Back into the Community

“You can’t have racial justice and you can’t have social justice if there’s no economic justice.”

 

Produced by Rebecca Werner with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org

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.

Transcript for Back into the Community

Residency has always been one of the big issues for us here in the community.  When Dad was mayor, he passed an ordinance that said that if you were going to work in the city of Gary, you had to live in the city of Gary.  The only way you have a middle class is to have jobs.  The only way you have jobs is for the largest employers to give jobs to the people of the community.  

Here in Gary, the largest employer was the city of Gary.  People making twenty-five thousand dollars—they lived here.  But for those department heads and consultants that were making eighty or ninety thousand dollars, they all lived outside the community.  People don’t buy gas in Gary.  People don’t buy groceries in Gary.  Most cities’ money turns over eight times before they leave the community.  In Gary, it doesn’t turn over one time.  

Until you begin to get people to move back into the community and spend their money here, you can’t build those jobs that you need to build.  And so, it’s a big issue.  Residency is the one issue that could turn our community around, and even on the council today, it’s a fight to get the administration to enforce that ordinance.  People who are middle class people who live outside of the city—their children don’t go to the schools here.  Even today, we have a failing school district that’s really on the edge of bankruptcy here in the city of Gary because we just don’t have the population to make sure that the schools thrive.  

Governor Pence boasted about a three-billion-dollar surplus in the state of Indiana when Northwest Indiana gets zero of that surplus, and we have failing schools, and we have roads that are crumbling, and no attention to this area.  It feels like our community is ignored.  

In the ‘80s, they actually rebuilt Indianapolis.  Ironically, at that time, Northwest Indiana sent down more tax dollars than any other district.  The money that was sent downstate was amazing, but we were never able to capture any of that money to rebuild our city.  Economic justice is at the top of the list and absolutely everything falls under that category because you can’t have racial justice, and you can’t have social justice if there’s no economic justice.

Like I said earlier, most of our employees that live in Gary make under twenty-five thousand a year.  They qualify for public assistance, working a forty-hour workweek. I’m on the council for three more years.  I see what good leadership can do for a community, and how it can change prospects and the outlook of a community.  And I just want to see Gary thrive in a way that serves everyone.