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Dennis Bland celebrates two decades of making a difference

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Dennis Bland is celebrating 20 years as president of the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), but his roots with the organization extend much further than that.

Bland became a CLD student in 1982, five years after the organization’s founding with its mission to help prepare African American children for their futures in education, business and community leadership.

Helen Bundles, wife of the late Henry Bundles, who was CLD’s founding president, remembered an “assertive and attentive” young man who always tried to use what he learned.

As a student at Broad Ripple High School, she said, Bland was once unhappy with a grade he received in a class. He talked to the teacher, who said that was the grade he deserved. So Bland gathered all of the work he did that school year, laid it in front of the teacher and showed he actually should have gotten a better grade.

Bundles said the class at CLD applauded Bland when they heard the story.

“He’d done exactly what he was taught to do,” she said.

Thomas King, who has been on the board since the organization started and now serves as board chair, also got to watch Bland grow up as someone who “knew what he wanted to do.”

“His promise as a student materialized as his good work as an adult,” he said.

Back then, CLD program materials could be unloaded from the back of a car and then packed back in at the end of the day.

Things have changed a lot over the years — with 15 programs now and a 20,000-square-foot building — and much of that is thanks to Bland.

One of the biggest developments in the organization’s history happened recently when Lilly Endowment announced it would donate $11.6 million so CLD can expand its impact with satellite locations, taking programs into schools and adding to its main location on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

“It’s all about honoring and respecting the mission of the organization and just trying to be true to that mission,” Bland said. “It’s always an unwavering commitment to stewarding resources that are entrusted to you.”

Eastern Star Church Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson Sr. said Bland “took CLD to another level” by gaining more exposure in the community and attracting more volunteers.

Johnson, who went to CLD in the late 1970s, said he appreciates the work CLD does because it means there’s less pressure on other institutions — his large church, for example — to come up with the answers.

“For a church like ours, we don’t have to create the program,” Johnson said. “… We could, but why would we? Why would we not empower CLD, empower Dennis Bland?”

Jeffrey Harrison, Citizens Energy CEO and a longtime CLD board member, said in a statement CLD has been successful primarily because the organization’s values come from its leader.

“In Indianapolis, there is no better example of a servant leader than Dennis Bland,” Harrison said.

Bland has been with CLD in some capacity since he became an intern after college. Even after taking the role of president 20 years ago, Bland continued as an instructor until last year. 

“It all goes back to the reason I came here to begin with,” he said, “and that is to try to elevate the human condition. Try to really inspire the highest achievement in African American youth and other youth, just to try to help them realize their potential.” 

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development, speaks at a Nov. 18, 2019, press conference to announce an $11.6 million grant from Lilly Endowment. (Recorder file photo)

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