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Michiana 2027: Change makers silently shaping South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – As the spotlight on South Bend continues to grow, its residents silently shaping the city are taking center stage.

“Everything happens at a local level,” said Rebekah Amaya, a senior at John Adams High School.

The city encourages that community-level leadership.

These everyday-activists are more than just faces in the crowd.

Life through a lens

“I want people to think differently about their city,” said photographer Jacob Titus.

They’re the voices, usually starting conversations about change.

Photographer Jacob Titus wants to see a change in South Bend because he knows it’s a city on the rise.

“I really want to contribute to the growth of the city,” he said. “If I can use my visual tools and communication tools to change people’s mind, I think that will lead to action in all different areas of life and hopefully that will help South Bend grow.”

Less than two years ago, Titus snapped photos of South Bend and displayed them on his social media.

“I started to take pictures of downtown and some abandoned spaces around town and learn a lot about history of South Bend,” said Titus.

After garnering a buzz for his work, he helped build a community for local photographers to tell the city’s story through pictures.

Today, thousands of eyes are glued to his life through his lens.

“It’s definitely showing South Bend to the world,” he said. “I realized there was something happening here and there was people who cared about it and wanted to invest in it.”

He’s making an investment in the city by creating momentum, one snapshot at a time.

“There’s more people taking photos and posting them on Instagram now than ever before of South Bend,” said Titus.

And while he has your attention, he also uses his platform to put the spotlight on communities oftentimes left in the dark.

“While there’s so much celebration about the city’s growth, I think it needs to be taken with a little caution,” he said. “Not at all say quit making things and quit innovating, but to say, ‘how can we do things differently.’”

Using photography to restore equity in forgotten neighborhoods is his weapon.

On the frontlines

Meanwhile, others take the fight for your rights straight to politicians.

“Everyone can have that sense of their family has that security that we’re all entitled to,” said Tony Flora, the president of the North Central Indiana AFL-CIO. “And that’s what the organized labor movement is dedicated to.”

If you’ve seen video of any major rallies or strikes in St. Joseph County on the news, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Flora on the frontlines.

He’s been around to help with the fight to hire 14 more dispatchers in St. Joseph County Call Center and stood beside Honeywell workers during the 300+ day lockout.

“Job training is not going to help us if we don’t have jobs that give us a decent life,” he said.

As the president of North Central Indiana AFL-CIO, his approach to activism is fighting to change public policy.

Last month, after he and the Community Forum for Economic Justice opened a dialog with the common council, an ordinance put on the books changed how the city would provide tax abatements.

“We finally were able to convince the city that that would be a reasonable way of developing our community, to say if a business comes here and asks for a tax handout, which is what a tax abatement is, there should be some community benefit,” said Flora. “That you’re asking for a tax benefit, at least you should pay people a decent wage.”

From the council chambers to the ballot box, his fight to change policy, also extends to the state capital.

“We’ve been advocates for non-partisan redistricting commissions to set that up, we’ve also been advocates for making voting easier for people,” said Flora.

Rising up the ranks

While he aims to help the working class, there’s a student in South Bend Community Schools who’s looking to help her class.

“To make a difference, to make a change, it wasn’t necessarily on a national scale that I can do it on, but rather on a local one,” said Amaya. “So that’s what inspired me and encouraged me to start looking at issues in my community so I can help.”

While most kids look forward to down time outside of the school’s halls, Amaya looks forward to making a difference in them.

She helped the city address teen violence through the Mayor’s Youth Task Force.

“Being able to work with likeminded-people on solutions was really inspiring and helped me get a feel for that local government type of work,” she said.

She also helped organize a walk out demonstration in support of DACA students in South Bend.

“Something needed to be done to raise awareness so it was really nice to see support from a lot of my peers,” she said.

She’s the daughter of immigrants herself, so she knows these issues hit too close to home.

With that as her motivation, Amaya plans to rise up the political ranks one day, of course, after she graduates from high school and then college.

“I have that voice and I feel like I have a responsibility to spread that to my community,” said Amaya. “So it’s not just about seeing me, but it’s about representing others.”

In a city looking at a resurgence these three want to help rebuild.

“We should be committed to embracing what were the values that produced a community that was one with a great deal of shared prosperity,” said Flora.

“Empower those people to build things in their communities and change the dynamic that you see in other cities,” said Titus.

They want to rebuild values and revive neighborhoods in need.

Shared visions three generation of leaders want to translate to South Bend’s reality.

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