Part 2: All of That Changed for Me

“To go from a school that was predominantly African American to just the complete opposite was a little bit of a culture shock.”

Part 2 of an oral history story from an interview with Mayor Jerome Prince, Gary, Indiana. You can find Part 1 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

Transcript for All of That Changed for Me

I grew up in an area not very far from where my mother originally migrated when they moved to Gary. There were new apartments established over there and it was called East Point Terrace. In fact, they still exist. A lot of great memories there. We were the first family to live in that apartment complex. I remember coming up to the complex after they got married and the cement was still a little wet, and my mother gets out of the car and she etches “David and LaNita” on the corner of a sidewalk. Periodically, I actually go back and visit that site because those are my fondest memories, and you can barely see traces of the etching there and it’s just—it’s surreal, if you will, and it’s just a good memory for me.

In 1973 all of that changed for me. My parents split up and my mom moved to Glen Park to live with one of her sisters who was actually one of the first families in the Glen Park area. Having done so, my mom realized very early on that she wanted to provide the best educational opportunity for me. To be sure, the public school system was definitely functioning then in Gary and there are a lot of success stories that have come out of the public school system. Perhaps it was me that she honed in on and my personality that she understood I needed a little bit more structure. Perhaps it was the fact that her and my dad broke up and she noted I needed more structure because of the absence of a father figure. But for whatever the reasons were, she decided to send me to St. Mark’s School. It was somewhere right around November of 1973. I’m in fourth grade, and my teacher’s name is Sister Elise, and she had the habit and all of that and there were just a lot of differences that existed, but most of all, academically-speaking, it was very, very structured and from a discipline perspective, it was absolutely structured.

There was another dynamic that existed in that for four years, I was the only African American student in my class. And so, at a point where you’re trying to understand or just realize who you are as a person, I found myself becoming a different person if for no other reason to just get along and be comfortable in the environment that I was. Not only socially, but there was a whole religious component to it as well. To go from a school that was predominantly or perhaps one hundred percent African American to just the complete opposite, being the only African American student in my class, was a little bit of a culture shock. But I’ve always been competitive and I jumped right in and just wanted to be able to perform or excel at the level that the students in there were. And what I discovered is that there weren’t very many differences. I mean, we looked a little different, but I was just as intelligent as those students and I was able to keep up with the curriculum just as I did in the other school. But in addition to that, my mom wanted to make certain of that, and so I remember a lot of long evenings going over all of the homework that I was provided. And so, she continued to be integrally involved in my education. And looking back at it, I would say my mom made a pretty good decision in that regard.

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