The day after Christmas, reports of teenagers causing disturbances surfaced from more than a dozen malls across America. At Castleton Square Mall, seven minors were detained after police were called to break up brawls. While the reason for these fights remains unclear, local youth worry the actions of a small group will cause young people to lose one of the few free and safe places for teens to congregate.
Calvin Campbell, a 16-year-old Broad Ripple High School student, says he believes Black teens in Indianapolis are “stereotyped massively.”
“I have been going to the mall with my friends for years and have never done anything violent, so when I hear them say that they want to remove all people under 21 from the mall, I don’t know if they realize they have removed one of the few places we can go to avoid trouble,” he said. “When we say let’s go to Castleton, it’s because it’s far away from the things we are trying to escape.”
Campbell feels that young people are doing positive things in the community, but adults and the media tend to focus on negative occurrences. Campbell was inspired to volunteer in his community after an incident happened while his family moved into their home.
On move-in day, Campbell and his family were excited about their new house but exhausted from carrying heavy boxes and furniture. They decided to take a break and spend some time together outside on the porch. What happened next was a blur.
“All we heard was gunfire, but I didn’t know what it was at the time. Then I heard screaming, followed by police and ambulance sirens. Not exactly the right way to start off our life in a new, happy home. We could hear somebody crying, but everyone in the neighborhood was like, that’s just what this side of town is like, and I wanted to do something to change that,” said Campbell.
Campbell is a volunteer with Groe Inc., an organization founded by his family that offers food and other items to families in need while also facilitating community events.
“Youth are pretty much into hanging out or playing basketball. I suck at basketball and can’t do anything about that, so I just said, hey, I’m here to help if you need me,” said Campbell. Through Groe Inc., Campbell has participated in tutoring, fundraising, coat drives, food drives and helped host a variety of community events.
While Campbell is working on improving the quality of life in his neighborhood, two other young people are working to better the environment of their school.
Nicodemus Monts, a 17-year-old North Central High School student, saw schoolmates posing with a Confederate flag and posting ‘Confederate lives matter’ on social media. Monts organized a peaceful protest at his school’s football game with friends, family and church members. The group stood silently outside the game, kneeling as the national anthem was played. After the protest, Monts wanted to find a way to make his schoolmates culturally conscious, so he and his friend Ashley Elane created a Culture Club.
“After the incident with the Confederate flag, we were very culturally divided. I have a lot of friends of different cultures, so I wanted us to make a club to get to know each other and meet new friends,” said Elane. “I feel like in our state Black kids get a bad reputation and are kind of looked at as suspect or not knowledgeable. I have seen my peers and friends break those stereotypes.”
Monts says a diverse group of the student population has been attending Culture Club, including Hispanic, Indian, Chinese and African-American students. He says they haven’t gotten any caucasian students to attend yet, but they hope to in the future. In addition to Culture Club, Monts wants to mentor younger kids. He feels that if young people had positive influences, instances like that one at the mall would be less common.
Campbell says he wants to see more unity and trust in Indianapolis among people of all ages and backgrounds, and he wishes there were more for teens to do.
“There is no place in the community for teens to make a connection. All over social media I see people say they have no friends or don’t trust people. I honestly think people are more isolated because of the stereotypes,” said Campbell. “I am usually in the house catching up on every single series I can on Netflix. I will occasionally go to the mall or Broad Ripple, but it isn’t exactly welcoming to teenagers. It’s not the violence you see where I live, but it’s a feeling of, ‘I’ve got my eye on you.’
“Even people in the Black community have stereotypes about Black people. They say not to trust anybody. If you can’t trust your brother, how will anything get better?”