“It became my mission to change the way people saw Gary, how people saw people of color, and the knowledge they had of people of color because it was hurtful.”
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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
Transcript for Game Changer
I remember my freshman year of college when I came to Valpo, and the first day, I was in a class, and everyone was going around introducing themselves and saying where they were from, and I said I was from Gary. And the first response I got was, “Oh, you made it out.” And it almost made it seem as if it was a war zone, like I said I had come from, you know, the trenches of Iraq during battle. It, like, really made me upset. And then the next comment I felt was more offensive, because someone asked, you know, “So how many children do you have?” And I didn’t have any. It was odd to me that someone would think that that was an appropriate question to ask someone because I was an African American woman from Gary, and it got me to thinking, “So what do these people really know about Gary, Indiana? Is this how people see me?” And it almost kind of became my mission while I was at Valpo, was to change the way people saw Gary, how people saw people of color, and the knowledge they had of people of color because it was hurtful. Like, that is one of the proudest things of my identity. Like, I love saying, you know, that I’m from Gary, Indiana, that I’m an African American woman, but at that point in my life, I felt like it was played more so as a negative than a positive. So it became frustrating.
Growing up in Gary and then going to Valpo, people’s experiences and the way they talked about things were completely different from, like, my frame of reference. I remember a student having a fit in class because she had asked her mom for X amount of dollars and her mom gave her half of that and she just felt like she was just so privileged that her mom should’ve given her this money. I grew up from this idea that, no, you work for what you get, you know? You’re just thankful for what you have. Or seeing so many students, I think, in Valpo taking their education, at times, for granted. “Oh, I’m flunking this class.” And it would be ok for them. And for me, like, my livelihood depended on this. Being a first-generation college student, and in my neighborhood, being one of the first people to go to college, that was major to me. Like, I wanted to be that example. I guess the game changer for me was realizing that there was this difference in mindset that people have from where I was from and where other people seemed to be from, and like, where they were in terms of maturity, in terms of just, like, life skills. Like, listening to people in classes that had never washed a load of clothes before for themselves, and it was amazing to me because you’re taught these life skills because you have to. And things that I thought just were, like, really small were, like, major stressors. Like, they had to wake up at eight o’clock in the morning to go to an internship. I didn’t see why that was, like, such a huge issue when normally I was still up at eight o’clock in the morning if I didn’t have a class going to work to pay for me to be in college.
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