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Investing in Indianapolis: People Make the City

Two Hoosier leaders of color—one born and raised in Indy, another who’s resided in Indy since the ‘90s—share their backgrounds and experience of how our city and state has evolved. They call on each of us to invest in continued progress.

Indianapolis bridge

By Myke Spencer and Dr. Elcira Villarreal

December 11, 2019

Myke Spencer is the Managing Director of Development at TFA Indy. Prior to joining TFA staff, he served as the Principal of Stonybrook Intermediate School, where he attended as a student.

Dr. Elcira Villarreal is a member of the Board of Directors at TFA Indy. Before she retired, she was an executive at Eli Lilly Company for more than 20 years.

Meaningful progress is being made in Indianapolis because of the people who have invested their time, skills, and talents here over many years. We represent two distinct Hoosier experiences and have both seen our city and state evolve over the past few decades. We are inspired, committed, and ready to keep working alongside others in our community to drive the change needed to make equity truly possible.

Myke’s background: A Black leader who grew up in Indianapolis

In my formative years, I struggled a lot socially and academically. I didn’t know who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. It felt like school wasn’t for me until I built relationships with a few teachers and created a strong friend group.

As an eighth grader, I took many Project Lead the Way and science courses that pushed me towards wanting to become a doctor. However, I was approached by a TFA recruiter at Indiana University and realized, through multicultural visits at TFA Indy, that I could make a difference teaching kids that looked like me. I credit my own teachers for helping me be successful even when I was being disruptive in school. I wanted to give back, so I became a STEM teacher with TFA Indy. I loved education so much that I went on to become an assistant principal, then principal. I eventually became the principal of Stonybook Intermediate, where I attended high school.

Elcira’s background: A Latina and Panama native who moved to Indy in the ‘90s to do health research

I was born in Colon, Republic of Panama to a middle-class family that was very well connected socially and politically in Panama. My school experience taught me self-discipline and the concept that you should give your best in everything you do. In Colon, there was a sense of community, and the concept of “it takes a village” was always present.

I moved to Indianapolis in 1990 as a Senior Scientist at Eli Lilly Company to be responsible for the Herpes Virus Program within the Virology Department. At that time, Indianapolis was not very cosmopolitan. There was also a big hole in the downtown area that prevented the city from having a robust downtown. The big companies were conservative in their social outlook. People at that time would say that Indianapolis was a place to live, but not visit.

Myke’s perspective on progress

I’ve rarely thought about leaving Indy, given the impact this city has had on my life and those that look like me. Indy invests in young leaders, who are able to make an outsized impact here than in larger cities. Our city is refreshingly receptive to the voices of our students and young leaders.

For a long time, Indy was not viewed as a place where leaders of color land well. However, this city has made meaningful progress, and numerous leaders of color continue to break down barriers within historically oppressive systems and structures. With the city’s increasing reception to change and more people of color at the table, now is the time to put down roots, roll up your sleeves, and contribute to investing in this city for the long haul.

Elcira’s perspective on progress

Indiana’s life sciences industry has grown tremendously since I came to Indianapolis in 1990. It delivers a 59-billion-dollar economic impact to the state. Indiana has a competitive advantage compared to other states because of its focus on attracting a skilled workforce, engagement of academic institutions, strong philanthropic support, and novel public-private partnerships. We are home to a large number of life sciences related companies such as Eli Lilly and Company, Corteva, Roche, Covance, Anthem, Boston Scientific, and more, which results in employment for a large number of Hoosiers.

Indianapolis is now a more cosmopolitan city with many wonderful things to do. The hole in the middle of downtown was filled with the Circle City Mall, and downtown Indianapolis is a fun place to visit. Big companies have come forward to stop measures that discriminate against sectors of the population. There is development and implementation of education policy that emphasizes the importance of a good education for all of our students, especially for those who are from low-income backgrounds. However, poverty is growing in Indianapolis, and what is very obvious is that there are two Indianapolises—one that is doing very well, and another one that is not.

I decided to join the board of TFA because I believe that education is of the utmost importance for the nation and TFA is using the right approach to educate students. I appreciate TFA’s belief that every student deserves to get a good education, regardless of race or socioeconomic circumstance. 

As a Latina, I have seen how important it is in this country to have a good education. As a scientist, I also would love to see more students of color go into research careers as it is important that we are represented when studies to solve health issues that affect us in a different manner are designed.


Both of us, with our TFA community, are motivated to accelerate progress in our city and state. There is still much work to do to address inequities and increase economic and social mobility. So, regardless of whether you have roots in, or connections to, Indy, join us or deepen your investment in Indy for the long-haul. Our students deserve the very best and now is the time to contribute to the momentum happening in our community.

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“Investing in Indianapolis" is the third in a three-part series that captures diverse voices and experiences about living, working, and investing in Indianapolis. TFA is proud to serve the students and community of Indianapolis since 2008.