Wednesday, October 2, 2013

G is for...

is for... Gary, Indiana

Gary, Indiana. 

Where I was born and raised. This city through all the strife and turmoil shaped me into the woman that I am today.
I grew up in city that was once called murder capital of the world. I lived a sheltered life on the worse side of the city… The east side.
Back in the day, Gary used to be one of the largest cities and most prosperous cities in Indiana because of the Steel Mills.  People of all races flocked to the city for jobs and settled there, ready to raise their families.
My grandparents were one of those families. They raised 5 children in Gary while my grandfather worked at the Steel Mill to support them.
The city now… is nowhere near what it used to be. The people have changed, the city has changed and neither has changed for the better. The city is now a place where the people are poor and the politicians are driving around in Mercedes.
When most people hear about Gary they comment about one of 3 things. They either talk about the crime or the fact that the sulfur from the Steel Mills can make the city smell terrible or they mention Michael Jackson (even though Michael Jackson never gave one cent to help out the city where he was born).
Michael Jackson's Childhood home in Gary, IN

   When I was a junior in college, I was given the opportunity to pursue my journalism career by interning at one of the major daily papers in the region called The Post Tribune. While doing so I was able to cover politics as well as the education beat. Through those avenues, I learned many things about the city. I learned the city is getting poorer and poorer every day, the politicians are making more and more every day, and the children in the city are suffering from lack of resources and a lack of education.
I remember hearing that Superintendents were getting bonuses while my sister had to sit in class for two weeks without a desk because they didn’t have enough for all of the students. The Gary Public Schools were given federal funds to use in the schools. They used it to give themselves nice offices and bonuses. When the federal government asked them to tell them how they allocated the funds, they had nothing.
So they decided to start closing schools left and right without having an idea what they were going to about the abandoned buildings in a city that is already has a rampant crime problem.

When I started my freshman year at West Side high school, our freshmen class started off with 480 students. By the time we graduated there were only 237 of us. I’ve come across so many people that don’t see any hope. They feel like they are not going to be anything important in life so why try.  They feel that there is a glass of the keeps them from getting out of the ghetto promoted off of the projects.
Most of the people are on welfare or live in poverty and yet some politicians in our Congress believe these people are leeches on society or are living the good life on welfare.  Speaking as someone who grew up in a home where we relied on welfare to get by, trust me it is nowhere near the “good life”. It’s a disgrace that my father had to work over 40 hours a week and still could not bring calm enough to support his family.
There was a time our lights were turned off when I was little because we didn’t have the money to pay the bill. My parents tried to get assistance but was told basically they made too little to get assistance. They were telling my parents that they were too poor to get help. And here we thought that the help out there was for the people who could not afford to pay for things.  

Gary could have been a prosperous city yet it is now filled with gangs and 15-year-olds walking around with AK-47s  who don’t have an education.
The goal of some of us was to get out of Gary by any means necessary. There were many of us who saw that our lives could be better if we left. My husband included. Living there just seemed to suck the hope right out of you.  My siblings dropped out of school or decided that just wanted to get a GED. I knew that education was my ticket out and I was in school every day. My mother used to tell everyone how I stood outside in a snow storm waiting for the bus. My mother said I should just stay home that school was probably going to be canceled anyway. I replied,
“If the bus doesn’t come, then I will stay home.”
The bus came.
I went to school.
I knew that I had to do well because my parents could not afford to pay for my college education. I needed a scholarship.  College was going to be the only way that I was going to be able to leave.
Yet the issue with leaving is that I will be leaving my family behind. I have some siblings that moved out of the city to different states and start new lives there yet they are still some they can’t seem to pull themselves from the city like my father who was born and raised there, just can’t seem to leave.

However, I still love my home and I would never deny the fact that I am from Gary Indiana born and raised. If I was never born in Gary, I don’t know that I would be the woman that I am today, strong and resilient and motivated to make my children’s childhood life better than mine.
I remember where I came from. I remember not always having food on the table. I remember my parents worrying about how they were going to pay all the bills and still feed us. I remember my mother going without food to make sure that all nine of her children had something to eat.
 I remember how upset my parents were when they didn’t have enough money to buy us anything for Christmas. Those memories keep me going and keep me working hard. The more successful I am the more I can give back to my family and to my community.

 I will never deny where I came from because Gary made me the woman I am today.


  1. Donnee ~ It is so true that our growing up circumstances help us develop resilience and make a difference in our life choices. Good for you for setting goals and going for them!

    Thank you for giving us another view of Gary.

  2. This was a very powerful post. You are an amazing woman for having to motivate yourself and move on to do bigger and better things outside your childhood town. Like you said, not everyone feels so determined to take that leap.

  3. I used to struggle to tell people I lived in Oildale. But I've been here for 12 years now, and it's become a part of me much the same way Gary has to you. I like the places I've lived, and happy to add Oildale to that surprisingly small list.

  4. I first heard of Gary, Indiana by way of the song from"The Music Man." Curious, I looked it up in my encyclopedia. It was (in the 1960's) listed as a major steel town--and we all know what happened to the former steel towns in America. Yet this little bit of knowledge led me to stop in Gary when I passed through in 1976. It was, and apparently is, a very different city than it promised to be. Good things are born in the least likely places; we have the example of yourself, a young girl who believed in the promise of education, and most of all, who believed in herself. Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

  5. Sad to say my only reference for Gary Indiana till reading this post...was the song from The Music Man. Your post was a big eye-opener. I am impressed by whatever it was inside of you that pushed you to continue your education, to insist on your education, when others in your family either could not or would not do it for themselves. That is an impressive thing. So many of us are bound by the expectations of what we are born into. Good for you in reaching beyond...without forgetting to look back at where you came from, without forgetting to acknowledge those people and circumstances that are part of who you are.

    Powerful powerful post.