IU's Brian Richardson is making it his mission to give young men a path to success

Description of the following video:

[MUSIC]

[Words appear: Brian Richardson Jr.,assistant director of diversity and inclusion at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and founder of Krimson Leadreship Academy]

[Brian speaks: The Krimson Leadership Academy is a ten-week program that focuses on leadership development of young men of color from the fourth to sixth grade here at Fairview Elementary. We started every session. We ask young men to say their name, how old they are, what grade they are in. Followed by, I am a leader and I will be successful. I'm a firm believer that you know if you hear something enough times you start to believe it. So if we can switch that into a positive light, they know that they will be leaders and they can be successful.]

[Words appear: DQ Manley, IU senior, Kappa Alpha Psi, Mentor at the Krimson Leadership Academy]

[DQ speaks: Brother Brian you know he reached out to me and he told me he had this opportunity at Krimson Leadership Academy, I feared you call comes a leadership academy. It was everything I wanted to do. I love those kids.]

[Brian speaks: To end each year of the academy, my goal is to give them an investment in their future. I myself didn't learn how to tie a tie until I was in my adulthood and that was one thing that I wish I would have known at an earlier age or had an opportunity to, to be taught by other men. So we come in and we teach in that and then we give it to him at the end to say hey you are going to be a leader you can be successful. So here's the tie that matches your future.]

[DQ speaks: If they can hold on to one thing as a somebody loves them. They're not alone. I never want them to feel alone. So if they do have a bad night, where they feel alone, whatever, they can use that tie, put some emotion into it, have a symbolic meaning behind it and say, you know what I may be having a rough day right now, but I know these men, who gave me this tie, they care about me. As long as they know that someone out here loves them, I'm content. I'm very content.]

[Brian speaks: I do this because it's a necessity. I grew up learning to create the space, create the environment that you need, being the change that you want to see. I wanted to give these young men in this community a chance an experience an opportunity that I didn't have, that I wish I had. So coming from you know single parent household myself, I just want to show them that regardless of your home situation we have an opportunity to really inspire and do more. But it takes that mindset, it takes that drive and it takes people from the outside to tell you that you can do those things. So I had those people in my life that helped me see that I can be more and I can do more so I owe it to them because it was done for me.]

[Video: The Indiana University trident appears]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the Promise]

As 12-year-old Samson Jones made his way to the front of the cafeteria, the sixth-grader appeared quiet and a little shy. 

But when he opened his mouth to repeat the Krimson Leadership Academy's mantra, his voice was strong, his message clear. 

"My name is Samson Jones. I'm 12 years old. I'm in the sixth grade. I am a leader, and I will be successful."

Jones was one of a dozen Fairview Elementary School students reciting those words on a recent Friday afternoon. The Krimson Leadership Academy -- a program created by Brian Richardson Jr., assistant director of diversity and inclusion at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington -- focuses on leadership development for young men of color in fourth through sixth grade.

"The goal of the academy is to provide a safe and inclusive environment for young men, surround them with positivity where at least one day out of the week, for an hour, they'll know they are loved, they are leaders, and they will be successful," Richardson said. "I'm a firm believer that if you hear something enough times, you'll start to believe it. So if we switch that to a positive light, then they will know that they will be leaders and they will be successful."

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Richardson shares a laugh with Fairview Elementary Student Nolan Reynolds. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications

Richardson started the program two years ago, after creating a similar program at Wittenberg University in Ohio. Every Friday, for 10 weeks, Richardson travels to the elementary school to mentor the young men on skills such as self-confidence, time management to public speaking.

"I do this work, this academy, because it is a necessity," he said. "Coming from a single-parent household myself, living under the lines of poverty, being told that you are not going to be good, you're not going to be successful because of the statistics. The things they say about this school, these students, I was there. I just want to show them that regardless of your home situation, regardless of your family make-up, we have an opportunity to really inspire and do more. But it takes that mindset, it takes that drive, and it take people from the outside to tell you that you can do those things. I had those people in my life that helped me see that I can be more and I can do more, so I owe it to them. Because it was done for me."

In the beginning, the boys were hesitant, Richardson said, not sure they fully trusted him or his ideas. But after a few weeks, they slowly began to see Richardson as a reliable, supportive figure. That growth, he said, is one of the best aspects of the program.

"The most rewarding part I see is the progression -- that growth, that buy-in to the system," he said. "At first, our new students are hesitant to speak. But toward week three, week four, they are running up to the front saying 'Mr. Richardson, I want to go first.' That is a beautiful thing."

Whitney Thomas, student and family advocate at Fairview Elementary, has also witnessed that progression. Not only do the students look forward to meeting with Richardson each week, she said, but the program has helped them form a brotherhood among themselves.

"They have also grown into leaders that have a bright future ahead of them," she said. "I have enjoyed watching Brian and the volunteers from various organizations interact with the boys. They are positive male mentors who hold the students accountable each week. The boys are excited to tell them their weekly successes and are able to learn as a whole from the times they do not experience success."

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IU senior DQ Manley demonstrates how to tie a tie during a recent sessions of the Krimson Leadership Academy. Photo by Eric Rudd, IU Communications

Nolan Reynolds is one of the young men who has taken a lead in the program. The fifth-grader, who enjoys playing basketball, said he is proud of the work he has done in the academy, because "now I'm a leader."

"The academy has taught me to not bully others and to be respectful of teachers and to be a good role model for other kids," he said.

After the running the program solo, Richardson eventually was joined by IU students and members of Phi Beta Sigma and Kappa Alpha Psi.

DQ Manley, a senior at IU and a junior vice polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi's IU chapter, has been serving as a mentor for the Krimson Leadership Academy for the past year. Not only does he attend the Friday sessions, but he stops by the school throughout the week to check up on the students.

"I just want these kids to know that someone cares about them," he said. "If they can hold onto one thing, it is that someone cares about them. They are not alone."

Over the winter break, Manley and his fellow Kappa Alpha Psi members treated the academy members to a pizza party, surprising them with new shirts and shoes. Their reaction, he said, was priceless.

"I'll always remember their reactions when we brought them those shoes," Manley said. "I felt like they knew somebody cared about them, that somebody who doesn't have to is coming in and doing stuff for us. That memory will live with me forever."

On the last day of the program, Manley and other members of Kappa Alpha Psi presented the young men with another gift: a tie. As academy members stood up and declared their leadership and future success, they also talked about what they learned from the academy, which ranged from "how to be good to my family," to "how to live life to the fullest."

Richardson, Manley and crew then lined the students up, presenting them with a tie and showing them how to tie it. The gesture, Richardson said, is a way to show the students that they will be successful.

"My goal is to give them an investment in their future," Richardson said. "I, myself, didn’t learn to tie a tie until I was in adulthood. That is one thing I wish I would have known at an earlier age or had an opportunity to be taught by other men. So we come in and teach them how to tie it and then give them the tie as a way to say hey, you are going to be a leader, you are going to be successful, so here’s a tie that matches your future."