Bigger Forces Swirling

“I realized that my little Wonder Bread existence in Miller was not quite what I thought it was.”

Transcript for Bigger Forces Swirling

I grew up in the Miller section of Gary in the late 1960s through the ‘70s, and it was a typical white, suburbia, middle-class upbringing, but it was changing. Everything was in flux back then in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in Gary. What was predominantly a white community, especially in Miller, which is the more affluent section of Gary, you know, to this day probably. So everything was in flux, and I was living in this little, as I call it, a Wonder Years kind of existence, you know? The Kevin Arnold Wonder Years, and everything was just kind of like that. That was my bubble I lived in. And I didn’t realize all the bigger forces swirling around me in this big city of Gary, and all this tumultuous change. I just didn’t think of that at all. So I was quite content and quite happy, and then as I got into middle school, that’s when we were taught more about race relations. I went to Kennedy King Middle School. Kennedy King Junior High, for Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., so a lot of these things were taught to us, and they were saying, “This is a perfect model city to watch this in action—these race relations and these bigger things are happening in the country, and the world, and in this little city.” So I realized that my little Wonder Bread existence in Miller was not quite what I thought it was; it was bigger and broader than that.

And there was one instance that happened in high school that I remember really well. I was in band class. I was like a band geek in school, and I was really proud. I played saxophone, and I was competing with other saxophone players for first, second, and third chairs. And one of the kid’s names was Alfred Hammonds—pretty sure that’s his name. And we would compete back and forth—he was a black kid—and we would compete back and forth for first chair of alto saxophone. It was a little bragging rights thing, ok? This is at Wirt High School in Gary, now. But one day, it was a heavy snowfall, and school got let out a little bit early so we could get our buses early and have our parents pick us up early, and we had a little extra time on our hands. So what did kids do in the snowstorm? They had a snowball fight. So everybody had a snowball fight, and people are throwing snowballs, and typically, it’d be like the jocks, and the heads—potheads—and geeks, and freaks, and band geeks—you know, you’d go to your certain cliques and then you’d just team up and you’d go at it. But on this day, it teamed up white versus black for the most part, and I saw Alfred and I throwing snowballs at each other with zeal, and zest, and some, maybe some animosity, or just because we’re supposed to do it. And we both looked at each other, I thought, at that moment, and go, “This is not the same as it used to be. We’re no longer band geeks. We’re no longer jocks and heads as much. It’s kind of a race thing. So we separate on those lines.”

You know, I believe—these days, there’s ten percent over here, and ten percent over there, and it’s the eighty percent in the middle that is the determining factor. And those eighty percent are like lemmings or sheep, and they can get swayed so easily. And I think I was part of the eighty percent that just got swayed so easily. I mean, there’s no way at that age—I was sixteen or seventeen—I would jump on the black side with Alfred Hammonds throwing at these white jocks and heads. I just didn’t have it in me. I didn’t think about it, actually.

I think we reconciled it, and we kind of compartmentalized it, and just put it to the side. We were still fine. We were still buds in class, and competing, and playing music together, we, you know, created music together. You know, that’s just a synergy right off the bat that kind of transcends even race, and other issues, and problems. We were fine. It wasn’t that big of a deal. But I did notice that things changed.

Today, I would discuss it in a heartbeat. I would love to meet Alfred Hammonds again and talk. “Do you remember that?” “No.” “Oh, ok. Sorry.” You know, I would think he probably would not remember it at all. To me, it’s like some landmark, you know, issue that happened in my life involving race relations in this region.

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