themselves, whether it's visual of seeing someone who looks like them, whether it's someone from a professional setting of somebody that they aspire to be in their career field, if it is a parental figure, so to speak, for someone who is consistent, available, who is nurturing, and meeting their needs. So I think when we talk about “What They See Is What They'll Be,” it's almost like that reflection in the mirror of “I am looking at somebody who I aspire to be on multiple levels” and being able to see that consistency and constantly within our programs, I think, becomes so important for our young people, because again, I think when they begin to see representations of themselves, they begin to normalize those experiences. They begin to normalize the mentoring experience.

The perfect situation for some of our mentees is that they go through multiple programs within the 100. So they see the value importance of mentoring and the experience of the 100, and then they ultimately, when they become older in their communities, they will come back. Whether it's with a 100 chapter, or whether it's other organizations in their community, they will begin to mentor and volunteer within their communities. Because they've seen the value of mentoring and engagement in their own lives, they want to give other students and other families that experience. That’s what I think about when I go to work every single day, and I think about that tagline of “what they see is what they'll be.”

For us as mentors is again, we are giving back what we were given, and so they never had that chance to not know the mentoring experience. But then, even us as mentors, we are giving back what we were given throughout our lifetime, as well.

Marcus R. Hatcher: To piggyback off Joseph, several of my mentors that coached me, helped me when I was applying for college — they're still involved, but they have shared with me, “OK, Marcus. Now it's time for you to pour into other people as we poured into you. So it's truly a blessing that I can look at two gentlemen that were influential in my life that are still involved, but they're saying, “now, what are you doing?” So it’s truly a reciprocal relationship.

Keli Reese: I'd like to add too just about the way we mentor the way we pour in and the way we're represented may not be what people typically think of when it comes to mentorships. I know a lot of times we go one to one, life on life, and we do it in more in a more programmatic way. So even our Summer Academy is an opportunity to mentor. Our objective is to stem the summer learning loss. What is placed in front of them are educators who look like them and who have connected with them. Like I said, we have seven programs altogether, and we have things from robotics to financial literacy, to the Beautillion, to team mentoring and, of course, Summer Academy, African American history challenge. These are different aspects of who a person is, which is what allows young people to go through a series of our programs. But it's in these various veins that they get said representation. So when they're in the financial literacy program, the diversity of opportunities that they have to connect with members of the community, in the business world, entrepreneurial world, just the entire thing may look different from how they would connect with them at Summer Academy or teen mentoring, where you have a set group of men who are pouring in week after week.

So I think that is what adds to the beauty of what we do is that it's not just, hey, we're going to pour life into you, but it's we're going to invite you into our experiences and learn from you, and learn of you as well as we're pouring into you. Our approach is a little bit more dynamic, if you will, and complex. It's not just like a one-way street.

Christen Peterson: Beautifully said, Keli. Very powerful. So I have the pleasure of going to the next section and we're going to talk a little bit about your program, and it's a perfect segue, right? And so acknowledging that we are the American Camp Association, and a lot of times we focus on summer, but learning and camp and programming happens all year round, we'd love to talk more about the 100 Summer Academy. Can you tell us more about the other programs you offer throughout the year?

Keli Reese: Yes, absolutely. So we have our African American history challenge, and it is for both male and female [students]. And we serve middle school age through high school, and with that they are learning African American history through a set curriculum. It's about 18 weeks long, and they have a local competition kind of like a “brain game” sort of thing, and then they go on to compete nationally. It is academically focused in a coed program.

We have our Beautillion program, which is specifically for high school male seniors only, and it is a rites of passage type of program where they are learning life skills, importance of education, career development, all that. That is a scholarship-based program. So they're able to earn scholarship dollars for after high school. I think this year — and Joseph you can correct me if I'm wrong — may have been our biggest year, where [we earned] over $400,000 in scholarships awarded this year to 34 of our Beaus. So, it's a big deal.

We have our collegiate program, which is obviously for college level, but specifically is the mission and the vision of the 100 carried out at a collegiate level. So they adopt that same mission and vision. They're able to pour into the community while we're pouring into them specifically. So they get connected with our organization and within the community. To me, that's just such a sweet spot, because they get to learn from us as they are also carrying it out just transitioning into adulthood.

We have robotics, and that program we've had years ago, and we are bringing that back this year, and it's at the elementary level. So it's second through fifth grade. Coed, same with our collegiate program, coed, where we have engineers within our program, who are leading our children through robotics.

Summer Academy, which is what we have now. Six weeks stemming the summer learning loss anywhere from pre-K all the way up to eighth grade. We mentioned youth workers who come back to the program that are high school age.

Then we have our teen mentoring program, which is for fifth through ninth grade, boys only, again about an 18-week program where they meet weekly.

So it just kind of spans the spectrum of most of our programs, with the exception of Summer Academy and the collegiate program, they follow a school year calendar. So an October to April/May type deal.. Touching various parts with various ages and various audiences, some male only, some coed.

Christen Peterson: Yeah, it's a wide variety of experience that you're providing to the young people and congratulations on raising so much for those young people. Oh, my gosh!

Keli Reese: We put in the work!

Christen Peterson: So you mentioned the Summer Academy. And then, Marcus, you also kind of touched on this a little bit, but maybe we could dig a little bit deeper, but with the 100 Summer Academy, what does a day of programming look like for the participants, and how do you balance that summer learning loss with the enrichment activities that you had mentioned?

Marcus R. Hatcher: Very good question, Christen. So going back to that model of “What They See Is What They'll Be,” one thing we emphasize with our parents and our scholars is being on time, being present, and being aware. So between 7:30am and 8:00am, scholars are dropped off, and at that time we provide breakfast. Then at 8 o'clock they all go into the gymnasium, and we have assembly, because many of our scholars, even though they've only been out of school two weeks, are asleep. So we do calisthenics, we sing songs, we dance, and I asked my teachers, at 7:55 I need you on, and if you need caffeine or whatever, I need you on, and teachers also participate. Then about 8:20, they go to their classrooms, and then they start academics immediately.

And that looks different for each grade. Some might start with math, others might start with ELA, but it depends on the teacher. And then this year, because we have rising eighth graders that are going to ninth, students that are going to seven, students going into six, in the morning, to keep it more middle school involved, one of our teachers is the head of his math department, so he'll be teaching math to sixth, seventh, and eighth [graders].

Another teacher is phenomenal in English language arts. So the students will be reading and doing a book study on The Hate U Give, and then at the end they'll be watching the movie. And then another teacher is phenomenal in social studies, so he'll be focusing on African American literature and African American history.

I do want to pause here and say this is open to all students. Some people get confused and say, Oh, 100 Black Men. No. We have students of all different races and backgrounds, and our staff members are from all different races and backgrounds. Four years ago, we added in Spanish. Every student from pre-K to eighth grade receives two hours of Spanish each week. So that's going from conversational, learning their numbers and colors in pre-K, all the way up to our eighth-grade students, she only speaks Spanish. The cool thing is our Spanish teacher this year is from the Dominican Republic. So she is focusing on cultural immersion and the African diaspora and letting students know there are people all over the world that look like you that speak Spanish.

We also have a teacher who has been here either 15 years or 16 years. She used to work with a program that teaches calculus, trigonometry, algebra, and geometry to students, but it’s disguised in a very creative way. This year we made a decision that our third through fifth graders will be receiving this curriculum.. The other thing is the last four or five years, we’ve partnered with Indy Summer Learning Labs. Indy Summer Learning Labs is a program that we partner with, and they have their set curriculum. But then, in the afternoon, after lunch, it's enrichment. So there's STEM activities. There's African American history activities. There's field trips.

The one thing we share with the teachers: this is their summer, so please remember that. We are an academy, but if your kids are struggling with a lesson plan, take them outside and play. Every student receives gym time, recess, and outdoor play.

One of the curriculums we use is called The Historic Journey. This is a curriculum that was developed by a lot of people, from the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools at that time and several educators. We've been using this for a couple of years to highlight African Americans and what they have done for our country and our city.

But I will say this: Ms. Keli has coined a term, that “secret sauce.” You have to see it. We also have another term called the Summer Academy Effect. When kids are going home, they are asleep in the car. We wear our students out, and parents are thankful. So that's a little bit about our day.

Christen Peterson: Oh, yeah, that's awesome. Thank you, Marcus. I think my last question of this section is about the cultural component of the program which you all have talked about a lot and I want to hear more about this part of camp. I wanted to ask about how you celebrate the community and the families where your kids come from. You mentioned representation. You mentioned history and understanding where your students come from. You mentioned having engineers that come from their community, and professionals come in. Are there other ways, or do you want to expand on the ways that you've already mentioned, about the cultural component of the program?

Marcus R. Hatcher: At Summer Academy we really lean on our community. So, for instance, there's the national coalition of a 100 Black Women, and they literally brought in a book mobile and every 250 students from pre-K and including our youth workers were able to get a book where the person on the cover of the book looked like them. And that was all included in their Summer Academy registration fee.

So then, I challenged the national coalition of 100 Black Women that we need to show our students healthy snacks — so they brought in a protein, a carb, and fresh fruit. So the kids had a morning snack. That's one of the ways we do that.

Going back to the education, our teachers are gifted and they’re licensed. We have some teachers that have their administrative license. Some have their special education license. We give them the autonomy — like my pre-K teacher is just walking by, and he's built a whole curriculum on “Is your student ready for kindergarten?” He's phenomenal.

We brought in a new teacher last year who teaches middle school, and the students had to do a whole lesson on hair. What is African American hair, what it represents, and how do I express myself with my hair? That was their enrichment.

We had another teacher, who did lessons on historically black colleges and universities. Each group of students picked a historically black college and university to discuss.

Those are just some of the things we do, but each classroom is different. You might go into one, and they're doing lessons on roller coasters and the Pythagorean theory. Go in another classroom and they're standing on desks like the Ron Clark Academy. It’s truly different, so we give teachers that autonomy.

Joseph Eldridge: And just to add one thing additionally to what both Marcus and Keli are saying is that our curriculum is phenomenal. Our teachers and our staff are phenomenal. But I think one thing that also sets us apart as an Academy is that we are very intentional about also meeting and connecting with the parents and the families to seeing what their needs of their children are.

And then we're also very sensitive to, you know, if there are students and families with a particular need, that kind of goes not necessarily outside of who we are and what we do, but it is part of who we are and what we do.

Keli Reese: We have families — some are transracial, adopted families. So we're meeting various needs along with the fact that this child may be adopted into a family that does not look like them. So that's what we're encountering as well as we're talking about touching the different cultures. It's not just in general — within our Academy, we have different cultures represented even within families. Even thinking about how we are addressing cultural needs and education in general, is very personal, because these are our families.

Christen Peterson: Thanks, Keli. That actually segues me into my next question. It's about representation. I had the great pleasure of going to your high-five rally. Thank you so much for inviting me. At the high-five rally, we saw members of the Divine Nine, community members, parents, and staff, all greeting each student with cheers, encouragement, and high fives. There was a DJ, and we all were just encouraging young people as they entered the camp on the first day real early in the morning, 7:30 to 8 30. Can you share how cultural representation and seeing adults who come from their own community — and maybe even not from their own community — has made an impact on your students each year?

Marcus R. Hatcher: That's something we do every year. The 100 has a lot of resources, so depending on their schedule, usually we will have the mayor, dignitaries, or news stations there as well. We all hear so much about the negative in the news. We really want to highlight the positive. So that's Joseph reaching out. That's Keli reaching out. That's myself reaching out to our community resources. And honestly, each year we don't know who is going to be here. But my response is, I need you. So reaching out on LinkedIn, social media, and saying, “Yes, you, I need you. Come before you go to work. We'll provide light refreshments.” So some people are only able to stay for 15, some are able to stay for the entire time. If you're in Indianapolis Fire Department, wear your uniform. If you are a member of the Indianapolis Police Department, wear your uniform. Because they need to see that. And it goes over well every year.

My favorite thing is for new parents, when they arrive and see all of the energy. That particular DJ, he's a friend of mine since high school, but he has a DJ business, is college-educated, a member of the Divine Nine. He said “wherever you need me, I'm here.” So it's just communicating to people and asking them to come. We hear all the time, “How can I help?” Well, here's how you can help. Be here on the Monday of Summer Academy and high-five a student, then go to work. It usually goes over well. I've never heard anybody complain.

Keli Reese: Yeah, and that hi-five rally is the thing that kicks off Summer Academy. As Marcus mentioned just how inclusive it is, I just remember 2021. We had to cancel Summer Academy 2020, and before all that it was literal high fives. Here we are, 2021 — we're still in masks. Things are different. And I remember the question, “What are we going to do?” We literally cannot bring people together. How are we going to welcome our kids? And I still have video. I was directing at the time, and Marcus was a teacher. The teachers just did the whole thing — there were whistles, and there were bubbles, and there was this huge interest where we could not touch each other, but we wanted that feel of “we're back and we still welcome you, and we may not be able to bring the community, but those of us who can be in this particular space are going to make a big deal out of you.” That just gives me chills thinking about it, because even when we did not have the opportunity as it looked like in years past, our staff was like, we have still got to make it big, so we just did. I just called it a very intimate celebration. But on day one it was still a thing, and it gets kids excited like, “Yo, we want you here. We're excited that you're here. We're going to bring you in with a smile, even with masks on.” And of course we've grown since then. But yeah, that hi-five rally is a whole thing. And with that there are other schools here in the city where on their first day, 100 Black Men of Indianapolis show up and hi-five rallied them too.

So it is not only limited to Summer Academy, but we understand welcoming students in who may want to be here, may not want to be here, may be excited, may be upset, but just to say, “Hey, we want you,” and that's just a message in and of itself that has spread throughout the city.

Joseph Eldridge: I think also it’s the excitement of belonging. It's this sense of somebody is encouraging me. It's not just representation of a fireman or policeman wearing their uniform that is important. But I think the fact that these students see people coming just to encourage them, just to give them positive vibe and energy, because again, we get them from 7:30 to 3:30 for six weeks in Summer Academy. We don't know what kind of home or environment or community they come from, or they go back to. But that's our way of encouraging them, pushing them, letting them know that they are loved, that they are valued, that they are appreciated, that they are accepted — not just in the Summer Academy, but we want them to know that there are people just rooting for them to be successful and just have a good day.

I think the hi-five rally serves so many purposes from a visual, from a cultural, from a social [perspective], and just that smile of a child walking up. They may have never gotten encouraged in an academic environment. Many of us get high fives and appreciations in sports or things, but from an academic setting, that may not be something that they're used to, but to see somebody encouraging me just to go learn math or learn Spanish, that is the biggest thing in the world, because we have the ability to not just change their day, But we can change the direction of their academic career by just knowing that “Wow! Somebody woke up at 7:00 in the morning just to say you're going to have a great day or you’re going to have a great Summer Academy.”

We get so many comments and words from our parents like, “You know what? That's what they needed.” And even for some of the parents, they needed that energy too, because again, they are entrusting their children, their families, to us for six weeks. So when we talk about the representation, sometimes the representation is somebody outside of this family is caring about your well-being, and I am trusting you to do that. There's some time where we become an extension of that family and encouraging, because then they know that they're getting kind of a holistic encouragement experience, not just during the Summer Academy, even for the hour of high fives they receive on that first day.

Alicia Danenberg: So well said Joseph, and really speaks to the family culture that I've picked up on at the beginning of this, and how that you know the word that Keli used about veins, how those veins are connected to the community from all of the work that y'all are doing, and those teachers that are coming back year after year after year, and being willing to change and adapt to make the program the best it can be. So, congratulations on being able to have a hi-five rally at the peak of Covid, I mean, come on it's amazing.

Additional Resources for Juneteenth

Do you want to tell us more about how your camp celebrates Juneteenth? Reach out to to share!

Interview conducted by Alicia Danenberg, director of educational content, and Christen Peterson, grants and inclusion manager.