INDIANAPOLIS. Ind. – “I’m gonna do everything I can to not flunk retirement again.”
The first time lifelong educator Dr. Eugene White tried to walk away from teaching and schools was in the summer of 2013, after his departure as Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.
With a homestead in Georgia on his mind, White thought he could step in at Martin University for just a couple months to keep the president’s seat warm while the Board of Trustees hunted up its new leader.
Martin was in deep trouble. Academic and financial probation hung over the campus, students and faculty were unhappy and the Board needed a proven administrator to rescue the predominantly African-American university that was quite literally within months of potentially going out of business.
White came on temporarily and stayed for five years, weaning the university off probation, starting an endowment, expanding the campus, beginning a School of Education and reconnecting with the Martindale/Brightwood community at a time when the surrounding neighborhoods needed a safe place to pin their hopes for the future.
“This is almost a communiversity,” said White. “It’s a university but it’s a communiversity because this is the anchor institution for Martindale/Brightwood and we need to be in the mind or the forefront of the thinking of the people of this community.”
After a career that began in the Fort Wayne Public School District in 1971, White is finally ready to retire for good, aiming for June 30, 2019, after one more graduating class, before he hands over leadership of the east side university to his successor.
“The only thing that we haven’t turned the corner on is student enrollment,” said White whose student population remains just below 300, about half of where the president would like it to be. “That’s been a challenge from the first year.”
White’s announcement now has given the Board several months to search for its next president with a potential replacement to be named by the end of the year.
“The person who succeeds me in this position has to be a people person, they have to be aware of financial operations, they have to be aware of the importance of communication and they have to be aware of this is almost a communiversity,” said White. “You need to make this a culture a haven of hope for people because a lot of people have gone through a lot, sacrificed a great deal, to get here and we need to make sure that they’re successful once they get here.”
Longtime Brightwood residents value Martin as an oasis of a brighter future.
“It gives them hope because they’re looking at brown and black people that look like me and they’re older so if they can there degree, I still have a chance, its not too late, that’s what it represents for me,” said Lashauna Triplett. “To me a communiversity is a university in the community that’s easily accessible and the university is working with the community to upbring it and make education accessible.”
“It brings hope because knowing that we have a college on 22nd St. right around the corner from where the houses are,” said Fletcher Triplett who operates a mentoring outreach center with his wife. “Before Martin was over here, or before Martin became this great college, this area was going down and now they’re coming over and buying property over here and fixing up the parking lots and fixing up houses, it just makes it that much greater.”
Terry Triplett said he’s lived in Brightwood as long as Martin, founded in 1977, has been around.
“It’s an oyster to the world,” he said. “It means this education right here can go all the way around the world and be heard.”
In a community known too often for violence, Triplett said the word is out that Martin University is off limits to troublemakers.
“This is the heart. People know when you come here or whatever, you bettering yourself and you never mess with anybody that’s trying to better themselves. You never mess with the person that’s trying to get their life together and make they life stronger and get out of the ghetto. You don’t do stuff to come in the ghetto. You go to schools like this where you can better your house, better your income, to get out. So this is off limits. I bet no one has ever heard of somebody touching somebody off here.”
White’s legacy will be keeping the Martin University dream alive in a community that too often has seen other dreams crushed.
“He come and put his foot here which lets us know he cares and if he cares,” said Terry. “We got to show him love, we got to show him we there for him.”