Fort Wayne United looking to stem southeast side crime

Program leader has overcome his own troubles in life

Iric Headley, executive director of Fort Wayne United, is overseeing a program that hopes to reduce the crime rate on the city's southeast side by providing at-risk youth opportunities. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Renaissance Point YMCA Executive Director Amos Norman talks with a younger player during Saturday night's session. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Fort Wayne United Emerging Leaders Committee Co-Chair Mike Armstrong addresses the group before play starts Saturday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Some of Saturday night's action. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Some of Saturday night's action. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
Preston O'Neal, 4, dances around during before the games start Saturday night. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

Before he moved to Fort Wayne from Trinidad and Tobago at age 11, Iric Headley said he had never seen a white person. Then at age 14, standing on his front porch, he met one of Fort Wayne’s biggest drug dealers.

“My life just changed from that point on,” he said. “From 16 to 19, my goal was to be the biggest drug dealer in Fort Wayne. I was into music, too — gangster rapper. All the filthy stuff you hear on the radio? Killing, women and drugs, I was at the top of that world, man.”

But God had other plans for Headley, and he met Pastor Anthony Payton who’d had a terrible past as well before turning his own life around. Headley finally listened.

“I just lost everything and gave my life to Christ at that point,” Headley said.

Today, selected by Mayor Tom Henry, Headley serves as the executive director of Fort Wayne United, a program targeting crime on the southeast side by giving males ages 14 to 25 another Saturday night option. From 8-11 p.m. each week more than 100 kids gather at the Renaissance Pointe YMCA on Bowser Avenue. Since the program started in February, more than 600 young men have taken part in the program, and there have been absolutely no problems.

Headley says the basketball part of the program targets three Ws — When does crime happen? After dark, late at night. Where does it happen? Basically the southeast side. Who is usually involved? Young black men as either victim or perpetrator.

One night, more than 350 kids show up to play and watch basketball.

“It energizes you,” Headley said. “I’m not the athletic expert, I’m not that guy. I just kind of hang around and meet people and hang out with kids and crack jokes and stuff.”

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. There’s tireless Renaissance Pointe Executive Director Amos Norman making sure everything runs efficiently and constantly relating to kids, inspirational speakers telling their life stories and organizations like The United Way, Ivy Tech, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Lutheran Social Services and the Bloom Project mentoring agency and various employers offering services and sometimes just talking and listening.

“We’re all trying to be proactive here, and not wait until something happens,” said Derrick Westfield, the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Deputy Chief of the Southeast Quadrant and Fort Wayne United Steering Committee member. “We’re putting all of our efforts into this. Our main goal is trying to get to those youth who are on the fence so we can talk to them. If you get to the youth, you have a chance to change things. It’s going to make a difference.”

Though there’s always a need for more, every night there are adults available to talk, mentor and share. Mainly, and maybe most importantly, they pay attention, they invest in these kids.

“It’s really a program that galvanizes the entire community around these issues dealing with boys and men of color,” said Fort Wayne Boys and Girls Club President and CEO Joe Jordan. “I’ve been in this work for a long time, and I’ve never seen an initiative like this because it brings major stakeholders to the table and people who are system leaders to see how their circle of influence impacts boys and men. It allows people to come together and be potential game-changers for a very vulnerable population in our community.”

But Headley, 37, is the heart of it, the person who is great at bringing people together to create an avenue for them to help, Jordan said.

“There are a lot of people with goodwill in our community who want to help who never had the avenue to do that,” Jordan said. “This program provides that with a very good understanding of the problem. Sometimes looking from the distance you see why something is, but you don’t understand it, but this allows people to come closer and have a better understanding to help in trying to defeat some of these daunting numbers that our boys and men are facing every day.”

“Irick has created an environment that is welcoming to everybody. It’s powerful to watch.”

Headley says it’s because now he knows exactly why he went through the things he did as a teenager. He understands the people, the mindset, the challenges because he survived them. He has a different, hard-earned perspective on life.

“So I now know what those young black boys are dealing with,” he said. “I was the guy who needed that help. I was completely on the wrong side of the line, doing all the worst things. I just had a lot of grace, a lot of mercy and I didn’t get caught. The only advantage I have over them is not money or smarts, but that I have been on both sides of it. They haven’t been on this side.”

Now he’s giving them a chance to maybe see the other side, to have another option.

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