Keating Competition 2021

A Goshen Junior and 2 Franklin College Students Win Top Prizes at 35th Annual Keating Challenge

Ten student journalists chased $6,000 in journalism prizes in the 2021 event. In five hours, they had to interview, write and file a creative, compelling and well-written story that would earn them a top cash award in the 35th annual Thomas R. Keating Competition.

The assignment was “Indianapolis in Flux.” Students were encouraged to look at how downtown was emerging from the pandemic, ongoing race relations or weathering the large-scale construction projects.

 

Augusta Nafziger

Augusta Nafziger

Augusta Nafziger

Goshen College Junior

Augusta Nafziger, a Goshen College junior, won first place and $3,000 for her story about the music scene’s recovery from the pandemic. Nafziger is from Weyers, Cave, VA and is currently features editor of Goshen’s student newspaper, The Record.

“This story had impressive sourcing and addressed a topic in a current way,” the judges said. “We liked the theme that flowed through. It was tightly written and publication-ready.”

First Place winner:

It’s only noon, but the Indianapolis Tin Roof is already alive with the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. Dusty Bo fiddles with a mic stand on the bar stage, pausing to set a reminder on his phone: “Grab mic clip at 3:05 p.m.”

“I forget everything,” he says with a shrug.

A solo act specializing in “alternative southern rock,” Bo is one of many musicians who has been impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year and a half. He’s back to performing live shows now, but he’s noticed a change in his audiences.

“The people here are hungry for entertainment,” he said. “You can tell that they were missing it.”

Most pandemic restrictions were lifted in Indianapolis in July, with restaurants and bars returning to 100% capacity. It’s good news for people like Bo, whose livelihood depends on venues like the Tin Roof. However, many people are still hesitant to attend concerts and live music performances.

“People are still freaked out,” Bo said. “The virus is still here, and it always will be. It’s not going away. And some friends are vaccinated and some friends aren’t, and some places will let you in without those and some won’t.”

Two blocks over in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra office building, rehearsals are underway for a different kind of live performance ‒ the annual Yuletide Celebration show.

“Yuletide is hugely important to the city,” said Brandy Rodgers, senior manager of pops and Yuletide. “The Radio City Rockettes tour signed a three-year contract with the city and quit coming after one ‒ because nobody was going. Everybody was spending their Christmas entertainment money here.”

Excitement for this year’s Yuletide is especially high ‒ not only is it the 35th anniversary, but it’s also Yuletide’s return to the stage after last year’s cancellation of the 2020-2021 Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season.

“It was a devastating blow to not have it,” Rodgers said.

The cast and staff’s enthusiasm for a return to Yuletide and holiday season is evident in the building decorations, with Christmas trees, garlands and colorful paintings of Santa filling the 8th floor lounge.

“The cast do dressing room door decorating, and there’s always a secret Santa and stuff like that,” Rodgers said.

Despite the excitement, there’s also a lingering sense of fear among the cast and staff regarding the continued presence of COVID-19 in the community.

“Everybody has to be masked and vaccinated throughout the building,” Rodgers said. “We’re testing three times a week during rehearsals, and we’re testing twice a week once we start performing. All audiences have to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination ‒ everybody over 12, of course.”

However, Rodgers says that the cast and staff of Yuletide are committed to keeping the event “as exciting and fun as possible.”

“We haven’t altered the show really to acknowledge COVID-19 in any way,” she said. “Our theory is that everybody who comes to see this knows how terrible COVID-19 is in the world, and they don’t need to be reminded of that. So, hopefully, audience members won’t notice a difference in the show. And people who come to Yuletide come every year ‒ we’ve got people bringing their kids to see the show who came with their parents when they were kids.”

In the Circle Centre Mall, high-school band members Charles Greene (trombone), Calvin Lapp (mellophone), Andrew Jamison (flute), and Gabe Christie (trumpet) are excited to be participating in the annual Bands of America Grand National Championships ‒ another event that was cancelled due to COVID-19 last year.

“It’s been so fun,” Lapp said.

The four musicians’ high school enforced mask-wearing and distancing last year, and many of their marching band shows were cancelled. However, Jamison says that the pandemic has only renewed their love of music.

“I feel like part of our existence now is music performance,” he said. “Which is fine, because I love music ‒ music has always been a big part of my life. But listening to music is one thing, and making music and playing the music that people make, it’s a completely different experience.”

Greene adds that he’s noticed the effects of the pandemic on first and second-year band members, especially.

“Their beginning years as musicians were messed up, and they didn’t get to experience the things that we did when we were their age,” he said. “So I think that’s another part of how different it is now ‒ the quality and skill level.”

“Especially through this season, music has really impacted me a lot,” Lapp said. “There’s been so many relationships and friendships that I’ve gained through music, and it’s such an important part of my life at this point that I can’t imagine just dropping it.”

Alexa Shrake

Alexa Shrake

Alexa Shrake

Franklin College Junior

Finishing second and earning $1,750 was Franklin College junior Alexa Shrake, who wrote about social justice through art.

“This was a very vivid story that painted a picture beautifully,” said the three judges. “A smart way to keep a tight focus on the topic.”

Shrake is from Martinsville, IN and is co-executive editor of Frankin College’s news magazine, The Franklin.

Second Place entry:

A Black woman clutches her throat as a tear glides down her right cheek. A strip of the United States flag covers her mouth. She is silenced.

Anger and violence struck the streets of Indianapolis after George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis was killed by police.

Heavy emotions reverberated across the country with riots in the streets and protesters shattering store windows.

“I wanted my work to amplify how the Black community was feeling in a different way,” Amiah Mims said.

On the window next to her mural are the words, “Silenced. Unheard. Are you listening now?”

Mims was chosen by the Indy Arts Council for the Racial Justice Project that took place in the summer of 2020. Artists were able to pour their emotions into a mural on a boarded-up window.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Director of Public Art with the Indianapolis Arts Council, Julia Moore.

Moore said her favorite mural was Mims.

“She really captured what the movement meant in a clever way without being quippy or sarcastic,” Moore said.

The project recently won the Monumental Award from the Indianapolis Chamber.

“It helped everyone understand how powerful art can be,” Moore said. “It is something that will live on.”

The mural took Mims about three days in total to do. She worked on it between working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a graphic designer.

“I went with the pain I was feeling at the time and how the Black community was feeling,” Mims said. “I want people to not be able to walk by without feeling the emotions we feel.”

Mims said she wanted to show how the Black community has been silenced “over and over again”.

It was her first public mural.

After that Mims created the “A” that was part of the Black Lives Matter street mural on Massachusetts Ave.

Malina Simone is a Black artist that has worked with Mims on projects including the street mural.

“Amiah’s art is thoughtful, feminine and beautiful,” Simone said. “[Her] work on Washington St. was eye-catching and conversation-starting. It was a beautiful way to make a strong and serious statement on one of our busiest streets.”

Simone said Indianapolis is fortunate to have an artist like Mims.

“That mural kickstarted to my current career,” Mims said. “I’m giving it a shot and seeing how this solo thing goes.”

Mims is now a freelance artist and has worked with the Indianapolis Recorder and race car driver J.R Hildebrand.

“My first favorite was the piece I did for J.R.,” Mims said.

Mims mural is one of the few that is still up today residing on the window of an empty building on the corner of Meridian and Washington St. There is no timeline for how long the murals are allowed to stay up.

However, through the work of the Center for Black Literature and Culture at the Indianapolis Library, all the murals from the Racial Justice Project have been made into banners for people to check out for free.

“The purpose of my mural is to spark conversation about the problems of this country with racism and injustices in all forms,” Mims said. “ We still have a long way to go before we can say things have changed.”

Taylor Wooten

Taylor Wooten

Taylor Wooten

Franklin College Senior

Taylor Wooten, a Frankin College senior, earned third place and $1,250 for her story on social justice and Covid. Wooten is from Clarksville, IN.

“A very descriptive and informative story that really made us feel the scene,” the judges said of Wooten’s piece. “Strong reporting.”

Other finalists were Tabby Fitzgerald, Isaac Gleitz, Haley Pritchett and Carolina Puga Mendoza all of Franklin College and Evan Gerike, Mary Claire Molloy and Ryley Ober all of Indiana University.

Third Place entry:

It could be any other chilly mid-November day in downtown Indianapolis. Monument Circle was filled with people and vendors, electric workers were stringing lights around the monument for the upcoming lighting ceremony, and hundreds of high schoolers stomped around awaiting their turn at the Bands of America competition held in Lucas Oil Stadium.

This scene, backgrounded by cheery Ariana Grande-sung Christmas music from the circle’s speakers, could have taken place any year. But, the experiences of the Indianapolis residents and instrument-touting tourists made this an entirely different place than it was when the lights were strung up just two years ago. These locals have weathered a pandemic and a summer full of protests brought on by police treatment towards Black residents.

On the circle, a tall black man in a red toboggan watched the orange-vested men labor with their garland-wrapped wires. Justin Haskins, an electrician part of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, is involved in the Indianapolis community.

Haskins’ key values aren’t hard to figure out. His daughters, ages three and six, are named Justice and Dream. A man of faith, Haskins thinks all people would be better off believing in something bigger than themselves and wants for more education, and less focus on politically and racially divided issues.

Indianapolis has seen its fair share of police brutality. In summer 2020, residents protested downtown over the killings of Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose. The deaths of these two Black men were brought to light at the same time as protests due to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and, more close in proximity to Indianapolis, the killing of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor.

These passionate protests have made most white Indianapolis residents more aware of the issues facing Black residents. But, Haskins is tired of activism without change. Taking a stroll down Mass Avenue and in well-off Indianapolis neighborhoods, yards and businesses are adorned with LGBTQIA+ pride flags and signs stating, “Black Lives Matter.” The statements of support are not enough without residents unlearning biases, he said.

“Let it be one in the morning and my car breaks down and I knock on your door, as a tall Black man. But you got a Black Lives Matter sign on your door,” he laughed. “What are you going to do? Are you going to let me in?”

Haskins doesn’t dismiss activism completely, but fears some activists seek to gain fame for themselves. He frequents local museums, libraries and sporting events. But, this level of community involvement left him feeling conflicted in the summer of 2021, when many community leaders were outed as racist.

This included the job listing by Newfields, formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art, that cited the museum’s wish to “attract a broader and more diverse audience while maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.” This resulted in the resignation of Newfields CEO Charles Venable in February 2021.

Also cited by Haskins was the resignation of former Indianapolis Public Library CEO Jackie Nytes after she was accused of racism and discrimination by current and former employees of the library system beginning in May 2021.

“It’s kind of disappointing, living in a community where you want to engage, but the people at the top are still socially charged by their upbringing,” Haskins said.

Part of the solution, Haskins said, comes in storytelling. As a subscriber to the Indianapolis Recorder, a historical Black newspaper, Haskins sees power in staying informed. He says he trusts the publication at a time when information spreads wildly, but that it does get exhausting to be reminded of racial disparities he and his family are facing.

With his daughters, Justice and Dream, Haskins is instilling in them at a young age that they don’t need to live up to a “white” definition of what they should be. Instead, he wants them to pave a way for themselves authentically.

“I’m not going to work twice as hard to get what you’ve got,” Haskins said. “That don’t even make sense. I’m teaching and preaching Black excellence.”

In raising his children through the pandemic, Haskins is grateful he kept his income as an electrician and essential worker. He was happy to know his family was always safe at home, even though he is now tired of the virus and ready to move on.

Raychel Scott, a Black woman who works with Central Security and Communications at Lucas Oil Stadium, feels more strongly.

Scott was making a pit stop at the Circle Center Mall before heading out into the 30-degree cold to scan cards and check bags at the East Gate of Lucas Oil Stadium for the second weekend of the Bands of America competition.

Donning a mask below her chin, Scott said the COVID-19 virus that has killed over 16,000 Hoosiers according to the Indiana Department of Health was just the same as the flu. As a Black woman, Scott does not trust the vaccine and says that several systems are against people like her, including the medical system. Her coworker, Keke Turner, agreed. The vaccine has killed people, they said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has approved three COVID-19 vaccines as safe and effective. As of July 19, 2021, only three deaths have been linked to vaccination.

A study done by Pew Research in December 2020 said only 42% of Black Americans intended to receive the vaccine. The Commonwealth Fund cites gruesome experiments on enslaved people, forced sterilizations of Black women, and the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study that allowed syphilis to run rampant through Black men for scientists to study the disease, all as examples causing historical distrust towards the medical field.

Marvin Jackson, a Black coworker of Scott and Turner, had an opposing point of view. He said the vaccine exists to help people, including Black people. In his 60s, he said he made sure to receive the vaccine to keep himself safe from the virus.

On the overall state of Indianapolis today, Scott only had one thing to say: “It’s bullshit.” From Scott’s perspective, racial tensions and pandemic issues in Indianapolis can only be solved by people coming together for conversations. But, she said this may be impossible due to the deep political divide that’s already been created.

“We all need to get together and talk about it,” Scott said. “But my whole thing is that they don’t ever want to bring the Black people together with the white people to tell the whole story.”

On Friday, Nov. 26, the lights carefully strung around the monument by dozens of workers will be lit. Indianapolis residents and visitors will surround the community staple with a togetherness that has been rare in the last two years. Despite the Indy streets being filled with people, for Black Indianapolis residents, there’s still a long road ahead. Distrust of the systems around them still runs rampant, and hard conversations need to be had to tackle these issues.

Sarah Bahr
(Speaks at the Keating Award Dinner)

Sarah Bahr

Speaker

Sarah Bahr, a 2017 Keating finalist and now a regular freelance writer for The New York Times, spoke at the award banquet at the Skyline Club.

Bahr has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from IUPUI.

2021 Keating Finalists

L-R top row: Carolina Puga Mendoza, Augusta Nafziger, Ryley Ober, Evan Gerike, Haley Pritchett
L-R seated: Mary Claire Molloy, Isaac Gleitz, Alexa Shrake, Tabby Fitzgerald, Taylor Wooten

Each Keating finalist received $100 and a copy of the book Indiana Faces and Other Places, a collection of Keating’s work for The Star from 1966-1982.

Augusta NafzigerAugusta Nafziger – First Place

It’s only noon, but the Indianapolis Tin Roof is already alive with the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. Dusty Bo fiddles with a mic stand on the bar stage, pausing to set a reminder on his phone: “Grab mic clip at 3:05 p.m.”

“I forget everything,” he says with a shrug.

A solo act specializing in “alternative southern rock,” Bo is one of many musicians who has been impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year and a half. He’s back to performing live shows now, but he’s noticed a change in his audiences.

“The people here are hungry for entertainment,” he said. “You can tell that they were missing it.”

Most pandemic restrictions were lifted in Indianapolis in July, with restaurants and bars returning to 100% capacity. It’s good news for people like Bo, whose livelihood depends on venues like the Tin Roof. However, many people are still hesitant to attend concerts and live music performances.

“People are still freaked out,” Bo said. “The virus is still here, and it always will be. It’s not going away. And some friends are vaccinated and some friends aren’t, and some places will let you in without those and some won’t.”

Two blocks over in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra office building, rehearsals are underway for a different kind of live performance ‒ the annual Yuletide Celebration show.

“Yuletide is hugely important to the city,” said Brandy Rodgers, senior manager of pops and Yuletide. “The Radio City Rockettes tour signed a three-year contract with the city and quit coming after one ‒ because nobody was going. Everybody was spending their Christmas entertainment money here.”

Excitement for this year’s Yuletide is especially high ‒ not only is it the 35th anniversary, but it’s also Yuletide’s return to the stage after last year’s cancellation of the 2020-2021 Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season.

“It was a devastating blow to not have it,” Rodgers said.

The cast and staff’s enthusiasm for a return to Yuletide and holiday season is evident in the building decorations, with Christmas trees, garlands and colorful paintings of Santa filling the 8th floor lounge.

“The cast do dressing room door decorating, and there’s always a secret Santa and stuff like that,” Rodgers said.

Despite the excitement, there’s also a lingering sense of fear among the cast and staff regarding the continued presence of COVID-19 in the community.

“Everybody has to be masked and vaccinated throughout the building,” Rodgers said. “We’re testing three times a week during rehearsals, and we’re testing twice a week once we start performing. All audiences have to be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination ‒ everybody over 12, of course.”

However, Rodgers says that the cast and staff of Yuletide are committed to keeping the event “as exciting and fun as possible.”

“We haven’t altered the show really to acknowledge COVID-19 in any way,” she said. “Our theory is that everybody who comes to see this knows how terrible COVID-19 is in the world, and they don’t need to be reminded of that. So, hopefully, audience members won’t notice a difference in the show. And people who come to Yuletide come every year ‒ we’ve got people bringing their kids to see the show who came with their parents when they were kids.”

In the Circle Centre Mall, high-school band members Charles Greene (trombone), Calvin Lapp (mellophone), Andrew Jamison (flute), and Gabe Christie (trumpet) are excited to be participating in the annual Bands of America Grand National Championships ‒ another event that was cancelled due to COVID-19 last year.

“It’s been so fun,” Lapp said.

The four musicians’ high school enforced mask-wearing and distancing last year, and many of their marching band shows were cancelled. However, Jamison says that the pandemic has only renewed their love of music.

“I feel like part of our existence now is music performance,” he said. “Which is fine, because I love music ‒ music has always been a big part of my life. But listening to music is one thing, and making music and playing the music that people make, it’s a completely different experience.”

Greene adds that he’s noticed the effects of the pandemic on first and second-year band members, especially.

“Their beginning years as musicians were messed up, and they didn’t get to experience the things that we did when we were their age,” he said. “So I think that’s another part of how different it is now ‒ the quality and skill level.”

“Especially through this season, music has really impacted me a lot,” Lapp said. “There’s been so many relationships and friendships that I’ve gained through music, and it’s such an important part of my life at this point that I can’t imagine just dropping it.”


Alexa ShrakeAlexa Shrake — Second Place

A Black woman clutches her throat as a tear glides down her right cheek. A strip of the United States flag covers her mouth. She is silenced.

Anger and violence struck the streets of Indianapolis after George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis was killed by police.

Heavy emotions reverberated across the country with riots in the streets and protesters shattering store windows.

“I wanted my work to amplify how the Black community was feeling in a different way,” Amiah Mims said.

On the window next to her mural are the words, “Silenced. Unheard. Are you listening now?”

Mims was chosen by the Indy Arts Council for the Racial Justice Project that took place in the summer of 2020. Artists were able to pour their emotions into a mural on a boarded-up window.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Director of Public Art with the Indianapolis Arts Council, Julia Moore.

Moore said her favorite mural was Mims.

“She really captured what the movement meant in a clever way without being quippy or sarcastic,” Moore said.

The project recently won the Monumental Award from the Indianapolis Chamber.

“It helped everyone understand how powerful art can be,” Moore said. “It is something that will live on.”

The mural took Mims about three days in total to do. She worked on it between working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a graphic designer.

“I went with the pain I was feeling at the time and how the Black community was feeling,” Mims said. “I want people to not be able to walk by without feeling the emotions we feel.”

Mims said she wanted to show how the Black community has been silenced “over and over again”.

It was her first public mural.

After that Mims created the “A” that was part of the Black Lives Matter street mural on Massachusetts Ave.

Malina Simone is a Black artist that has worked with Mims on projects including the street mural.

“Amiah’s art is thoughtful, feminine and beautiful,” Simone said. “[Her] work on Washington St. was eye-catching and conversation-starting. It was a beautiful way to make a strong and serious statement on one of our busiest streets.”

Simone said Indianapolis is fortunate to have an artist like Mims.

“That mural kickstarted to my current career,” Mims said. “I’m giving it a shot and seeing how this solo thing goes.”

Mims is now a freelance artist and has worked with the Indianapolis Recorder and race car driver J.R Hildebrand.

“My first favorite was the piece I did for J.R.,” Mims said.

Mims mural is one of the few that is still up today residing on the window of an empty building on the corner of Meridian and Washington St. There is no timeline for how long the murals are allowed to stay up.

However, through the work of the Center for Black Literature and Culture at the Indianapolis Library, all the murals from the Racial Justice Project have been made into banners for people to check out for free.

“The purpose of my mural is to spark conversation about the problems of this country with racism and injustices in all forms,” Mims said. “ We still have a long way to go before we can say things have changed.”


Taylor WootenTaylor Wooten — Third Place

It could be any other chilly mid-November day in downtown Indianapolis. Monument Circle was filled with people and vendors, electric workers were stringing lights around the monument for the upcoming lighting ceremony, and hundreds of high schoolers stomped around awaiting their turn at the Bands of America competition held in Lucas Oil Stadium.

This scene, backgrounded by cheery Ariana Grande-sung Christmas music from the circle’s speakers, could have taken place any year. But, the experiences of the Indianapolis residents and instrument-touting tourists made this an entirely different place than it was when the lights were strung up just two years ago. These locals have weathered a pandemic and a summer full of protests brought on by police treatment towards Black residents.

On the circle, a tall black man in a red toboggan watched the orange-vested men labor with their garland-wrapped wires. Justin Haskins, an electrician part of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, is involved in the Indianapolis community.

Haskins’ key values aren’t hard to figure out. His daughters, ages three and six, are named Justice and Dream. A man of faith, Haskins thinks all people would be better off believing in something bigger than themselves and wants for more education, and less focus on politically and racially divided issues.

Indianapolis has seen its fair share of police brutality. In summer 2020, residents protested downtown over the killings of Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose. The deaths of these two Black men were brought to light at the same time as protests due to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and, more close in proximity to Indianapolis, the killing of Louisville resident Breonna Taylor.

These passionate protests have made most white Indianapolis residents more aware of the issues facing Black residents. But, Haskins is tired of activism without change. Taking a stroll down Mass Avenue and in well-off Indianapolis neighborhoods, yards and businesses are adorned with LGBTQIA+ pride flags and signs stating, “Black Lives Matter.” The statements of support are not enough without residents unlearning biases, he said.

“Let it be one in the morning and my car breaks down and I knock on your door, as a tall Black man. But you got a Black Lives Matter sign on your door,” he laughed. “What are you going to do? Are you going to let me in?”

Haskins doesn’t dismiss activism completely, but fears some activists seek to gain fame for themselves. He frequents local museums, libraries and sporting events. But, this level of community involvement left him feeling conflicted in the summer of 2021, when many community leaders were outed as racist.

This included the job listing by Newfields, formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art, that cited the museum’s wish to “attract a broader and more diverse audience while maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.” This resulted in the resignation of Newfields CEO Charles Venable in February 2021.

Also cited by Haskins was the resignation of former Indianapolis Public Library CEO Jackie Nytes after she was accused of racism and discrimination by current and former employees of the library system beginning in May 2021.

“It’s kind of disappointing, living in a community where you want to engage, but the people at the top are still socially charged by their upbringing,” Haskins said.

Part of the solution, Haskins said, comes in storytelling. As a subscriber to the Indianapolis Recorder, a historical Black newspaper, Haskins sees power in staying informed. He says he trusts the publication at a time when information spreads wildly, but that it does get exhausting to be reminded of racial disparities he and his family are facing.

With his daughters, Justice and Dream, Haskins is instilling in them at a young age that they don’t need to live up to a “white” definition of what they should be. Instead, he wants them to pave a way for themselves authentically.

“I’m not going to work twice as hard to get what you’ve got,” Haskins said. “That don’t even make sense. I’m teaching and preaching Black excellence.”

In raising his children through the pandemic, Haskins is grateful he kept his income as an electrician and essential worker. He was happy to know his family was always safe at home, even though he is now tired of the virus and ready to move on.

Raychel Scott, a Black woman who works with Central Security and Communications at Lucas Oil Stadium, feels more strongly.

Scott was making a pit stop at the Circle Center Mall before heading out into the 30-degree cold to scan cards and check bags at the East Gate of Lucas Oil Stadium for the second weekend of the Bands of America competition.

Donning a mask below her chin, Scott said the COVID-19 virus that has killed over 16,000 Hoosiers according to the Indiana Department of Health was just the same as the flu. As a Black woman, Scott does not trust the vaccine and says that several systems are against people like her, including the medical system. Her coworker, Keke Turner, agreed. The vaccine has killed people, they said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has approved three COVID-19 vaccines as safe and effective. As of July 19, 2021, only three deaths have been linked to vaccination.

A study done by Pew Research in December 2020 said only 42% of Black Americans intended to receive the vaccine. The Commonwealth Fund cites gruesome experiments on enslaved people, forced sterilizations of Black women, and the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study that allowed syphilis to run rampant through Black men for scientists to study the disease, all as examples causing historical distrust towards the medical field.

Marvin Jackson, a Black coworker of Scott and Turner, had an opposing point of view. He said the vaccine exists to help people, including Black people. In his 60s, he said he made sure to receive the vaccine to keep himself safe from the virus.

On the overall state of Indianapolis today, Scott only had one thing to say: “It’s bullshit.” From Scott’s perspective, racial tensions and pandemic issues in Indianapolis can only be solved by people coming together for conversations. But, she said this may be impossible due to the deep political divide that’s already been created.

“We all need to get together and talk about it,” Scott said. “But my whole thing is that they don’t ever want to bring the Black people together with the white people to tell the whole story.”

On Friday, Nov. 26, the lights carefully strung around the monument by dozens of workers will be lit. Indianapolis residents and visitors will surround the community staple with a togetherness that has been rare in the last two years. Despite the Indy streets being filled with people, for Black Indianapolis residents, there’s still a long road ahead. Distrust of the systems around them still runs rampant, and hard conversations need to be had to tackle these issues.


Tabby Fitzgerald Tabby Fitzgerald

As one walks around Circle Center Mall in downtown Indianapolis on a Saturday morning, one will notice the different people that occupy its space.

Many formed lines outside of popular stores, such as Finish Line, as they eagerly awaited its opening. A small group of teenage boys gathered in the hallway of the fourth floor near the arcade and talked loudly about all of the games they were eager to play during the day.

The mall wasn’t always like this. There was a time when no one would be seen walking the halls or chatting with their friends.

In mid-March of 2020, malls across America shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until May 2020, when malls began to reopen, the buildings many occupied to shop the latest trends across America were a ghost town. But how did things change for the people whose livelihood relied on the doors of these once thriving buildings?

Unlike many, Creator and CEO of In My Sista’s Ear Durga Muhammad, COVID-19 had a positive impact on her online earring business due to the skyrocket in people shopping online.

“There’s a silver lining to every cloud,” Muhammad said. “Covid impacted my business positively. Everybody had to stay home for two months, but women still wanted to be beautiful, so they ordered a lot of earrings.”

Muhammad was a stay-at-home mom who has been creating and selling earrings for the past 20 years. She got her start after being bored one day and deciding to start upcycling items. Her business started from her home and she would attend events through SHE., a company that provides venues for black-owned businesses.

SHE. Xperience Department Store opened its doors on Oct. 1. Many vendors who participated in SHE. Event Indy, like Muhammad, are now vendors through the store. Muhammad says that being located in the mall at a physical location has helped her business.

“This is the website in physical form,” Muhammad said.

Unlike Muhammad, not all businesses in Circle Center Mall have had a positive experience with COVID-19 and its ripple effects.

Sierra Braun is a Sales Advisor at H&M and has worked with the company since Feb. According to Braun, when she first started her job they were understaffed and barely any shoppers came in.

H&M had issued a company-wide mask mandate when it reopened, so of the shoppers that did come in, they were required to wear a mask.

Not all customers listened. Braun remembers several encounters that she and her coworkers had with shoppers who refused to wear a mask.

Braun and her coworkers would approach entering shoppers and remind them of the company-wide mask mandate. If a shopper refused to wear a mask they would be asked to leave.

Most customers didn’t have an issue with this and would just leave. However, some would cause a scene.

“When people would threaten us with violence, then we would have to call security on them,” Braun said of some customer’s reaction to the mask mandate. “We got someone banned from the mall because they were so outrageous about it.”

Braun says that some of her coworkers have had very similar experiences when it comes to reminding customers that masks are required. Although many workers of H&M had this experience, not all workers of stores within Circle Center Mall have.

A couple of stores down from where H&M is located is The Children’s Place. Store Manager Levi Davis has been with The Children’s Place for the past 6 years and has never had any shoppers have an issue with wearing a mask.

Besides now having to wear a mask, Davis has noticed other changes that COVID-19 has caused in the retail industry such as planning.

“At least before you knew exactly how each day was going to go,” Davis said. “Now it’s like you may not see a customer for two hours and then all of a sudden you have like 30 people show up all at once. It’s very unpredictable.”

Braun believes that a reason why working at Circle Center Mall and interacting with customers now is so different than before the pandemic is because everyone is desperate for things to be normal again.

“I think a lot of people were just on edge and they desperately wanted things to go back to normal,” Braun said.


Evan Gerike

Mauricio Acosta stood in the back of Bicycle Garage Indy Downtown, working on an orange front loading cargo bike nearly twice as long as he is tall. Behind him a sign read “BGI is now serving customers inside. WELCOME BACK, FRIENDS.”

Acosta spun the wheel of the electric cargo bike, his head nearly touching the tire, and heard the drag of the rotor against the brake pad.

“At this point I don’t want to put any more shop time into it,” Acosta told his coworker, Alex Norris. “I’d rather replace the rotor and call it a day.”

He navigated the 8-foot, 5-inch long bike through the shop, deciding to give it one test ride before ordering a new rotor. He pulled it out of the shop, shot out the door and did a lap outside.

“Oh man, that has a lot of torque,” he laughed.

Acosta first learned how to ride a bike around the age of 5. When he was 9 years old, he discovered he had a mechanical gift when he resoldered a cable he had ripped out of his brother’s guitar amp. By the time he was 14, he was working in bike shops.

At 22 years old, Acosta has been working with bikes for over eight years. For a while he was at Nine13sports, a mobile bike-based nonprofit that sets up bikes in gyms, challenging students to be active with an interactive simulator that makes riding bikes feel like a video game.

In May 2020, Acosta was hit by a pickup truck while riding his bike, breaking his collarbone and shoulder blade. He had surgery to repair the breaks, including getting 36 pieces of metal screwed in. The front scar is nearly six inches long. The back, the one he says gets everyone, is longer and shaped like an L.

On his Instagram is a post of himself in a hospital bed with a brace around his neck and a black bandana on.

“Not only is this a painful injury that will take quite a bit of time to heal from,” the caption reads, “but the fact that I have to sit in a hospital alone all night with the current public health situation makes it that much worse.”

Acosta was off bikes for two and a half months. As he healed, he decided to switch out of the nonprofit side and got a job with Bicycle Garage Indy in October.

Bicycle Garage Indy wasn’t affected by the pandemic like most businesses were. The hardest thing they had to deal with was a shortage of bikes in the supply chain. There was no shortage of customers.

Norris, who has been working at Bicycle Garage Indy since 2019, said the shop closed down to the public in early March when the pandemic hit, but they still had bikes to service, so they continued working. It slowly reopened to curbside service only.

Interest in bikes began to spike as the weather became warmer. The supply chain, meanwhile, made it harder to get bikes and equipment. When things did come in, they were typically made from cheaper components and needed better warranties. At one point Bicycle Garage Indy only had six bikes on the racks, all over $5,000. Now there’s 35.

But still, Bicycle Garage Indy was open. Customers like Miles Hodge would ride up to the front door and drop their bikes off for a new tube or some maintenance.

Hodge, like so many others, took up biking more during the pandemic. It was something to do, a chance to get out of the house.

“We live across the street, so it was really convenient,” Hodge said.

According to a sign in the shop, Indianapolis has 104 miles of bike lines and 99 miles of trails. The bicycle infrastructure has improved since Norris came to Indianapolis from Virginia for school, he says, but there’s still progress to be made.

Not all intersections are safe for bikes and with the construction bikes are often running into flat tires from debris. As the construction winds down, if infrastructure improves, Norris thinks the city will be more accessible and environmentally friendly than driving cars.

Acosta doesn’t have a car, so he commutes to work. In the evenings, he often delivers pizza. It takes him a second to think of how many bikes he owns. He’s down to about five, he says, but when he had a bigger house it was 12.

“A lot of people probably think I came out of the womb on a bike,” he jokes.


Isaac Gleitz

DeMarcus Banks stands on a busy street holding an empty Fazoli’s cup and a painting he’s rendered on cardboard. This is nothing new.

He crosses the street, distancing himself from the vibrant shops of Massachusetts Avenue. He keeps walking and never looks back.

He nears a brick building that’s emitting sounds of joy and offers relief from the frigid November air. He stops to chat with a security guard. He says the produce guy he encountered a few days ago is a cruel hearted man because he assumed that his appearance meant he just wanted to bum money.

“He was mean to me,” Banks said. “I’m not like them.”

He continues on his predetermined route, never hesitating. He tells a worker in the deli section that they better watch their shrimp before it’s overcooked. It evokes no response.

He sits down and says that he has lived a “dysfunctional” life. He has lived in Indianapolis his whole life but is yet to find his place here. In the meantime, he’s been coming to this grocery store every other day for decades.

“It’s peaceful here,” Banks said. “The atmosphere is really quiet. You need some place to go to get away from something.”

He recently left his wife and her house and is now in the process of a divorce. His life hasn’t worked out as he had hoped. His family wanted him to become an attorney, but he wanted to be an artist or a professional athlete.

“I tried…but I had no support, so basically it just all went to nothing.”

He was a tight end on his high school football team, but his family didn’t go to games. They didn’t care. He’s not like them: He cares—about other people and the God that created him.

“I think His plan for me is to help people. I think that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

He feels incapable of hating others, even if they give him the bitterest of treatment. While he tries to enjoy the world, he would like to go to heaven. He knows everything will be more peaceful there.

“I’m patient. I would like to go, but it’s up to him.”

Back on Massachusetts Avenue, some mums hold on to their last breath of color as shivering couples walk their dogs underneath a tapestry of brightly colored signs.

An old man in an art store keeps watch over his stock. His dazzling earrings match the store’s embezzled picture frames and his curly hair blends into the swirls on the custom picture frames. Outside the store, the planks of a rainbow-colored park bench lead one’s eye towards the shops beyond.

Emily Monaghan, an employee at Homespun: Modern Handmade, said she loves working in an inclusive atmosphere. The annual pride parade passes through the street, and store owners display rainbow flags in their windows.

“It’s definitely the gayest street in Indianapolis,” Monaghan said.

Phoebe Harp, her coworker and friend, identifies as queer. Indy is the only place in the state where she would live because it’s a safe space for her identity.

“The environment that my parents created for me at home—that felt right, but there were other things in my life that didn’t feel right about being here,” Harp said. “Even going just a little bit outside of Indianapolis felt weird for me.”

Harp and Monaghan walk to the other side of the store to help a customer find the right piece of jewelry.

While the shoppers on Massachusetts Avenue come and go as if part of a programmed time lapse, one person does not budge. You can find Banks on the street standing next to the Indy sign that’s missing the “I” that people use for quirky pictures. He considers himself to just be as much a part of the city as anyone else. He approaches everyone with kindness, and his art is more than a weekend visit: It’s his way to connect with those around him. He shows people passing by his cardboard masterpiece, that he’s titled “Turkey Butt.” In it, a turkey dances to music while wearing Nike tennis shoes.

“I let go of everything for the church and the art,” Banks said.


Mary Claire MolloyMary Claire Molloy

The alley where Mr. Indianapolis died is now blocked off by a red dumpster. Call Ray, it says, 539-2024.

On the ground, there’s a crushed plastic water bottle and a half-eaten apple—debris from the construction workers suspended above the city on metal platforms. They’re building a new, seven-story apartment complex.

The Circle City is growing back.

The windows of the nearby Huntington Bank, once shattered, have been replaced with smooth, new glass. The graffiti tags on the Indiana War Memorial have been wiped off. The plywood is gone. So, too, are the protest signs demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland.

The concrete jungle may have absorbed the blood in the streets. But Chris Beaty died on this tiny patch of downtown Indianapolis the night of May 30, 2020—and those who loved him will never forget it. With the trial for those accused of his murder set to begin on Nov. 29, it’s even more important that they remember.

“His legacy still stands all over Indy,” Ben Jafari said. “Hopefully justice will be served.”

Jafari, 37, knelt in the alley on his hands and knees and cleaned up after Chris’s death the next day. At the time, he didn’t know the blood belonged to his friend.

“I felt like it was my duty to clean it,” he told USA TODAY. “Out of respect for the victim, out of respect for the city and the people.”

When the coroner’s office finally identified the victim of the fatal shooting, Jafari learned it wasn’t a stranger. It was Chris Beaty, a former Indiana University football player and well-known businessman who earned the nickname “Mr. Indianapolis.” Chris Beaty, his friend and a friend to thousands of others around the city. The man with the 1,000-watt smile who told everyone, “There’s got to be a better way.”

Chris Beaty, who died trying to save two women who were being robbed at gunpoint during a violent night of riots in the city. His mother always said he was a gentleman.

Jafari cried. Then he returned to the stubborn bloodstain with a heavy-duty brush, determined not to leave a drop more in the street.

Today, he thinks of Beaty whenever he passes the entrance to the alley. There are no longer teddy bears or flowers or balloons. The mural of Beaty painted on plywood by local artists has been taken down. But Chris’s spirit is alive all over the city, Jafari says.

Debra Cooper plans to visit her son’s grave at Crown Hill Cemetery before jury selection begins Monday. She’s not afraid to face the three people accused of pulling the trigger on her son’s life. In a city riddled with violence— a record-breaking 217 homicides so far in 2021 alone—Cooper wonders how and when the violence will stop.

“If I had a chance to ask them, I’d ask why they were out doing that,” Cooper said of defendants Alijah Jones, Nakeyah Shields and Marcus Anderson. “They could’ve done a lot of things besides going out and robbing and killing.”

Still, Cooper isn’t surprised her son stepped in to save strangers.

“My son would give you the shirt off his back,” she said. “He’d say to me, ‘Mom, I’ve got more shirts in my closest.’”


Ryley OberRyley Ober

Jimmy takes a rag out of his janitor’s cart. Water and suds splat across the window. He wipes. Rinses the rag. Then wipes again.

This job is starting to feel repetitive. It seems the less people and businesses that fill the mall, the more work his boss finds for him to do.

But today is different. Circle Center Mall’s food court is streaming with customers. Some are young girls in bedazzled cheer briefs with hair tied in tight updos. Others are high school marching band members from across the country, now fiending for food in between performances at the Bands of America Grand National championship.

Today the mall sees a glimpse of life, but last year it sat empty.

Empty, except for Jimmy Williams.

Due to Covid-19, the mall had been closed for a week last March when his boss called all the janitors back to clean. From his perch next to his sanitation cart, Jimmy has seen a year of change sweep across downtown Indianapolis. Businesses were boarded up. Racial justice protests and subsequent riots hit the city. Mall windows were shattered.

Jimmy kept cleaning, picking up the broken glass littering the sidewalk.

But now his job might be in danger. As more and more businesses in the mall close, Jimmy’s shifts have longer hours. Janitors have quit or been let go; His coworkers have dropped from 40 to 13, he would estimate. The few left are being spread thin. Yet Jimmy isn’t too concerned with job security.

“If this place closed down, I’d just do what I always do: go find me another job.” Jimmy says. “Even though this ain’t a big job in the world, at least I got a job and not running around the street getting in trouble.”

Jimmy emphasizes the value of work. Growing up with 11 siblings in Indy, he saw resilience reflected in his working single mom. As kids around him were getting into trouble, his mom made him promise to stay in school.

He attended Broad Ripple High School, whose doors permanently closed in 2018. Money was tight but he went to college, studying telecommunications at Indiana University on a group scholarship. He chose that major because he loves to talk with people. When the Reagan Administration cut 27 percent of financial aid to college students in 1981, he was a part of the 1 million students that lost funding. He could no longer afford to keep his promise.

Jimmy continued to work for what he has. Through short term jobs at the convention center and other businesses in downtown Indy, he saved up money. Over time he had enough to buy a house on the Eastside of town for himself and his pitbull he calls Noname. Jimmy refuses handouts. Not even from his nephew, George Hill, the NBA and IUPUI star, who also attended Broad Ripple.

“Uncle Jimmy, if you ever need anything just let me know,” Hill tells him all the time.

“As long as I’m living I gotta do me.” Jimmy always declines the help. “You got into the NBA on your own, so I gotta do this on my own. I can’t depend on anybody else, I gotta depend on my own self.”

After a lifetime of working in Indianapolis, Jimmy hopes to retire soon.

“When I hit 60, I quit.”

His nephew Hill, after being on 7 teams in 5 years, is now settled playing for the San Antonio Spurs. When he retires, Jimmy is thinking about taking Noname to join his nephew in Texas, finding a home outside of Indianapolis for the first time in his life.


Haley PritchettHaley Pritchett

Katelyn and Ricky Reach walk into Circle Center Mall carrying everything they own.

Katelyn pushes a suitcase with a tent resting on top of it, while Ricky wears two backpacks- one across his chest, and one on his back.

Beneath Katelyn’s coat hood is her Stitch onesie. The teeth of the creature rest above her eyebrows. Ricky has tied two water jugs to one of his backpacks. They hit his knees repeatedly as he walks.

As they coast through the mall, everyone’s head turns. One elderly woman scans them and narrows her eyes in disapproval.

They do not notice, or they do, and choose not to care. They are here on a mission, to find Ricky a job.

Katelyn approaches the Regal Cinemas ticket booth and scans the “Now Hiring” sign with her cell phone. She pulls up the application.

“I really want this job,” Ricky says to Katelyn. “I want to take care of you and the baby.”

A couple of weeks ago they concluded that Katelyn was pregnant. She has been having the same morning sickness, nausea, and mood swings that were around with her two other pregnancies. She even has been craving ice cream with pickles again. While she lost the other two babies due to miscarriages, she hopes this one will be different.

“As long as I can stay less stressed,” Katelyn said, sighing. “It’s the people who were causing all the stress.”

The people she is referring to are both her and Ricky’s biological families.

“Our families are ass holes,” she said. “Let’s put it that way.”

Ricky turned down a shelter last week because it was too close to where his uncle lives. He was scared that he would somehow find them and harm them.

“He hit me in the head,” Ricky paused. “Really hard. I have head trauma and memory loss.”

Katelyn nodded and squeezed Ricky’s hand.

The two met Dec. 11, as Ricky recalls, of last year. They were married on Sept. 15 of this year.

Ricky wears a simple ring from Amazon, and Katelyn wears a ruby ring from Kay jewelers.

“It’s the most expensive thing I got,” she says. “It’s the last thing we’d sell if it came down to it. But that would be the last, last, last resort.”

Ricky smiles proudly and traces his thumb over the ring.

“It reminds her of a rose,” he said. “Roses are her favorite.”

Katelyn helps Ricky fill out the application, and then it is time to head back outside. The high is 39 degrees, and they are heading home, where sadly it will not be any warmer.

It takes 25 minutes to get to where they live-under the bridge at White River State Park.

They shiver the whole way. Katelyn lights a cigarette, and the heat of the flame warms her face.

“I know I shouldn’t be doing it right now,” she says with a hand over her stomach. “But if I don’t have them, I turn into Godzilla because of my anxiety, right, Ricky?”

Ricky aggressively nods.

Katelyn has Asperger’s, anxiety disorder, and depression. Ricky also suffers from anxiety and depression, and on top of that he has ADHD.

Many people that live under the bridge also struggle with mental illness, Katelyn says.

According to the Mental Illness Policy Org. one-third of the homeless population is mentally ill. That means that there are 250,000 other people in the United States like Ricky and Katelyn struggling with their mental health while living on the streets.

Katelyn stops at a patch of dirt under the bridge. There is a small fire pit made from rocks and an empty oatmeal container. That’s it.

“This is home,” she says, grinning.

She takes her tent off her suitcase and goes to work making their spot homey.

“I honestly kinda like this,” she says. “It brings me back to when I was a Girl Scout.”

Down the trail, there is a large cross sticking up from the ground. A small stuffed llama sits on it, as well as purple and blue artificial flowers.

Katelyn says it is a memorial for a man whose body was found in that spot.

“Yeah, a lot of people die down here,” she said. “They find a lot of bodies.”

That does not bother her and Ricky, though. They keep each other safe.

“We’re like lost puppies, following and protecting each other,” Ricky said.

Katelyn and Ricky settle in their space.

“We’re not put on this earth to please everyone,” Katelyn says. “As long as you have each other, nothing else matters.”


Carolina Puga MendozaCarolina Puga Mendoza

Who would’ve thought tortillas save the day?

Isaro’s Market & Juice Bar, a local Mexican business right on the west side of Indianapolis established itself unaware of what was lurking around the corner: A global pandemic.

Rosario Diego, 32, and Diego Vicente, 29, invested more than $50,000 into their dream job, not knowing that a virus would make its way to their homes.

“When you have everything invested, you don’t have anything else to lose. You’ve already lost everything, so what are you going to do? Nothing?” Vicente said. “What will you wait for: To fall or to rise?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on February 11, 2020, the virus received its official name: Coronavirus Disease 2019. And soon after, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Vicente said they tried to cancel the contract, but it was sealed and there was no way back. The deal was done, the business theirs, and the pandemic waited for no one.

Business after business ended. More than 40 stores and restaurants around Indianapolis closed in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to WRTV. Diego and Vicente did not have a backup plan, they had placed all their savings, time, and mindset in Isaro. One way or another, they had to make it work.

“You don’t about it, at that moment, you don’t think a pandemic would happen,” Diego said. “You only think how you’ll sustain yourself because bills wait for no one.”

Diego and Vicente knew their business was next and prepared for the worst.

But the worst never came.

A ray of solidarity had their backs. Their community came together with donations and commerce deals. Local markets exchanged business with Isaro; however, Diego said it wasn’t the Hispanic community that had their back, but their international and American friends who made sure the small business stood strong.

“Among Hispanics we tend to close our doors and not let others to embark into enterprise, but our friends never closed that door,” Diego said.

Asian, African, American, Indian, and many more, from Illinois and Indiana, everyone arose in support of Isaro. Even though they faced their own struggles, and their own business was at the stake of closing, it did not stop them from helping Diego and Vicente’s family from closing their store.

“It’s something that gives you more strength to keep seeking for more. It’s where ideas that you never thought of come your way,” Diego said.

Tortillas play a large role in Latinx cuisine, but Vicente never thought it would be the thing to keep their business afloat alongside the local support.

Isaro focuses on the sale of agricultural sales, such as fruits and vegetables. They said that most of the businesses to close were in the food service industry; however, Isaro focused on selling consumer goods such as toilet paper, water, and tortillas.

Isaro faced an influx of Hispanic customers seeking to buy tortillas for the morning breakfast or late dinner. The market would sell up to 200 boxes of tortillas.

The tortilla business, on top of the community support, gave them enough time to get back on their feet as the pandemic subsided.

A business that survived from having six customers a day now thrives on more than 30 customers a day.

The market, and now restaurant, welcomes clients with its loud traditional music and engulfs them with the sweet smell of food.

They survived a pandemic, now they are ready for anything.


For this year’s winners, see the main Keating Competition page.  The annual writing contest pays homage to the late Indianapolis Star journalist Tom Keating, a beloved columnist who told the stories of everyday people.