August 10, 2018

Dennis Bland is driven to help young people succeed, which is one of the reasons why his role as president of the Center for Leadership Development (CLD) is the perfect job for him.

The mission of the nonprofit is to foster the advancement of minority students in Central Indiana as future business professionals and community leaders through education and personal development experiences.

Since 1977, CLD has grown from serving 42 students and parents during its first year to a little more than 5,000 students (in Grades 4-12) and their parents through various character-based, academic and college prep programs.

Dennis Bland, president, Center for Leadership Development and an IPS graduate.

In 1982 one of those students was Bland, himself, who was a senior at Broad Ripple High School. Now he’s giving back to the organization that poured into him.

For the last 18 years, Bland has served CLD in various roles — first as a volunteer, then as president/executive director. He’s guided not only the growth of the organization, but also its reach.

Bland is hoping to extend that reach by attracting more IPS students to CLD programs by developing partnerships with district schools.

During the 2017-18 school year, 111 IPS students participated in CLD programs and initiatives. The previous year, 235 IPS students participated. It’s a trend Bland is working to reverse.

During a recent interview, Bland talked about being called into leadership through his IPS experience, how he hopes to get more IPS students involved in CLD programming, and how to maintain consistency in CLD’s mission: seeing African-American students become successful business and professional leaders.

You attended IPS schools and have lived in the district for years. What was your life like growing up as a student?

I lived in the IPS school district my entire life. I attended School 44 through second grade. From there, I went to School 66, School 105 and Broad Ripple High School (BRHS). 

Elementary was fun, being that I enjoyed going to school with my neighborhood friends. High school, however, taught me life lessons. Broad Ripple had a motto that stuck with me through life: “Broader Richer Human Services.”

This motto was a piece of fabric that was consciously and unconsciously sewed into students. It was an understanding that people take care of one another — that looking out for others is a culture element that shouldn’t go away.

I believe that everything we do serves a purpose. My high school experience cultivated me to be a leader. I was the student council president and co-captain of the basketball team, amongst other things, all the while being molded to become a leader.

When and why did you get involved with CLD?

I participated in the CLD Self-Discovery/Career Exploration Project my senior year of high school. After completing my undergraduate degree (at DePauw University), I returned to Indianapolis to study law (at Indiana University) and landed a volunteering opportunity with the organization. I became profoundly involved and gained a deeper consciousness of the state of African-American youths. Through this consciousness, there was a growing desire to do something about the deficiency of successful African-American youths and not just talk about it. This desire led to my leadership role in becoming president, which I aspire to learn more while finding fulfillment in empowering the youth.

What was the original goal of CLD?

The goal has always been to help African-American youth become professional business and community leaders. CLD is a charitable organization that works to help our community meet young people where they are in order for them to realize their full potential. Our only objective is to help young people succeed.

Is there anything about the IPS/CLD relationship that you’d like to change or grow?

I’d like to change the gap deficit that holds students back from becoming successful. CLD works hard on finding support and I’d like to see us and IPS come together to bridge this gap.

A lot of people don’t realize the efforts placed in order to build successful programs. For instance, some programs we offer have an enrollment fee. However, people are unaware that CLD pays the bulk of the cost for each student to participate. If no one sees our programs as an opportunity for the growth of each student, then the opportunity loses its value. The community has to value and take advantage of these experiences being offered to help students succeed.

So, the questions stand: How can community leaders make parents, students, administrators, etc., more aware of CLD? And how do we spread the word to inform and encourage to get them connected to the experience that has been created to empower youth?

I’d like to see better partnerships built to help cultivate and fill these gaps of our students utilizing our programs. There is tremendous potential in our youth, we know this. IPS and CLD need to meet the students where they are to help cultivate the value of education through a different prism.

IPS and CLD both are shaped to help young people succeed. Let’s work together to do so.

Talk about the programming at CLD that equips students for higher learning to become successful. 

CLD initially started with one program, the Self-Discovery/Career Exploration Project, which is a 13-week program that helps high school students gain insight on personal, educational and career goals. Today, we have 15 programs available starting at the fourth-grade level. Some of our newer programs consist of Precious Miss, which helps young girls discover and strengthen their character. We also have Project Mr., which focuses on male responsibilities. All programs are led by African-American business professionals. 

All programs and scholarship opportunities can be found on our website.

What are the benefits for students who participate in CLD?

Students are prepared to know what best choices to make going forward concerning higher education and career paths.

What’s next for the organization?

We will continue to focus on helping our community and provide innovative programs. We want to see young people go to class every day and study at least two hours each night.

Any final thoughts?

I’m looking forward to bridging the gaps of IPS student involvement with CLD. I’m looking forward to working together to draw more students to success.

To participate in CLD programming, visit