This Indiana Kiwanian is on a mission to create inclusive communities.
By Erin Cozad
Justus Coleman Kelley began volunteering with Kiwanis as a student at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The first time she attended a club event, she immediately felt at home — just as she did when representing her school as Miss Indiana University, among other titles she held over the following years.
Now a member of the Kiwanis Club of Bloomington and the Kiwanis Club of Central Indiana and a holder of two new titles — Mrs. Indiana and Mrs. America runner-up — Kelley often finds that her work with Kiwanis and her pursuit of her title platforms intertwine.
Kelley’s Mrs. Indiana platform centers around the goal of “Building Inclusive Societies.” Her love for people, combined with the personal experiences of feeling excluded, inspire her to help create communities where every person feels heard and comfortable being their authentic self.
Kelley grew up with the emphasis that people are more alike than different — which she says is a great callout.
“But there should also be an emphasis on recognizing the differences we all have. Not to look down on those differences, but to see the opportunities and beauty in them,” she explains.
In her efforts, Kelley has traveled to all 92 Indiana counties this year. Always welcomed with Hoosier hospitality, she’s visited grade school classrooms, granted wishes for students, attended community events and volunteered with local organizations throughout the state — including Through2Eyes Indiana, an organization that hosts tours around Indianapolis and explores the community’s history.
Kelley brings collaboration and project ideas to her Kiwanis clubs as a Mrs. Indiana and Make-A-Wish Foundation representative, and club members seek to connect her to opportunities that further her platform. In fact, it was a Kiwanis mentor who invited her to serve on the Kiwanis International Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Board Committee.
During her travels, Kelley has watched different perspectives come together as community members lean into opportunities, embrace relationships and have conversations that are tough, challenging or unfamiliar.
As Kelley and Kiwanis clubs work to create communities that embrace diversity and encourage inclusiveness, Kelley poses this challenge: Sit across the table from someone whose experience is unlike your own.
Long after her time as Mrs. Indiana is complete, Kelley will continue to encourage relationships that expose the beauty in differences.
“Let’s make this personal,” she says, “and apply DEI to every part of our lives.”
This story originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of Kiwanis magazine.