Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, the founder and CEO of the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) and Brother 2 Brother (B2B), gave a powerful keynote presentation on Friday, Jan. 13, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 16, a day in which Ivy Tech Community College gives all its students, faculty, and staff the day off to honor his legacy and uphold his teachings.
SAAB and B2B is a national student organization designed to improve the educational experience for African American and Latino boys and men. The organization has a network of more than 250 chapters ranging from middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities.
All of the members of Ivy Tech Indianapolis' new B2B chapter were present for Dr. Bledsoe's presentation. A presentation that was not only full of lessons and remarkable insights, but hope and laughter.
"When I was working on a doctorate, [my grandmother] thought I was going to be a physician. So I come home, and something would always be wrong with her," Dr. Bledsoe said, laughing. "She said, one day, 'baby, my neck hurts.' And I said, 'well, look, take some Robitussin. You'll be fine, I promise you'll be fine."
"She never knew the difference," Dr. Bledsoe continued, "And I didn't even bother to explain because she was just proud."
"Context always informs the content."
– — Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe
Dr. Bledsoe grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, where, when he was just 7 years old, a team of parents, grandparents, and Civil Rights leaders gathered and sheltered him, his twin brother, and several of his childhood friends as they walked to their new integrated school.
Dr. Bledsoe shared a photograph of that harrowing day during his presentation, in which Dr. King was photographed as one of the adults escorting the kids to school.
“This will be the first day that these Black kids would go to school and sit in the classroom with white kids. And the KKK said, ‘over our dead body,’ and a threat was levied on Black kids as we showed up at the school: ‘You will be killed.’”
Dr. Bledsoe shared that he did not talk about this moment in history for a long time.
“Fear was the emotion I most identified with,” Dr. Bledsoe said. “Can you imagine a (7) year old trying to figure out what you’re protecting him from? Can you imagine the power of this moment?”
Although he directly correlated that historical moment with the emotion of fear in his mind for years, Dr. Bledsoe said he eventually discovered the hope that can derive from fear if you let it.
Dr. King, his parents, and his grandparents shielded and escorted him and his peers into that school so they could obtain an education and reach heights that they could only dream of for their children. This moment, although fearful, should be a moment of pride.
So, if Dr. Bledsoe's grandmother thinks he achieved his doctorate in medicine and not philosophy — so be it.
Ultimately, Dr. Bledsoe forced us all to hold a mirror up to ourselves and our work — what purpose are you serving? Are you serving your soul or your ego?
Dr. Bledsoe was a breadth of knowledge. He talked about his time growing up in Mississippi, attending the same church as Dr. King, the many celebrities, scholars, and civil rights activists he knows, his time working in higher education, and the National SAAB Conference.
All in all, the underlying premise of Dr. Bledsoe’s keynote continuously circled back and reflected on two quotes he shared at the beginning of his MLK Day Keynote.
The first: “Context always informs the content.”
And the second is a quote he remembers from a conversation he once had with the legendary Maya Angelou: “Do work that feeds your soul, not your ego.”
You can watch Dr. Bledsoe's full MLK Day presentation by clicking on this link.
Ivy Tech Indianapolis' chapter of B2B will join the March 2023 National SAAB Conference "Discovering New Visions" alongside Chancellor Esters.
About Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.