Demonized Community

“… people bought into this notion that no one wants to live in Gary…”


Editing by Welcome Project intern Brandi Casada.

Transcript for Demonized Community

The first neighborhood that I remember growing up in was on the East Side of Gary on Massachusetts Street. And my parents brought me home from the hospital there, and I lived there until I was four-and-a-half—just about five years old. And it was a very tight-knit community. I remember the families all interacted. The other thing about the neighborhood I remember: there were people from all walks of lives. My dad was a teacher. Across the street, my mother’s best friend was my physician. We had other teachers on the block. We had people that worked in the steel mill. And all of us lived in one community. And that allowed, I think, growing up, people to see that all of these things were attainable. I think that’s part of what doesn’t happen today because once people get to a certain financial level, they tend to move away from their original community.

I’ve never used that term, ‘black flight,’ but I think there are a lot of things involved with that. Certainly people have a tendency if they make a certain amount of money to want to live in a different home. In this area, there are nice, beautiful homes in different sections of Gary, in Miller, for instance. Even on the West Side of Gary there are some beautiful homes, but a lot of times, people have felt like they want to live in another community.  I think the media has played a big role in that because they have demonized this community for so long, that people bought into this notion that no one wants to live in Gary, and that Gary is unsafe, and this is not somewhere that you would want to live. And particularly if you’ve gotten to the point where you want to have—put a lot of money into a home, you would not want to put that money into Gary. And then, of course, we have to discuss the crime, but the crime is associated to the jobs. And so, when you take jobs out of a community, and you replace those jobs with guns and money, then you have something that’s volatile. And as a result, then you start to, you know, have these notions that, ‘I can’t live a safe life.’

I think the white flight really is based on racism. Purely racism. ‘I don’t care that I live in a nice home. I don’t care what the community looks like. If it’s predominantly black, or if there’s even some blacks, I would prefer not to live there.’ And, ‘Or do business there.’ And that is what really has happened to Gary, Indiana.

I think for me, a personal story… When we moved from 19th and Massachusetts, we moved on the West Side of Gary which was in transition racially. My next-door neighbor—she was a single parent—it was a white woman. She had four children. She had two sons and two daughters. The daughter was a year older than I am. And her daughter and I became very close, and we played together all the time. And I was an only child, so my parents always tried, when we went somewhere, to find someone to take with us so that they wouldn’t have the burden of trying to entertain me. You know, her mother, and my dad and mother had discussions where she said, you know, ‘I am perfectly happy here. I will stay here,’ you know, ‘I’m fine. I like my house and everything else.’ Well, when I was in about fourth grade, one morning, I got up to go to school, and the house was empty. And they had moved in the middle of the night, and she never allowed her daughter to tell me they were moving. She never tried to contact me again. Ever. My dad kind of explained to me that he didn’t think her mother could say it without feeling that maybe there were racial undertones involved in that, and she didn’t want to admit that to herself. But that—you know, and I think because she did continually say, ‘I’m not leaving,’ she may not have wanted to have that discussion.

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