Header: Royal Jordan at the Urban Youth Empowerment Program
Written by William Bryant Rozier
Royal Jordan II told me I was another one -- sounding like just his son Dante, apparently -- who “got jokes” when I asked when he was born. After our first interview back in Spring 2018, that spanned his present directorship for the Urban Youth Empowerment Program at the Fort Wayne Urban League and some past criminalities he gestured at, I needed to lock down an exact timeline. So, on the redo, I started with the born-day ask and progressed in order, to grab all of it.
Jordan doesn’t need (or really want) to get into the weeds about that shady biography with his Urban League kids; it’s enough for him to say he’s been there, lost and making wrong choices at age 16…(long story short)…grown man, somebody’s son, inmate of the state. “I sold drugs, made $4,000 a night, that’s not a life.”
The Urban League’s empowerment program assembles 14- to 24-year-old (mostly minority) Allen County at-risk youth for a 30-day career readiness curriculum series, developed by the national nonprofit. The Fort Wayne office adds their own lessons on soft skills, work ethic, conflict resolution, and teamwork to the curriculum book. The program kids have to work at least 120 hours, receiving a paid stipend of $7.25/hour for those age 14 and 15; the older kids get real jobs. 36 participating employers, like Parkview and Lutheran, hire the program kids.
“We teach them how to become self-sufficient young adults,” Jordan said. “We teach them finances so when they do get their own money they just don’t spend it on what they want, [but] on what they need.” All up and around his office, Jordan has taped up pictures of his current and former students; some have gone onto college, like Morehouse. Professional people and mentors come in and speak.
The national Urban League asked Royal and his team to present and explain how they did it so well. So far, 100 students have graduated from the program.
Royal Jordan was born on an Air Force base in Vallejo, California on November 13, 1960 to an Air Force captain/dentist surgeon dad, Royal, and school teacher mom, Veronica; their divorce years later, and subsequent remarriages to other people, gave Jordan, the oldest, 12 siblings.
Dr. Royal Jordan, who moved the family to Fort Wayne when he started his dentistry practice, was a graduate of HBCU Meharry Medical College and had an office at 5001 Hanna Street, where Dr. Wayne Walker has his now. Veronica Royal graduated from HBCU Fisk University, across the street from Meharry.
One of the family’s military moves found Royal and company living well in the “white flight” Ohio suburbs. He was an A and B high school student. But “I’m doing armed robberies at night,” Royal said. He was trying to be this skewed picture of black masculinity, from the movies, from his imagination...trying to be Superfly.
When Jordan and a friend got caught trying to rob somebody, the white guy received four years’ probation, and Royal got four to 25 years. Both were first time offenders. “I tell my kids [in the empowerment program] that you’re not going to be treated the same in this country, but when you have education which is power you can do whole lot more,” he said.
Jordan was sent to TICO (Training Institute of Central Ohio) for his stretch; its administration offices were above ground, but the prison cells were underground, with just a tippy top of the prison window exposed the outside air in his cell. “You ain’t going nowhere,” Jordan said. He recalled how once during the infamous Midwest winter of 1978, a crack in the window exposed a snow drift in his cell the next morning and Royal’s thin blanket wasn’t doing the trick.
After getting his GED, Royal was moved around so much in the system, it took him four years just to get an associate’s degree from Ball State. Once he got out, he eventually graduated from IPFW, in five years, with a degree in human services. He served in the Army, as the 6th Calvary scout. But…he got popped again, trying to be hard, and was sent back to prison in 2004.
Jordan will start his master’s studies this year. He’s also a 2010 graduate of Blue Jacket, Inc.
“We’ve all made mistakes,” Jordan said. “[Mine] have brought me to not only a place where I needed forgiveness but when you change your life…I changed completely. I follow the Lord. His redemption meant more than a Blue Jacket, an Urban league, more than anything.”
Second Chances Art Exhibit & Auction Fundraiser
The nonprofit Blue Jacket, at 2826 Calhoun Street, among other altruisms, assists ex-offenders with felony and misdemeanor criminal records post release. Along with the Fort Wayne Ink Spot (FWIS) Newspaper, he’ll be participating in the nonprofit’s 4th Annual Second Chances Art Exhibit & Auction fundraiser. Blue Jacket graduates are paired with a local artist to tell their story through the created work. The art pieces will be sold, starting mid-May 2019.
On Saturday, February 2, participating artists and Blue Jacket graduates met, for the first time, at a luncheon on the campus of the University of Saint Francis.
Proceeds from the sale of artwork will benefit Blue Jacket’s Career Academy, a two-week, 40-hour training program that provides adults facing employment barriers with job-readiness training, transitional jobs, and job placement.
As the FWIS’ managing editor, I’ll be writing a script for local artist Jeremy McFarren to illustrate, to tell Mr. Jordan’s story through sequential art (like a comic book page) for the fundraiser. The work will also be used in the paper’s all-illustration issue to be published during the opening week of Blue Jacket’s exhibit. Keep reading the FWIS for future updates.