The growing relationship between independent pro wrestling and community outreach initiatives feels natural in their shared ability to engage and communicate with audiences.
The often-used comparison between pro wrestling and morality plays speaks to that, but that capacity is so much more than that surface-level description, especially as underrepresented populations increasingly become the focus of such work.
This focus is baked into the core of new Indianapolis-based promotion Naptown All-Pro Wrestling. Helmed by out co-founder Jordan “J-Rose” Rose, Naptown places the same amount of focus on delivering standout pro wrestling events to underserved populations in Indianapolis as it does connecting the youth of those communities with organizations aimed at curtailing social issues facing them.
The company’s debut doubleheader, “Wake Up” and “Blackout,” which will take place Saturday, looks to deliver on that promise, partnering with local groups addressing gun violence facing young people of color in the city’s far east side.
“The primary goal of what I’m trying to do is to influence the changes that I want to see in the community,” Rose said during an appearance on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring.
Rose grew up on the far east side of Indianapolis and saw the opportunity to put his experience in pro wrestling to work in a way that aids that change. At the same time, he wants to create a pro wrestling presentation that speaks to the Indianapolis he knows and that he believes is continuing to be marginalized as the city grows.
“There’s an Indianapolis that’s full of craft breweries and nightlife scenes — all the sort of stuff you would find in any other up-and-coming mid-market city. But the Indianapolis I know has culture and history, and no one wants to be tapping into that side,” Rose said. “It was a need for me to make this as Indianapolis as possible.”
Rose invoked memories of attending the Indiana Black Expo as a child; a large, popular convention featuring Black vendors that drew thousands to Indianapolis annually. The Indiana Black Expo was a “ginormous deal” to Rose growing up, but he believes its influence and profile diminished as the city gentrified.
“Because the city wants to appeal to white millennials, they have systematically crushed the impact that Indiana Black Expo has on the community,” Rose said. “I grew up on car swap meets and after-school programs — I’ve done almost every Black-centric after-school program that you could possibly do in Indianapolis growing up. I want [Naptown] to feel like how if Black Expo ran a wrestling show and it was a little more queer-friendly.”
That spirit is reflected in the community fair Naptown is organizing around the family-friendly “Wake Up” event in the afternoon. Rose is gathering Black vendors and community organizations to come out and interact with those coming to the event.
“It’s all about restoring the feeling,” Rose said. “I want wrestling to be the conduit for Indianapolis to feel like a community again and not just a pitstop for people who are trying to make their way in a Fortune 500 company.”
The focus on addressing youth gun violence is also a deeply personal issue for Rose. Indianapolis’ homicide rate has increased in nine of the last 10 years, with a significant amount of those homicides occurring in the east side of the city — where Rose grew up.
“The way that city has evolved has led to pockets of the city, like any other growing city, to be neglected, and one of the biggest regions that has been neglected is the east side, the far east side to be exact,” Rose said. “At first there was a large increase in police and that didn’t really work, so they kind of just left it for dead.
“There are all these different factors to where there are a lack of jobs, food deserts, property value has gone down, crime has gone up and murder has gone up. There are a lot of people I grew up with who have to deal with these conditions.”
Among those affected by those conditions was a close high school friend of Rose’s who was shot and killed outside of an Indianapolis nightclub. Rose was ready to give up on the Naptown project after the debut event originally scheduled for February was canceled due to a snowstorm, but his friend’s tragic death spurred him to keep it alive.
“It was like, ‘I can’t stop now.’ It was real heavy,” Rose said. “She was one of the reasons why I made it through high school, and she was shot in an act of rage and leaves behind a baby boy. I can’t sit and say that I didn’t try to do anything.
“A lot of the reason why I’m doing this is not only for my community, not only to try to save these kids growing up the same as me, honestly growing up in worse situations than me, but April 30 is really in honor of my fallen friend. There are days where I’m like, ‘I can’t do this today,’ and I remember her face and her voice and it’s like, ‘Let’s get to it.’ I want to be able to make the change that can prevent somebody from going through the same fate that she did.”
Naptown All-Pro Wrestling’s debut doubleheader, “Wake Up” and “Blackout,” will put that mission into action Saturday at the Tindley Summit Academy in Indianapolis at 2:00 p.m. EST and 8:00 p.m. EST.
Check out the full interview with J-Rose on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring. Download and listen to new episodes every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all other podcast platforms.