Motivating Force

“You can make positives out of situations and we did that as an all-black school in an all-black community.”

Transcript for Motivating Force

Today, if any student was going to Gary Roosevelt as I remember Gary Roosevelt and others, it would cost a fortune. It would be a prestigious academy that taught excellence in academics and scholarship and education and how to behave and how to live together and work together. I mean, you would have to have really been pretty affluent to have afforded to go to that school, but it was a public school.

Most people remember Gary Roosevelt for its athletic prowess, winning championships and sending great athletes on, out of the communities, colleges, and professionals, and others. But there was also an excellence as it related to academics, as it related to extracurriculars, the bands, the ROTC units, the high wire clubs, everything. Everybody at Roosevelt strived for excellence. The school, the lawn, the buildings ­– it was clean, pristine, in fact. There was a pride, because, I guess, because of the fact that we were segregated, but in our minds, there was a collective vision to show that we were on par or superior to anyone.

Often, we would get textbooks and you’d look in the back of our textbooks and it was stamped “Lew Wallace High School,” which was all-white. So, we knew it was a hand-me-down textbook. It may have not been the latest edition, maybe the next, after the new books came in, they went to Lew Wallace, and they passed them down to us. But we had administrators and instructors who told us that the history in those books was not going to change: we want you to learn it, we want you to know it, we want you to excel at it.

You can make positives out of situations and I think we did that as an all-black school in an all-black community. We wanted to show, prove to ourselves and the greater world that was out there that was making the decisions and having all of the influence, that we were on a par or superior to people that we were judged as being less than equal to. And so, there were some great strides to be made by utilizing that as a motivating force to excel.

Now on the other hand, if you look at the fact that integration started to take place, then you can’t just limit it to what was beneficial to you in high school. Then there were opportunities for jobs that you couldn’t have otherwise. There were opportunities for quality of life, where you live. So, maybe six of one, half a dozen of the other, that might not be an equal balance, I don’t know, but I think there are arguments to be stated on both sides.

Minority students who would go to a school that was prominently white, of course they’re going to encounter rejection, racism, those kinds of things, but maybe all of that was necessary, just like the civil rights movement, other things to advance our country, to get us to now we’re sitting here having an interview. It would have been unheard of when I got out of high school for me to have been the Executive Director of Gary Chamber of Commerce. When I mention my position to people in different parts of the country, I talk to them. “Oh, the black chamber?” “No, no, the Gary Chamber of Commerce.” So, let’s face it. You have to measure what the gains are and what are the overall impact. Maybe all of it was necessary to get us where we are now. And it continues to be important – just look at what’s going on in our debates and our national, local, state politics. We’re still evolving, so I think everything that happened then was necessary for the advancements that we enjoy today.

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.