The Indianapolis Colts today named Dennis Bland, president of the Center for Leadership Development (CLD) in Indianapolis, as its recipient of the inaugural 2022 Inspire Change Changemaker Award.
The league’s newly established award recognizes individuals who are making a difference in their communities through social justice work across each of the NFL’s 32 club markets. Bland, whose CLD empowers Black youth for the highest academic, college and career success, will be recognized at tonight’s Inspire Change game at Lucas Oil Stadium against the L.A. Chargers.
“Through his work at CLD and other community organizations, Dennis has been an inspiration for so many young people, but especially for Black youth in Indianapolis,” said Kalen Jackson, Colts Vice-Chair & Owner. “CLD has been doing important work in our state for decades, but under Dennis’ leadership, it has become a cornerstone institution of the Indiana education landscape and one of the most respected and effective organizations in the state.”
Before leading CLD, Bland had a successful nine-year law practice, specializing in medical malpractice litigation and insurance law. Like many, he could have chosen to remain a full-time attorney with a lucrative career. Instead, Bland – himself a 1982 CLD graduate – understood the benefits CLD provided him and his journey to graduate from college and law school. His own experience, along with his passion for helping the next generation of Black leaders emerge, led him to come full circle and join CLD as president.
Under his leadership, CLD has expanded to offer 15 curriculum-based youth development experiences, as well as the unique College Prep Institute, which together help prepare more than 6,000 youth and parents per year for academic, college and career achievement. CLD has built partnerships with scores of Indiana businesses and virtually every college and university in Indiana, becoming one of the preeminent pipelines for young Black talent to enter higher education in Indiana.
What’s more, Bland has become a statewide leader and respected voice in secondary and higher education in addition to his work with CLD. He was appointed to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education by governors of different parties and served as chairman for several years. He also was a gubernatorial appointee to the Indiana Education Roundtable. In both positions, he was a strong advocate for educational opportunity for all students across Indiana.
“Striving to give Indianapolis youth access to an exemplary program model that serves as a gold standard for transforming and empowering African American youth is perhaps the most meaningful and demonstrative way in which CLD can express both our love and belief in youth and our profound gratitude to the Colts,” said Bland. “We are profoundly honored by this award, and may it inspire and propel us to do even greater works for the benefit of our city, our community and our society.”
Inspire Change is the NFL’s social justice initiative which showcases the collaborative efforts of players, owners and the league to create positive change in communities across the country and ensure that equal opportunity becomes a reality for all. Since 2017, the NFL family has provided more than $244 million to 37 national grant partners and hundreds of grassroots organizations across the country, nearing its 10-year, $250 million commitment to social justice efforts.