On November 11, 1986, Matthew Steward created his namesake initiative, Steward Speakers. The first event was held at Clowes Memorial Hall and featured the late Dick Gregory, the civil rights activist, writer and actor. Nothing like this had occurred in the city before.

“There was a void of national influencers coming to Indianapolis on a regular basis,” said Matthew Steward. “The creation of the speaker series was an effort to bring more national leaders to the greater Indianapolis area.”

For more than three decades, the series has hosted nearly 125 national influencers including attendee favorites such as Gen. Colin Powell, Robin Roberts, Viola Davis, Roland Martin, Common, Susan L. Taylor and astronaut Dr. Mae C. Jemison, to name a few.

Although the speakers come from different backgrounds and represent an array of industries, almost all speakers talk about the importance of hard work, being a servant leader, and being a life-long learner.

The current average age of attendees is 45, but that is slowly changing with the development of several initiatives to engage a younger audience.

The series recently established a partnership with James Whitcomb Riley School 43, in addition to making a financial contribution to rebuilding the school library. They look to do more direct mentoring in the school in the fall.

“These national influencers bring a wealth of knowledge to our community. They also learn from us,” notes Steward. “The speakers bring information from all around the globe. We know that learning takes place in more spaces other than the classroom.”

Approximately 2,500 students (elementary through college) attend each year.

Purdue University students attended the Steward Speaker’s Cultural Road Tour, which in 2019 followed the underground railroad through Michigan and Canada. This summer, Steward is planning a trip to Harlem, New York.

Former U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice will be featured at the March 2 event at IUPUI Campus Center.

For more information about the Steward Speaker Series, click here.