State agencies in Republican-controlled Indiana are providing taxpayer dollars and marketing assistance to a far-left organization that is bringing two prominent critical race theory activists to a statewide teachers’ conference this summer.
Indiana Black Expo, a group that bills itself as “celebrat[ing] cultural diversity and inclusiveness across all races, ethnicities, nationalities, generations, socioeconomic levels and religious affiliations,” will host its annual education conference from July 13 to 15. Dena Simmons and Dr. Bettina L. Love, two activists who frequently rake in thousands from taxpayers to lecture on “systemic racism,” will deliver keynote speeches. Both did not respond to The Federalist’s request for comment.
Simmons became the subject of national controversy earlier this year when whistleblower teachers in Naperville, Illinois, documented her publicly funded training accusing “whiteness” of damaging education. In a widely viewed YouTube video, Simmons says those who do not support “antiracism” in education — an ideology that charges the United States with “systemic racism” and accused people of evil based on their inborn skin color — are “white supremacists.”
“Whiteness will do whatever is necessary to protect its power. People will die of whiteness before giving it up,” Simmons wrote in an Instagram post in March. Simmons has also praised the error-riddled, racially charged, and anti-American New York Times school curricula known as the 1619 Project.
More than 5,000 teachers and professionals attended the Indiana Black Expo last year, most of them working in public institutions. The title of this year’s conference is: “Education Equity: The Role of Schools and Universities in Leveling the Playing Field.”
Familiar People, Familiar Topics
Black Expo President Tanya McKinzie did not respond to an inquiry asking how much Simmons and Love are being paid for their speeches. Several state agencies fund the outfit with taxpayer dollars.
“This year’s theme, ‘Education Equity: The Role of Schools and Universities in Leveling the Playing Field,’ presents an opportunity to explore approaches to enhance culturally responsive culture in our schools and universities,” McKinzie told The Federalist.
Simmons, who The Federalist reported was paid more than $10,500, or $175 a minute, to speak to the Naperville, Illinois public school district earlier this year via Zoom, will speak for 75 minutes at the Indiana conference. She is the founder of LiberatED, “a collective focused on developing school-based resources at the intersection of social and emotional learning (SEL), racial justice, and healing.”
The former Yale staffer is known for her broad generalizations critical of white people as a category. A whistleblower who previously spoke to The Federalist and attended her lecture in Naperville said she claimed Americans are “spiritually murdering” students and that “our education is based on a foundation of whiteness.”
Simmons’ Indiana keynote is titled “From Surviving to Thriving: Creating Equitable Environments Through Emotional Intelligence and Culturally Relevant Practices.” Its description reads, in part:
During this interactive session, participants will explore impostor syndrome, emotional intelligence, and culturally relevant pedagogy, and anti-racist practices. Through narrative, Dr. Simmons will discuss how the intersection of emotionally intelligent and culturally relevant practices can create equitable and welcoming communities, where everyone can learn in the comfort of their skin.
Love, a University of Georgia professor who frequently lectures on “Abolitionist Teaching, anti-racism, Hip Hop education, Black girlhood, queer youth, Hip Hop feminism, art-based education to foster youth civic engagement, and issues of diversity and inclusion,” according to her website, will speak for 85 minutes to Hoosier teachers. The title of her speech is, “We Gon’ Be Alright, But That Ain’t Alright: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom.”
This is not the first time Simmons and Love have spoken together at conferences aimed at publicly funded educators. Last summer, both spoke on a panel called “Abolitionist Teaching and the Future of Our Schools” with critical race theory consultant Gholdy Muhammad and Brian Jones, associate director of education at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
‘It’s My Obligation’
Multiple state government entities are involved in the conference, including state-funded universities. The Indiana Department of Child Services, Department of Education, and Commission for Higher Education are listed as conference “partners” on the Black Expo organization’s website.
Child Services told The Federalist the state agency paid Black Expo $20,000 this year. Noelle Russell, a spokeswoman for Child Services, said in an email that “the agency supports a number of community initiatives and events but is not involved in the organization or execution of the conference.”
The Department of Education responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that “it was determined the Department does not maintain the records you are requesting, as the Department is not a financial sponsor of this event.” However, Secretary of Education Katie Jenner, appointed by Republican Gov. Eric J. Holcomb and making a taxpayer-provided annual salary of $175,000, will speak at the conference on the third day.
An open records request showed the commission did not directly throw money to the 2021 conference either. However, documents obtained by The Federalist show the Indiana Higher Education Commission has paid Black Expo $7,500 in taxpayer funds during the last three years. That sum went toward the 2019 conference. The service contract can be read below:
Another person appointed by the governor as a leader of this state agency will also speak at this critical race theory-infused conference.
Teresa S. Lubbers, the commissioner of the group whom state taxpayers pay more than $220,000 annually, will “present the data that has been driving conversations around equity and education at the state level.”
Lubbers claimed in an interview with The Federalist that the commission “has no involvement with critical race theory.” Yet the state agency Lubbers runs sent out an invitation for the event through the agency’s state-run email, jointly signed by Lubbers and McKinzie and featuring the state’s seal and branding.
The invitation can be viewed below.
“I think it’s my obligation to provide information to any group that wants to know information about how students are doing,” Lubbers said when asked if she believes it is reasonable for a taxpayer-funded state agency to lend a hand to organizations and speakers who promote critical race theory. “That’s my obligation.”
Dr. Beverley Pitts, chair of the commission, indicated to The Federalist that she had no knowledge of the conference speakers prior to seeing the newsletter. Commission Secretary Jud Fisher and others on the commission appointed by the governor declined to comment.
“You know, I’m not involved in any of those kinds of activities,” Pitts said. “In fact, I learned about it with our kind of newsletter.”
Big Government, Big Business
Two taxpayer-funded institutions, Indiana University and Indiana State University, are also listed as sponsors of the event.
“For more than five decades, Indiana University (IU) has been a proud supporter of the Indiana Black Expo (IBE) Summer Celebration, one of the largest African American cultural events in the country,” the school’s website states. “During the weeklong celebration, Indiana University partners with IBE to ensure educational equity for all.”
Additionally, the university outlines what will be discussed:
Planned topics include equity challenges in K-12 and higher education during COVID-19; best practices with how to teach and engage students with technology; effective engagement of students through personalized learning and blended learning environments; identification of access gaps for students and teachers navigating a non-traditional learning environment and necessary supports; and fighting educational inequities in the face of COVID-19.
Several Indiana University professors will speak at the conference, in addition to the university’s Dr. James C. Wimbush, vice president for diversity, equity, and multicultural affairs, Assistant Vice President for Diversity Education Monica M. Johnson, and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Rachel Ann Brooks.
“Indiana University is deeply committed to cultivating an environment that advocates inclusion and equity for all,” Winbush said in a statement. “That commitment has been the driving force behind IU’s position at the forefront of diversity efforts in higher education as well as its long tradition of opening doors for underrepresented, underserved, and minority groups. As part of this commitment, IU continues to be a proud supporter of Indiana Black Expo.”
One of the private groups listed as funding the conference is Lilly Endowment, Inc., a non-profit that frequently contributes to left-wing causes, especially in-state. Documents reviewed by The Federalist show the foundation funneled more than $1.1 million to Black Expo in 2020.
Where Are Indiana’s Republicans?
Many Indiana Republicans were contacted about the state resources being expended towards this event, but only one responded. Those who did not return a request for comment on the matter include Senate Education Committee head Jeff Ratz, Senate Education Committee member Dennis Kruse, Senate Majority Leader Rodric Bray, and House Speaker Todd Huston. The Indiana GOP could not be reached for comment as well.
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office also did not return a request for comment.
Lawmakers were asked (a) whether they believe this is a good use of state taxpayer money and (b) if they support Simmons’ reported comments that Americans “are spiritually murdering” students and that “our education is based on a foundation of whiteness.”
House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning responded to The Federalist’s inquiry and condemned critical race theory, but did not say whether he will take any action regarding the state government’s involvement in this conference.
“I don’t support critical race theory curriculum being taught in Indiana’s public schools,” Behning said. “This polarizing issue is top-of-mind for many concerned families in our state and across the nation. We should be focused on bringing Hoosiers together, and ensuring every student has the opportunity to succeed throughout their entire academic career.”