May 4, 2018

Str8Up Camp

KIDS BEING KIDS – Students from Arlington Community High School learned life skills, participated in water games and hiked trails during this year’s spring Str8Up Mentoring Program camp at Str8Up Ministries in Indianapolis. The event is hosted each year by Arlington alum Kurt Moore.

Twice a year, Indianapolis business owner and Arlington High School alum Kurt Moore takes students from his alma mater into the “wilderness” to get inside their heads — and their hearts.

The goal is to build character in inner-city youth.

Str8Up Camp2

Hosted by Moore’s Str8Up Mentoring Foundation, the camp is held in the fall and spring at Str8Up Ministries, a local lodge tucked away on the city’s west side. Featuring campgrounds, trails, a lake, theater, game room and more, students are removed from their daily environments for a daylong retreat — where team-building skills, inspirational conversations and fun are the only lessons for the day.

It’s a program Moore started about eight years ago, thanks to an opportunity by Arlington Community High School Principal Stan Law.

“I was doing a charity basketball game to raise money for uniforms for Arlington students and Mr. Law said he needed African-American men to walk the halls at the school to help out,” said Moore. “I told him my story and asked for 25 of his worst kids — at this time Arlington had junior high and high school students. Principal Law gave me 25 7th- and 8th-grade boys — all borderline expulsion; the majority of them were straight Fs, and over half of them had already been through the juvenile system.”

Within eight weeks, Moore and a group of men he pulled together were able to help turn the students’ lives around — academically and behaviorally.

That’s when the seeds of the camp began to germinate. The first year attracted 50 students, and 75 attended the following year. During this year’s spring camp, Moore hosted 100 boys and girls from Arlington.

“We hike through the woods, do team-building activities and sports, and put them in canoes on the water … and it’s like these young people from the inner city have never experienced anything like this before,” said Moore, who grew up on the city’s eastside near Arlington. “It really affects and impacts them greatly. We give out medals, shirts and bags and, man, you never hear the end of it; they’re talking about it months later.”

Both Moore and Sylvia Phillips, Arlington’s parent involvement educator, said the camp allows students to let go of any worries and simply be kids — even if it’s only for one day.

Phillips said you can see the stress “fall off” of students at the campground.

“They turn back into kids again,” said Moore. “A lot of our kids are kids but they’re living adult lives with the single-parent homes and some homes where the parent isn’t there, and these kids are basically raising themselves. For the kids to go into the woods, they love it. They’re hiking, taking pictures — and especially when they get into the lake, they’re kids again, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

The camp is an extension of the Str8Up Mentoring Program Moore offers twice a week at Arlington, where he and a group of volunteers strengthen students’ morals, values and life skills, provide academic tutoring, college and career planning, and even an intermural basketball team.

No matter what Moore is doing with students, straight talk is always involved. “We keep it raw, because if I don’t speak to them straight, somebody else will,” he said.

If anyone understands today’s inner-city youth, it’s Moore.

He played basketball and baseball at Arlington and graduated in 1987. He attended Chattahoochee Valley College — a junior college in Alabama — where he played basketball for two years.

Upon his return to Indianapolis, he immediately got caught up in the city’s street life. That was during the 1990s at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, and Moore jumped in, drawn by the lure of fast money. He entered federal prison at age 27 and was released 13 years later — at age 40. While it was a difficult time in his life, he also considers it a blessing.

“It really was a blessing because it changed my life; it made me become a man,” said Moore. “I decided to make some changes in my life and the first was allowing God to change me. I knew when I got out that I wanted to make a difference and be part of the solutions out here.”

With help from several local pastors, Moore began telling his story — locally and in cities throughout the country. He’s now viewed as a positive example, but uses his story so kids have a clear understanding about consequences, and that for every action is a reaction.

Moore has owned K-Love’s Auto Detailing, at 38th and Keystone, for eight years. The business also includes a mobile wash portion that services 40 different dealerships. Through his business, he’s hired more than 300 men and women released from prison, kids in need of summer jobs, homeless people and those who are “down and out.”

However, his biggest passion is mentoring students, which means giving them an opportunity to see something different.

“Kids want what they see, so if the only things our kids — the young men in particular — see is the hood and the violence and the drugs and the nonsense every day, that’s all they’ll want for,” said Moore. “But if we take them out of their natural habitat and let them see more, then they’ll want more and hopefully they’ll broaden their horizons.”

When Arlington becomes a middle school for the 2018-19 school year, Moore’s Str8Up programming will move with Principal Law to George Washington High School. But he still wants to have a presence at Arlington. He’s also received interest from Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School.

“They say it takes a whole village, and I want to be a part of that village and be hands on,” said Moore. “If I can get into every IPS school, let’s make it happen. I want to be where there’s more of a need, where these young men are like I was, which is definitely in the inner city. They need me and men like me to just show them love.”