The Black Rose that Grew in the KKK’s Garden

Chief Condra Leach Ridley begins her life's story with the lines: "I was born in New York, raised in Fort Wayne and grew up in L.A. I returned to Fort Wayne to share what I had learned with my community and grew beyond my imagining."

Her young life in New York was enveloped by her parents' deeply Christian faith and ancestral roots. After only one year of life, her family joined an enlarging group of relatives from Alabama in Fort Wayne where she lived through her teen years. It was here that she was nurtured by her large, loving family and began to experience racism and division and ultimately, to learn and love her African ancestry.

When she left Fort Wayne to attend college in L.A., she did indeed grow up! Of course, she continued to recognize racism with additional layers of classism and colorism, but she delighted in the multiculturalism that was so readily available there. She dove into both Pan African cultural expression and Islam by reading and meeting the greats--Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Mukasa Dada. L.A. is where she found love and became a mother, which was profound shift and what ultimately brought her back to Christianity and to her family in Fort Wayne.

Her return to Fort Wayne as an adult brought the story of her life full circle. She took the wisdom and wholeness of her being and immersed herself in her love of the youth in our community. She learned to tell stories as a tool to teach kids who didn’t like to read and in doing so, realized that at her core she is a storyteller - one who beautifully and powerfully weaves together the chapters of her life to heal with love, laughter and forgiveness.