Indianapolis community leaders in education, philanthropy, and business who were interested in identifying and addressing the obstacles facing Indianapolis’ Black students first conceived the idea of the Center for Leadership Development (CLD) in 1976. CLD was officially established as a nonprofit in January 1977, with civic leader S. Henry Bundles installed as the first president and Indiana University Dean of the School of Business Schulyer F. Otteson as chairman of the board.

A brick and stone sign reads "CLD Center for Leadership Development 2425 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street"
Center for Leadership Development, 2021 Credit: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK View Source

The organization began its work by identifying the factors that it believed affected the academic and career achievements of Black youth–lack of career opportunities, lack of skills for career advancement, and the absence of African American professionals to provide guidance. By September 1977, CLD launched its first youth development program, Self-Discovery, which consisted of 10 sessions for 10th through 12th graders. It held its first graduation ceremony for the 109 students that completed the program in March 1978.

CLD soon added to its initial offering, by developing a new 6-week advanced program focused on helping students find summer employment. Using material from this program, CLD added to and extended the youth development program from 10 to 13 weeks.

A man in a suit kneels down to speak to two young women. Several students are sitting in the background.
Center for Leadership Development (CLD) president Dennis Bland checks with Jessica Hayes (left) and Christie Gomez (center) on their progress during a CLD class, 2003 Credit: John Severson, IndyStar View Source

In the 1980s and 1990s, CLD began several new projects, including a six-week Scholastic Aptitude Test prep program in partnership with IUPUI (1980), the Business Orientation Project (1987), Project MR. (1991), and Parent’s Chat (1995). It also held the first Minority Business and Professional Achievers Recognition Award Dinner in March 1981. Seven years later, the first CLD alumnus was nominated for the award.

A man stands behind a railing.
Dennis Bland, the president of the Center for Leadership, 2021 Credit: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK View Source

Bundles retired in 2000, succeeded by Dennis Bland, a lawyer and community leader. Under Bland’s leadership, CLD began new educational and character development programs such as the Rawls Scholars Medicine Initiative, named for noted Indianapolis physician George Rawls (2002), the Success Prep program (2003); the Imani Book Club (2004); and the Precious Miss program (2007). In 2007, CLD received a $1.4 million grant from the Lilly Endowment for a new building. The Lilly CLD Achievement Center, located at 2425 Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Street, officially opened on April 13, 2009. The CLD expanded its services again in 2012 with its College Prep Institute, a college readiness resource center.

As of 2022, CLD offered 17 programs focused on its five core principles and values–character development, educational excellence, leadership effectiveness, community service, and career achievement. The programs provide free or affordable help with tutoring, high school and college preparation, and leadership training for minority students from 4th grade through 12th grade.

From its beginning in 1977 through 2021, 71 percent of CLD graduates have enrolled in post-secondary programs and over 50 percent of CLD graduates who have attended college have earned a degree.

Revised June 2022

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