Neighborhood, Community, and Country

“I don’t know any other way to operate. I can’t just sit around and say, ‘Oh, well. That’s the way it is.'”

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 Neighborhood, Community, and Country

My mother bought a house from the Costas family on 5th Avenue where I still live, called the Horace Mann neighborhood then as it is now. I was actually at the very historic Roosevelt High School. But I left, you know, graduated from Roosevelt and went to Indiana State which was in the same town where my grandmother was still living: Terre Haute. She was a DuBois Talented Tenth. When she graduated from Fisk, and she was there with her other graduates, they resolved themselves and they said that they were to go back into their communities and use their education to help people. So it’s hard for me to just talk about neighborhood without neighborhood, community, and country, the three of them together. I remember she was so active in the community, she actually had us doing a lot of community work. So we did a newsletter. She was State Secretary for the NAACP, and we would have to fold, and staple, and address, and stamp about five hundred newsletters, you know? So people wonder why we’re able to do so many things today. I say, “Well, I’m able to do them because that’s what I had to do.”

I was always in the community. I was always doing things in the community. Even at Indiana State, we had to press for an African American sorority which the dean at that time did not want. But there were four of us that started a chapter there that eventually became a chapter. I also started a tutoring program for little children because I had gone to an NAACP meeting and the community was a little upset, and they wanted to know why the black students at Indiana State were not doing more in the community. And so I went out, started a tutoring program, and the Methodist Church came and helped me and supported me. And that—I understand that program stayed for awhile. Might even still be going on. We were taught that this was our country and that we were to be proud of our country, but we had to make our country do the right thing.

My mother was a student when she was getting her master’s at Purdue Lafayette. And she invited a friend of hers from Washington by the name of the Dr. Nancy Arnez to come and be her guest speaker. And Dr. Arnez talked about this place that sounded like heaven. And it was called the Center for Inner City Studies. And I wanted to go. I practically followed her back. As soon as I got back to Gary, I found a way to get over there to find out what was going on. Eventually, I ended up getting my master’s through that program. I worked through what was called the Follow Through Program. We took the children that left Head Start and we worked with them. We had four schools in Chicago. We opened schools in Topeka, Kansas and also Compton, California, so we had schools in three states, three cities. And we had a culturally-based curriculum which I still use today with our programs here at the Gary Historical and Cultural Society. So again, neighborhood, and community, country—those were all, to me, connected. And community struggles, fighting the system was part of my background, so that’s—to answer your question, I don’t know any other way to operate. I can’t just sit around and just look at things and say, “Oh, well. That’s the way it is.” Maybe when I can’t walk anymore, I might have to end up doing that, but I don’t know if I’ll do that then.

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