Dr. Preston Adams has more in common with many of the IPS
students he engages with throughout the year than is obvious at first glance. So
when he’s standing at the front of the line giving students a high five before
they enter school in the morning, he understands the impact that hand gesture
can have on them.
“That high five gives our young people that spark for the
day or the week. It says to them that they matter, that we love and affirm them
and that someone believes in them,” said Adams, founder of Urban Initiative, a
nonprofit organization that hosts the high-five rallies at IPS schools.
The rallies, which can range in attendance from 30 to 100
men from all walks of life, provide a positive male presence, which is the main
motivation behind the movement.
But for Adams, the actual high five represents all of the
things he didn’t receive from a man during his childhood — especially not the
man that mattered most, his father.
Take away his undergraduate, theology and doctorate degrees,
the numerous plaques and certificates that hang on his office walls, his community
service, the books he has authored and the congregation he leads at Amazing
Grace Christian Church, and Adams’ childhood is probably a mirror image of some
of the children he serves.
“I grew up the stereotypical African-American male, in the
inner city, in a single-parent household where my father wasn’t present,” said
Adams. “I grew up on the Southside of Chicago in Englewood, with crime, gangs,
drugs, oppression, police brutality.”
Adams recalls many of his childhood friends going in and out
of prison, with some dropping out of school as early as second and third grade.
Although he too was “influenced by the lifestyle of the streets,” he said he
never completely crossed “that” line.
“In the initial stages, it was purely the grace of God that
I didn’t cross that line. But it was also that sense of upbringing that there’s
more to life than what you see here,” said Adams, who credits his mom for
keeping him on the right path by instilling a love of Christ in him and his
“Even though the street had its lure, I also knew that if I
crossed that line how that would end or what that would lead to. I was
fortunate enough to be one of the ones that made it through that.”
It wasn’t until he attended Central State University in
Wilberforce, Ohio, that his life began to change. “I was the first in my peer
group to go to college and graduate from college,” said Adams, who studied
In his 20s, after moving to Indianapolis to work as a
computer programmer at The Finance Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Adams
began mentoring youth at the local juvenile detention center.
“I started going over to the juvenile center every week and
just talking to the young people. I didn’t have an agenda, other than trying to
give them hope,” said Adams. “I was just a black male that had made it through
the maze, who was trying to say to other kids, particularly young black kids,
‘You don’t have to live your life this way. You don’t have to sell drugs or end
up in prison. You can go to school and get an education. You can be whatever
you want to be. You can be that dentist, scientist, lawyer, business owner,
It’s some of the same life lesson he’s trying to impart to
IPS youth, using high fives as the icebreaker.
Adams said the draw to host Urban Initiative’s high-five rallies
solely with IPS this year isn’t rooted in algorithms, statistics or IPS having
a greater need than other school districts.
“I didn’t necessarily say, ‘Hey, IPS needs it the most.’
It’s mainly that if we’re going to start somewhere with a focus, IPS is a great
place to start because I just feel that it will have a great impact on the
students that are in those schools that we will go to,” said Adams.
Urban Initiative began this year’s IPS-focused rallies on
Aug. 1 (the first day of school) at Elder W. Diggs Elementary, with the second held
Aug. 15 at Carl Wilde School 79. Upcoming rallies include Sep. 12 at George H. Fisher School 93 and Sept.
26 at Anna Brochhausen School 88. The rallies will be held at 16 IPS locations
“All schools have their challenges; kids are challenged
across the board, no matter what school district they’re in,” said Adams. “I
saw IPS as an opportunity for us to really focus the movement in a district
that is largely inner city, largely African-American, and that is largely
viewed as challenged.”
Adams said the rallies (specially the people in the rallies)
show kids an alternative to what many of them see on a daily basis, both in
their neighborhoods and their homes.
“I believe that children become what they see, so why we do
this is really to provide a positive image, a positive role model, positive
mentorship and a positive presence to our young people who, for too many of
them, may not see that. It’s a sad reality, but it’s a reality that a lot of
them don’t come from homes where they are affirmed,” said Adams.
“(Really) what has me sitting here today is that my mother
loved me. And in the midst of all of the darkness that we lived in, she never
killed my spirit. She always affirmed us. She always encouraged us. She always
spoke about the possibilities and the greatness that was in us. It’s the core
essence of why I am how I am, and I’m just trying to give that back.”