Civil rights

Darryl Heller on the Civil Rights Heritage Center – The official student journal of Indiana University South Bend

From: Mira Costello


It would be impossible to cover Black History Month at IU South Bend without acknowledging the history makers on our campus right now. One such integral member of our community is Dr. Darryl Heller, director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center and professor of women’s and gender studies.

Dr. Heller recently received the Building Bridges Award, which is given annually to a student and faculty member, staff member, or alumnus from each IU campus who captures the “spirit, vision, and leadership ,” according to IU.

“It was quite a surprise. I think it’s an honor to be thought of in the same footsteps as Dr. King. he said to receive the award. “From my perspective, I see Dr. King as someone who wasn’t stuck in one place but continued to grow and develop I think he spoke truth to power and lived his principles no matter what consequences. That’s the real honor.”

If you’ve never attended the Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) before, you might be wondering what was so award-winning in Dr. Heller’s leadership.

Most obvious to visitors, the CRHC is a museum telling the story of a true civil rights struggle in South Bend. Not so obvious at first glance is that it functions as a venue to host anything from IU South Bend classes to community poetry events, from grassroots organizing to guest speaker panels.

The Center, Dr. Heller said, is a way to connect the campus community to the larger area.

“As Director of the CRHC, I see it as IU South Bend’s commitment to real and authentic community engagement – ​​especially since the Center is located in the community, not strictly on campus,” said he declared. “I have enjoyed being able to operate and make the Center a real bridge between the university and the larger South Bend community, especially the African American and Latina communities in South Bend. It was a really interesting and enriching experience to be able to walk in all three elements – the Center, the community and the campus – at the same time.

Despite his involvement in the city now, Dr. Heller did not start in South Bend. In fact, he’s originally from South Carolina, and after earning a BA in Philosophy from the College of Charleston, he took a year off that would change his life.

“I thought I would take a year off and go to college and then get a doctorate in philosophy and become a professor,” he said. sit down, I worked with an organization in Washington, DC that worked on homelessness and hunger, and it was such a profound experience that it was 20 years later before I went back to graduate. school.”

Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Heller said he spent most of his time on the East Coast working with women, children, and communities of color affected by HIV and AIDS. He also worked in the drug addiction field in Boston at one of the first needle exchange programs, which provided sterile needles to intravenous drug users to prevent infection associated with dirty needles, as well as in case management for homeless shelters.

Dr. Heller said he was grateful for his experience working directly in communities and that his patchwork of social activism and academic training had helped him excel in his career, particularly his post at Civil Rights. Heritage Center.

“It was sort of a combination of direct social work, while simultaneously challenging – as a political activist – the structure that was producing poverty, marginalization,” he said. “This job sent me back to school because I needed to get a master’s degree at some point to be able to lead the program I wanted to apply for.”

Dr. Heller earned this master’s degree at Columbia University and soon after completed his doctorate. in history from the University of Chicago. Still, what brought him to IU South Bend?

“I was teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a visiting professor, trying to decide if I was going to stay in Chicago or go back to the East Coast, and I saw this job posting that said ‘ Director of IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center,” he said. “And I almost deleted it!” Was it like “Indiana”? Who wants to live in Indiana?

“But it seemed like the perfect job for me, because they wanted someone who had the kind of academic experience, but who could also do community organizing. And I’m perfect for this job, so – I have one foot in the community, one in the academy,” he said. “And it’s like my dream job.”

Students interested in getting involved in Civil Rights Heritage Center events can visit for upcoming programming. Upcoming, the Center will host their recurring Poetry Den on February 27, a panel discussion on the 1619 project on March 1, and a screening of the film “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” on March 8.

While we may feel more inspired to participate in events like these during Black History Month, Dr. Heller emphasized that we should allow February to mobilize, not use isolated annual consideration of black history and voices.

“Keep teaching yourself,” he said. “Question the understanding you have been taught. It is important for students to put themselves in uncomfortable places where they are not necessarily in the majority.

During Black History Month and throughout the year, Dr. Heller encouraged students to “put [themselves] in a position to learn,” whether it’s taking classes, attending events like IU South Bend’s Freedom summer trip (co-hosted by Dr. Heller), getting out of their zone of comfort or simply to seek out the story that might have been hidden from them.

“[Black History Month] is a good thing, but it means we still have 11 months to go before we are fully included,” said Dr. Heller. “We still have 11 months ahead of us.

Photo // UI site