“I always want to make my city proud.”
Edited by Welcome Project Intern Ella Speckhard
Transcript for Gary Made Me
I always like to say that Gary made me. Like, there’s a phrase—I don’t know if people have ever heard this phrase, but, ‘If you’re from Gary, you can live anywhere.’ So, and I truly, honestly believe that, and there’s something edgy about, you know, being from Gary. And then the perception when you meet people outside in the diaspora, you know, it’s amazing that they all know Gary. And usually it’s from, you know, Roosevelt, and Michael Jackson, and the steel mill. I always want to make, you know, like to make my city proud. There’s this level of ownership that we have, you know, being from Gary.
It was great back then, I mean, we had a real strong community. I never really had to leave my community to play sports or to do anything—that’s all I really wanted to do, anyway, was play sports, so. On my block alone, there was probably like, fifteen kids, I mean, literally from one corner to the next corner it was like, fifteen kids on my side of the block, and then on the other side of the block, probably about five or six additional kids, so we had baseball games, we could play ‘It,’ and ‘Chase,’ and ‘Tag,’ and we threw apples at each other, and all kind of stuff like that. I mean, it was really a game like, having apple fights. So, you know, it was a great time growing up. So, it was a really, really good area to be in. I would say that the majority of the people that I grew up with were—come from two-parent homes. The majority of all my friends in the community had their mother and father there, so that just gives you a pretty good scope of what that community was like. You learned daily lesson almost every day. I mean, almost every day because in that day, parents didn’t really have – your neighbors didn’t have a problem reaching out and touching you, or either reprimanding you or pulling you to the side and talking to you, you know what I mean? So, it just seems like today that a lot of parents, they befriend they children, and they don’t really want anybody chastising or talking to their children. So, in that day, you know, you could walk freely and go from house to house. I mean, literally on a summer day in my neighborhood, you might visit four or five different houses, you know, just playing games — just going from one person’s house to the next person’s house, eat lunch, get water, you know, or whatever. It’s kind of like, every time you came in contact with them, they had some type of lesson for you.
You know, we lived in that little bubble of Tolleston area, and we never really had to leave the area to do anything. There was a good grocery store there, there was recreation there, there was Little Leagues there, there was basketball there, there was baseball there, we could ride our bikes around the little park, there were two schools. Like, I talk to kids today, and they want to go, you know, to the movies or whatever. But they didn’t have a way to get there, you know, so because all the movies—there is no local movie inside of Gary, Indiana anymore, so at one point in time, there was a couple theaters on Broadway and everything where you could go and watch movies, but now there’s not, so you have to go to Merrillville, you know, to watch the movies, so all of those community amenities are so far away now that that makes it a little more difficult for the kids to have those type of—that type of fun.
Now, as far as the community now, actually, the Boys & Girls Club bought that property that used to be Tolleston Middle School, right across the street from my house. So, I really get excited when I get off work, you know, on a warm, nice day and I walk past, and there are literally seventy, eighty, ninety kids out there playing, and just, you know, it just does something to my heart to see those kids out there playing because it kind of reminds me of how it was when I was coming up. So, I’m really, really excited that they got that Boys & Girls Club there. I’m not so excited about the, you know, like the abandoned homes, and abandoned buildings, and dried-up businesses. That kind of, that kind of affects me a little bit, but I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m there, and people, you know, like me are staying in the community so that we have—so that provide the kids with an outlet, you know, so they can see that, you know, you can be an administrator, or you can be, you know, a school teacher, or you can be a professional athlete, or you can be a police officer, or achieve, you know, greater things than what they’re surrounded by.
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