That Fear Creeping Up

“It really made me question, like, ‘Is this a place that I should be?’”

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 That Fear Creeping Up

I remember my freshman year of college when I came to Valpo, the first thing I saw when I walked on campus—and I guess this is going to seem very rude, but, “Wow. There’s a lot of Caucasian people here.” I had never seen so many, like, blond hair-blue eyed people in my life. Everyone in my neighborhood looked like me. Gary, by the time I was born and was living in the city, was a very homogenous city: predominantly, like, just an African American city. I guess, when I was on campus, I didn’t feel a sense of safety because I was so used to everyone looking like me, and when I stepped into a place where everyone didn’t look like me, it became very, I guess, nerve-wracking at times. I remember listening to people talking about how they were scared to, you know, come into Gary or, you know, to even drive through Gary because “What if this?” or “What if that?” And me never having that fear, but me being afraid to walk down the streets in Valpo.

And sometimes I still feel that fear creeping up. One incident in particular was towards the end of my sophomore year of college, and me and two friends, we had decided we were going to go out to eat, and so we had went to Around the Clock, which is a little restaurant that’s really not too far from campus, and it’s walking distance. And we stayed kind of late, and so it was getting dark, and as we were coming back, we had hit the 7-Eleven which is like maybe a street off of where campus is. And we saw, like, two pickup trucks with Confederate flags on them. So at first, you know, it was this fear and it was like, “Ok, we’re just going to walk. They have this right. We’ll just ignore it.” And they turned their, like, brights on and they like, drove behind us for, like, miles it seemed like. We were running. We ran to, like, one of the staff member’s homes. And we’re just knocking, and we’re knocking. And so we went in, and we’re just breathing hard, and we’re, like, almost in tears. And we told him what happened, and he was just like, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe it.” And at that moment, it reminded me of all, like, the negative things that I heard family members saying and I heard people in the community saying when I chose to go to Valpo. And it really made me question, like, “Is this a place that I should be?”

It was just, like, a horrible week. We had got on one of the V-line buses, which is the public transportation in Valpo, and we had asked to, like, get off at JCPenney. And at first, the driver was, like, really nice to Kelly. And my friend Kelly, she’s Latino and African American, but she doesn’t present as such. From facial features, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell. And so, the bus driver was really nice to her, and then I got on and we were talking, and like, his attitude completely shift. And he drove past JCPenney and didn’t open the doors, and then we saw him let off other people off the bus and he was just like, “Oh, have a nice day. I’ll be back around this time to get you.” And so then he waited until we were, like, in a completely different area from JCPenney and was like, “Oh. You guys can get off now.” It was like, “But this is not where we said we were going to get off. You rolled past the stop.” He was like, “Oh, I must’ve not heard you. Well, you have to get off now because I’m going to pretty much turn around.” And I was like, “I know. And you turn around and go back to JCPenney.” And he got so upset. And so he eventually drove back to JCPenney, and we got off, and we didn’t catch the bus back. We like, walked back to campus. I remember just thinking, like, “Why?” And it just kind of made me feel like I didn’t belong in that community.

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