How Do I Contribute?

“And the fact that people always, like, write off Gary as this horrible place made me feel like I just had to have this conviction to like, change people’s minds, and to be there, and make a difference.”

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.

Transcript for How Do I Contribute?

I was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. We lived in an apartment complex right across the street from McDonald’s on 5th and Grant. And our street was also one of the more quiet streets in Tarrytown, so to speak. Some people know Tarrytown for being a place where there was a lot of violence going on. But my street pretty much always stayed the same because everyone knew each other. So it was like a family block growing up. Gary as a whole is a Great Migration city, I would say. People moved from the South because of the steel mills to find work. But it was really important to me because I felt like you still had that hospitality. Everyone talks about the Southern hospitality, and for me, that was major. Like, even at the lowest points of time, even when the city’s going through things, it’s that sense of, “We’re going to hold on and we’re going to work together,” which I think is the attitude of the South. And to think about how I grew up. Thinking about going-back-to-school season, so like, that end of July, early August point. The fathers and just different people in this area would like, get together and they would, like, barbecue. We knew that kids were going back to school. So they would load these bookbags up with, like, school supplies for the kids and make sure that they had meals. And this normally goes on for, like, a week long. Like, everyone had a fun time, and to me, that always just was like, this great idea of, like, this community. You just help because that was the right thing to do.

I think why Gary has always been really important to me and will always have a special place in my heart even though I don’t live there anymore was the fact that it was where I was born and raised. And the fact that people always, like, write off Gary as this horrible place made me feel like I just had to have this conviction to like, change people’s minds, and to be there, and make a difference. And so that’s a struggle in itself. So I don’t live in Gary, as I talked about, now. I actually live in Portage. This idea of having a family made it really important for us to live in a place where the school systems are thriving. It was this fear that I have to put my child in a place where they will be recognized for their success, and in Gary, I felt like, they’re not recognized, now matter how successful you are. And so we opted into a townhouse in Portage. Our townhouse is kind of the outskirts of Gary, I would say. I feel like it’s a compromise? But I still sometimes feel like I’ve traded out, like, this moral to always live in Gary, and always to be in Gary. Because it’s this idea that, how do you tell other people to stay in Gary, how do you tell people to see the potential of Gary and to see the greatness of Gary, and you don’t stay there anymore? For me, makes me feel like I’m giving up on the city. Even though I’m doing work with the city in other ways, it’s still, like, you’re not there. You’re not in the center. For instance, my tax revenue and tax dollars, because I’m not living in Gary, will not go to support the schools, which is something that is desperately needed. I’m at this point, I’m trying to figure out how do I contribute where I am? Or is there ever a point where I will go back to Gary so that I can feel like I can contribute more so.

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