Messages, Stories, Direction, How to & Why: The RespectTeam’s Making a Difference Leadership Event

Messages, Stories, Direction, How to & Why: The RespectTeam’s Making a Difference Leadership Event

Header: Leadership panelist Christiana Danielle, RespectTeam Director Amy Hanna, Keynote Speaker Cydney Bridges [PHOTOS: COURTESY]

Written by William Bryant Rozier

Founded in 2015, the nonprofit RespectTeam addresses topics of self-respect and respect for others to a little over 8,000 middle and high school students a year, in 42 schools in Allen, Dekalb, Noble, and Whitley Counties.  The organization hosts a couple of events a year, independent of those school sessions, including their 360 Awards program, held every September, where they honor local high school students for making a difference where they attend or in their community.  Awardees, selected from the honor group of 30 students, are given $1,000 college scholarships.  Safe to assume the team extolled the virtues of healthy communication, and how it behooves relationships, at that event…it wasn’t just a good meal in a fancy setting.

When RespectTeam co-founder and director Amy Hanna started to suffer vocal problems, impeding but not preventing her from speaking to students, she told her team, “if I’m not going to speak then we have to multiply me,” so they hired speakers, which meant they could get into more schools, which meant receiving more grants. 

More talking…RespectTeam just uploaded their 9th podcast to their SoundCloud page, which can be accessed on their website:, or through their Facebook page.  (The podcast is also on Spotify and iTunes.)  They do a lot with Parkview Health and Greater Fort Wayne, Inc.

On February 23, 2019, the nonprofit hosted their Making a Difference Leadership event for 150 students.  The leadership panel included WANE-15’s Sierra Tufts, WNBA Legend Tamika Catchings, Vocalist Christiana Danielle, Jere Johnson from Indiana Wesleyan University in Fort Wayne, Summit Coaching & Consulting’s Barry Schrock, and Life Fitness Solutions’ Leah Eber (see her business profile on Page 6).

Eber is a certified personal trainer and a weight loss, fitness, and nutrition consultant and was first introduced to the RespectTeam after meeting Hanna a year before; she’s also spoken about leadership at the Boys and Girls Club, as she’s “always had a passion for leadership.”

She fielded two questions from the crowd.  A student asked how Eber’s leadership qualities helped her in her field.

“With me, I have to be an example for people, right? This is what you need to do to be healthier.  I always try and be that example for other people, pushing myself every day in the choices that I make, knowing that with this platform that I can help create positive change in people,” Eber said.

The event’s keynote speakers were former 360 Award recipients, pageant winner Cydney Bridges (previously featured in the FWIS) and Justin M.L. Freeman.  Bridges, who relinquished her 2018 U.S. National Miss Indiana Teen title on February 17, 2019, picked up another: USA National Miss Hoosier State Teen 2019.  She talked about the value of taking school seriously, and about how leaders get involved in their community and make a path for others.

Freeman, a sophomore at the IU-Bloomington School, enrolled in the prestigious Kelley School of Business as a double major in economic consulting and public policy analysis.  As someone who’s not going to forget that he’s a first generation college student, “I wanted to make sure I enjoyed my time and learned as much as I can, to push myself,” he said of his double emphasis.

Hanna calls him “Future Mr. President,” because that’s where our boy is going. It’s not a joke, it’s not some little kid saying it.  That’s his endgame.  “And I won’t stop until I get it.”  As he said, “you can’t major in politician” (politics being his passion), but he chose to focus instead at the cross street of politics.  “Essentially, three things run America: government, laws, and business,” he said.  “We’re always going to need those things.  Why not find a way to bring all those together and see how they work [as a unit]?”  Before the presidency, he wants to bring that knowledge to effect local community change.

He was more than active at South Side High School, engagement-wise:  three sport athlete, academic honors, speech and debate team, volunteer groups.  The smaller school meant he could do more.

Freeman started a tutoring club, Target Tutoring, at South Side and helped kids who wanted tutoring but were lagging behind their classmates.  Administrators and teachers, even his peers, met at the then across the street location of City Life Community Center.  That led to media recognition…that’s how he met the RespectTeam.  He stayed in contact with the nonprofit after winning his 360 Award.

His central message to the students came from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham.  He asked them if they were either a thermometer (gauge temperature) or a thermostat (gauge temperature and change it).  “We need them to use the tools within themselves to change the climate as that thermostat,” Freeman said.  He believes the message was well received.


Leadership Panel