A Turbulent Time

“Fear is a very poor motivator.”

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.

Clarifying Questions
  • What do you think Mayor Costas means by “the perfect storm,” and what are the factors he thinks make up the perfect storm?
  • What about the Halloween story is important to Mayor Costas as a kid? as an adult?
  • What does Mayor Costas mean by “that is clearly an undercurrent in the area and it has been for many years?” What is he trying to describe?
  • Mayor Costas says that fear is a poor motivator. Where has he given examples of that in his story?
Interpretive Questions
  • Do you agree that fear is a poor motivator–why or why not?
  • What should motivate us instead?
  • Where does Mayor Costas label race in his story? Where does he not? Where did you insert race based on your assumptions going in? How would you account for that?
  • Do you agree the “undercurrent” is dissipating–why or why not?
  • What do you think of Mayor Costas’ solution to focus on encouraging people to go a little bit out of their way? What will that accomplish? What will it leave undone?
Implication Questions
  • What can you do on a day to day level to improve race relations in Northwest Indiana?
  • To which long term strategies can you commit to improve race relations in Northwest Indiana?

Let us know how the conversation or self-reflection went. Email us or discuss the experience in our comment box.

Transcript for A Turbulent Time

So I was born in ’57 and we lived on, in the West Side of Gary, and uh, and uh, my, my, dad worked for my grandfather, and in the produce business and he eventually started a supermarket in the Miller section of Gary. My mom really raised me more so than my dad, and my mother was very very strong on the issue of civil rights. She was a strong lady any way you look at it, and I was afraid of her until the day she passed away, but she was a good person and she made no bones about it from the beginning that you know that um, that um, that the color of your skin is irrelevant to the quality of your character. And she employed I mean many African Americans in, in, in her business, and worked along side them and I mean I had, we had some great stories about you know many of them saying you know she’s the first one to give me an opportunity to manage and she really was ahead of the curve on that.

You know ‘67 and it’s hard to understand it as a kid when you’re 10 you really don’t understand what’s going on in the world, but it was a very turbulent time and, and, and, and, it seemed like there was a lot of pent up angst, and, and, the civil rights movement was in a, was in it’s nascent stages and beginning to take traction and um, and Gary was sort of the epicenter of that because it elected the first African American mayor I think of any major city. It certainly was one of the very first, and he was very young and I can only imagine that a lot of expectations were thrust upon him to make a statement and he did. What followed was really a lot of concern about if Gary would continue on the way it has, and there was, unfortunately, there was a white flight that began in ‘67 on, and many people who had the ability moved because it became very quickly a fairly dangerous place.

When it was Halloween and you’re kids, I mean, we would leave at five and here we are my brother’s 10. I’m 8. His buddies are 10. And so we’ve been out for awhile, it was dark, and uh, and I was, we were, walking probably about two blocks from my home and I was looking in my bag seeing, you know looking, seeing whatcha got there, and I looked up. There was my brother and his two friends running as fast as they could across the street you know and of course they were supposed to be watching me, and, and I’m thinking, “What? Why are they running and then all the sudden I look around and there were 30 teenagers, a gang you know that were surrounding me and I’m just, you know, I’m just looking up at them and they start, they start pushing me and grab my candy and you know that you know, they took my candy, and, and, and it all happened so quickly and then I remember one of the leaders, they guy said, “Hey leave him alone. He’s just a kid.” and then so the gang sort of moved on, but you know something like that stays with you.

I wasn’t hurt, and you know scared a little bit, but once you know you tell your parents things like that then they start thinking, “What are my options?” People who had come from Gary you know were I’m sure were very concerned because it’s easy to, to, to pinpoint the reasons for the fall of Gary on a race or a person and the fact of the matter is there were many factors and it was the perfect storm, and it was 1967. I mean it was the perfect storm, but I’m sure it created fear for people saying, “Hey we got a good thing going here and we don’t want it to go the way of Gary.” And unfortunately they were, they were not thinking that through and trying to trying to define it in terms of color.

So that is clearly, uh, uh, an undercurrent in the air and it has been for many years and I think, I think it’s dissipating particularly as another generation takes over, uh, and as more generations, I think you know it is dissipating. Do we have people who do stupid things you know in terms of. Yes we do and frankly I’m not so sure we can stop the few people from doing stupid things and making people feel unwelcome. What I think we need to do is focus on the vast majority of others and encourage them to maybe go a little bit out of their way every time they have an interaction.

Right now, the population of the United States of newborns to seven year olds is 50% white and 50% um, uh, minorities, and that will change any moment you know. I mean it’s just right I was just reading an article. This is simply a trend. I mean its, it, we’re becoming a melting pot and, and, and, and there are demographic reasons for that family size and immigration and all kinds of things, and you know something. That’s just the way it is, and you can either be fearful of it, and fear is a very poor motivator. It makes you do things that are not constructive or you can simply say, “Yeah, just we’re going to adapt to change and we’re going to find the opportunity in it.”

  • Ted

    What a guy, what a story, what a life he has led! As far as Gary is concerned, I think one of the major factors in contributing to it’s decline was shift in industry. American Steel work became to expensive for companies to hire and job’s moved over seas. Personally, I don’t believe race has anything to do with the macro-economics of an industry like that. I guess some questions this invokes are, how has his young life, maybe this story in particular, effected his political decisions, if at all. We in Valparaiso do live very close to Gary and I could definitely see his experience with that City influencing his decisions made here in Valpo. Great Mayor, Great Story, and it seems like he has lead a great life!

    • aschuet1

      Thanks, Ted, for sharing your thoughts on the mayor’s story. I’ve been curious to know how different residents would respond to his take on this important time in the history of our region.

      Allison

  • Ashley Hornung

    I think that his mother’s influence on his attitudes regarding civil rights is the heart of this story. Parents should follow this example when raising children in order to foster open-mindedness. The mayor clearly has ideas about racial divide and about how to dissipate stereotypes regarding minorities and it is great that he can use his position of power to influence the community. Finding opportunity in change is a mentality that should be looked at by people in all unfamiliar situations, and seeing that a leader tries to employ this at a larger scale is really inspiring to people who have to deal with change on a much smaller scale.

  • ndziubasik

    It’s really cool seeing how a parent’s influence on a child can go such a long way. Her motivation to make sure that her children never made a fuss about anything like cultural or racial differences is really cool, and I’m glad that it has influenced him to this day. It’s also interesting in looking at it from a parent’s perspective living in the environment that they did, and thinking about the gang that could have been awful to her son, and still believing that there is no reason for tension because of race or cultural differences.