BY CARMEN SIERING
Caleb Poer, 17, admits there was a time when he wasn’t politically aware. “I don’t remember thinking about politics until Barack Obama was running for president,” Poer says. But it isn’t as if he was getting a late start. When Obama announced his candidacy in early 2007, Poer was 6 years old.
The 2018 Bloomington High School North graduate says politics became personal as he got older. “In high school, you see a miniature version of the real world,” Poer says. “That’s when I started to fight for equality.” As a freshman, Poer joined United Students, a gay/straight alliance, and The Movement, a black culture club.
But it was during his junior year that he became a leader. In October 2016, when a small group of students began wearing Confederate flags as capes during the lunch hour, Poer says he felt compelled to take action. “It was confusing at first, because the Confederate flag was prevalent at North. It was already there—on hats, on stickers. So, I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or what,” he recalls. “But they were wearing masks, and then one kid dressed up as a Confederate soldier. As a group they started calling people racial and gay slurs. That’s when I went to the administration and told them they had to shut it down.”
The answer Poer received—that the administration was working on it and it would take time—wasn’t one that pleased him. So, he took matters into his own hands.
“We got the word out through social media that we were going to protest that afternoon outside the MCCSC [Monroe County Community School Corporation] administrative offices,” he says. “Dr. [Judith] DeMuth came out and talked to us. And as a result, the [Confederate] flag was banned in all of the MCCSC schools.”
Poer says after seeing that being proactive and taking charge worked, he began getting involved in other ways.
As a junior, he made a presentation to a National Education Association conference in Florida where he spoke on a student panel about racial justice in schools, the importance of diversity among teaching staff, and the school-to-prison pipeline.
This spring, he was a leading force in coordinating the fundraising that allowed 50 Bloomington students to attend the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., and in organizing the local student walkout against gun violence that took place in April.
His work has been noticed. In 2017, Poer was named the Outstanding Black Male Leader of Tomorrow by the Bloomington Commission on the Status of Black Males. And he’s received the Monroe County Excellence in Leadership Award—twice.
Poer says his parents—Lynette Johnson and Darrell Poer—have always been supportive of his activism. “I’ve been threatened so many times, and it was a big life lesson when I started getting pushback from people,” he says. “My parents told me to be strong, to not sink to that level. And they told me to talk to those people, because they probably feel just as alienated as I do.”
Now a freshman at Indiana University, Poer says he plans to major in political science and business and says he would like to venture into the political world someday. He also plans to keep up his activism. First up? “I want to get people registered to vote,” he says. It’s a cause dear to his heart.
For all of his work on the political front, Poer won’t turn 18 until November 9, three days after this fall’s general election. “So, I have to get people out there to vote for me.”