Caught in the Crossfire

“I love hearing both sides. Which makes my black and white world very gray.”

I think that like, all of us live this shared experience, but we see things differently, obviously. It’s like old—we all touch this elephant, and we have different parts of it, and we don’t know the other part. And I think by sharing that, people can understand a little bit better of what somebody else may be experiencing. Even though we’re in the same—maybe the same community, the same city, the same region, but by sharing it, we get to kind of like, understand at least a little bit. I don’t have these pie-in-the-sky dreams, but at least a little bit, like, “Oh. He saw things this way. That’s interesting.”

Well, Gary, Indiana. Come on. What’s the first knee-jerk reaction you or anybody else has about Gary, Indiana? We all have our preconceived stereotypes, our notions, our prejudices. I’ve done public presentations, and I’ll say, ‘Who’s from Gary?’ And, ‘What’s your first instinct about Gary, whether you’re from there or not?’ And people are fast to have a reaction. Fast. They don’t hesitate. they don’t even hesitate to say, ‘Oh, it’s a horrible—it’s a dump. It’s poverty-stricken. It’s gangs, and it’s crime, and who’d want to live there?’ Others say, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful. Back in the ‘50s it was the model city. It was “The Miracle City.”’ It was literally called ‘The Miracle City’ back then.

They were mad. Mad. Angry. And they’re still mad. I’ve written a book called Lost Gary, and I’ve talked to people at presentations, and they’re still mad. Decades later, they were like, kicked out—they were forced to leave their city, is how they view it.

I get why they’re angry. And I’ve talked to probably hundreds of them by now with—for my book project to realize why they’re so angry. They were raised, and had this idyllic, they viewed, idyllic existence. and that got ended. And they had to blame somebody. We—as a human condition factor, we have to blame somebody for our problems, and woes, and troubles, and it’s an easy thing to blame. “The blacks are coming in, the whites are moving out.” That’s exactly how they equate it. And I still talk to people to this day—it’s 2016, almost 2017, and people are still—have that methodology in their mind. That’s their explanation, their rationalization. Simple as that. And they involve Richard Hatcher, the mayor of Gary, who started all that, and Black Power, and everything else, and you can’t wash that away. You can’t wipe that away. And if I engage with people—which I have done, especially through my columns, and I’ll purposely antagonize them to get a dialogue out of them—I won’t get very far. That’s all there is. That’s their reality. That’s their absoluteness. They won’t go any farther than that. They see it in very black and white. The colors of gray has no hues in their world.

Yeah I’ve talked to a lot of black population in Gary, and I love talking with these people. I enjoy it much more than talking with the white population who left Gary, to be honest, because they’re still there, and they’re still dealing with a lot of these problems and issues, and I give them just so much credit for still being there. You know, they could leave, too. Anybody can leave this existence if you want to. You just leave. But they’re not, and they’re determined to stay there, and to this day—and yeah, they have animosity, but I think they have less animosity, and more kindness, I think, in their hearts, so to speak, for whatever reason. Maybe because they’ve been oppressed. Maybe because it’s their city, and they’re proud of their city, still. You know, it’s not their former city; they’re not natives of Gary—they’re—they live in Gary. They’re from Gary. “We’re from Gary.” And because of my job, I had this total advantage of interviewing both sides, and getting caught in the crossfire, and take some shrapnel from it, and I don’t mind that at all because I love doing it. And I love hearing both sides. Which makes my black and white world very gray.

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Transcript for This Kid Could Go Either Way

I grew up in Chicago, Illinois. I attended a small high school called Morgan Park Academy on the southside of Chicago. I actually started going to Morgan Park Academy in the seventh grade. The reason I started going there is my father went to the public school that I was attending for Dearborn. When he got there, he talked with the teacher, and the teacher noted some problems that I was having, you know, hanging with the wrong crowd. Then the teacher asked my father if I was interested in having him go to another school. My parents knew of Morgan Park Academy through my mom’s work, she had a mutual friend that had a son going there, so they ended up putting me in private school and taking me out of public school in the seventh grade.

I was what you call a latch key kid. Meaning you stayed home until the parents came home two or three in the afternoon, and then you could go out but until then, you stay in the house, you don’t let anyone in the house. I was always told to work on homework after school. So for two hours after school I would have to sit and make sure I worked on homework. But I was rather lazy and mischievous in the classroom. Just getting into a lot of trouble, a lot of referrals to the principal’s office, not paying attention in class, just not really being focused on what I needed to academically. Then I guess he saw something that said, Hey, you know, this kid could go either way unless his parents step kind of in and do something different with him.

My family wasn’t an affluent family; both my parents were postal workers, so they worked at postal shift, night or day, rain sun or shine, or rain sleet or snow. And they put me in private school which was a bit of culture shock for me, because I was then in a school with kids that had more affluent families, meaning they were doctors, lawyers, politicians, things of that nature. So it was a bit of a culture shock for me in the beginning because I would have to travel about an hour to get to the school, so taking the bus one way while my other friends and people that I knew and grew up with in the neighborhood were going another way, was a bit of a transition.

I remember my uncle used to take me to school in the seventh grade, and my uncle drove a cab. So my uncle would drop me off right in front of the school in this big old, beetle, Volkswagen-looking taxi cab. And the kids would ask me, “Why do you drive a cab to school?” And I remember very vividly telling them my parents are so rich that they had to hire a cab for me because I was embarrassed about, you know, coming to school in a cab when other kids were getting there in BMWs and Audis, and you know, other, you know, bigger cars. And I remember an embarrassing moment, and I think my uncle caught on, I never asked him if he did, but in the seventh grade I acted like I had a basketball injury and I was limping because I was getting teased so much about coming to school in this cab. I had him stop a little further back and told him you know, I wanted to walk this injury off.

The biggest transition I had to make was in the academics, ah, competition. You know, academic competition. That was the real first exposure I had to what you would call honors classes. And then just the reading levels that those kids, you know, those kids were reading novels in the seventh grade, and I don’t think I would have read a novel until I reached high school, if I had stayed in public school.

I also remember very vividly attending that school, it being more of a diverse culture. It was the first time that I really experienced going to school with white kids, kids of international nature, whether it be Indian, Korean, Chinese, so I think in a lot of ways it prepared me for coming to Valparaiso University. But my experience in high school was quite different because I would still go home and it would still be my neighborhood and I could still fit in. My friends helped me stay grounded.