Sparked by tragedy, Ivy Tech grad Ashley Gurvitz builds a stronger community
Impact on Indiana: Ivy Tech and Our Communities is a series of profiles demonstrating how Ivy Tech Community College impacts communities across the state. The following profile spotlights the impact of Ashley Gurvitz, a graduate of Ivy Tech’s Indianapolis campus.
Impact on Indiana: Just over 11 years ago – on February 26, 2012 – lives were shattered and changed forever when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Florida resident, was shot and killed while walking from a local convenience store to the condo where he was visiting relatives. Martin, a young Black man, was unarmed. News of his death generated outrage and grabbed America’s attention for months.
Ashley Gurvitz was among those who was heart-broken and angry. Like thousands of others, she protested in organized marches. In fact, it was a pivot-point in her life.
“It was an issue that showed the interconnectivity of all community stakeholder roles,” said Gurvitz, a recent Ivy Tech Distinguished Alumni award winner. “This was not a case where an elected official alone could fix it. It was the everyday advocates, and it was the understanding of gun violence.
“Trayvon Martin lit something in me, and I thought, ‘That’s where I want to give my care – bringing all the systems together … a shared understanding and commitment so that everyone can have a broader and better quality of life,’” she said.
Through tragedy, Indianapolis – particularly the northeast side, where Gurvitz is president of United Northeast Community Development Corporation – found an influential community leader. UNEC elevates the quality of life for neighborhood residents and other stakeholders by facilitating diverse housing options, serving low-income residents, enhancing neighborhood assets, developing business opportunities, and educating the community. UNEC was created in 1995 in response to issues affecting families caused by rising unemployment and a deteriorating housing market.
Impact on Communities: Gurvitz graduated with a degree in business administration from Ivy Tech’s Indianapolis campus before attending Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Today, she focuses on improving economic development and resources in the community – including the creation of jobs and access to food. She partners with Indiana companies such as Cook Medical, Eskenazi Health, and Anthem to secure an infrastructure to serve people in her community.
Gurvitz spends each day advocating for people in the community. Among the recent wins for the neighborhood: a new 15,000-foot grocery will soon open, creating economic opportunity and giving people a local choice for nutritious food such as fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables.
Impact on People: How did it all happen?
Before her accomplishments, appointments, and accolades – and just a few blocks from where she lives today – Gurvitz’s parents made a decision that would change lives forever: they adopted her as an infant through a program called Homes for Black Children, giving her an opportunity that otherwise would not have happened.
“My satisfaction comes from my personal existence,” she said. “In the very neighborhood my 30-something self is serving today is the same place my parents decided to adopt me. I live literally a block from the church they were attending. The joy is knowing that every single day I can give thanks to the environment and community that made it an easy decision for them to bring life to me. My joy is embedded in that, and in seeing others find their niche and passion.”
Today, Gurvitz’s passion for improving communities has picked up steam: her engagement following the death of Trayvon Martin was followed by a senior legislative role with the Indiana House of Representatives. She’s on numerous boards including the Police Merit Board of the City of Indianapolis.
Mentors and role models are important for anyone charting a path, and Gurvitz has two good ones: Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Group, Inc., has taught her about bold leadership and smart risk-taking in the headwind of tough issues. And Francis Wilson Canty, her grandfather’s first cousin, was a Freedom Rider who participated in sit-ins against segregated lunch counters and the importance of voting. She was kicked out of Tennessee State for her activism but invited back in 2011 to receive an honorary degree.
Canty, who died in November, was issued an official proclamation on May 3, 2011, from President Barack who recognized the 50th anniversary of the non-violent segregation efforts of the Freedom Riders.
With numerous stops and opportunities under her belt, Gurvitz traces her success back to Ivy Tech.
“Becoming a Distinguished Alumni was a moment I will always remember,” she said. “There was a lot of fear (when I went back to college). Ivy Tech cultivated the fact that I belonged there, and my life experiences mattered. I cannot overestimate the point that I would not be where I am today without Ivy Tech.”