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GCSC marks Black History Month with special program for male students grades 3 – 8

Males from the Gary schools assemble at West Side for the Black History program.

In observance of Black History Month, the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) invited all males grades 3 through 8 to a special program at West Side Leadership Academy. A panel of influential, professional men ranging from West Side alumni to district administrators offered words of encouragement and advice to the nearly 800 young men in attendance. 

The speakers included: 

LaTroy Hawkins, Retired NBL Player and West Side H.S. graduate 

Austin Cook, Director of Truancy, GCSC 

Pastor Chet Johnson, New Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church 

Carl Scott, WSLA Principal and West Side H.S. graduate 

Mark Spencer, Director of Fine Arts, GCSC and City of Gary Councilman at Large 

Hawkins shared memories of his nearly 20-year career as a professional baseball player. He cautioned students to stay in school, pay attention and have a back-up plan since the odds of playing professional sports are astronomically slim. Hawkins flies home to Gary from Texas twice monthly to volunteer at a McCullough Academy, which is located in the neighborhood where he grew up. 

“I was able to live out my dreams, and it all started right here in Gary, IN,” said Hawkins. “It is my responsibility to reach back and give guidance to youth who are now growing up in the same city that raised me.” 

Cook, who has served as a truancy officer for the district for the past two years, emphasized the importance of attending school daily and being on time. 

“The more school you miss, the further you fall behind,” said Cook. “Soon, motivation is lost and many choose to just drop out. This is not the answer, and we as role models are here to help each of you stay the course.” 

Pastor Chet Johnson recounted his days as a troublemaker in high school, and how his family, teachers and other community members stepped up to help ensure his success. 

WSLA principal Carl Scott wanted to let the young men know that they are loved and cared about. 

“We must reverse the trend of becoming less ambitious as we get older,” said Scott. “You can be or do anything you put your mind to, and it’s our job to believe in you.” 

Mark Spencer has worked in Fine Arts for the District for almost 30 years. He recalled that one teacher recognized his talent in 1979 and called him to the front to be in the spotlight. 

“It was the push I needed to pursue my dreams, and I never stopped working to be my best,” said Spencer.  

Chief of Schools Dr. Esther Goodes served as one of the lead coordinators for the all male gathering. 

“I am in our school buildings every day and see the needs of our young men firsthand,” said Goodes. “They need guidance, role models and most important, consistent support and encouragement in a school district where they are loved. All of this exists in the Gary schools.” 

Goodes indicated that this first-of-its-kind initiative will grow into a more commonplace activity at every school.  

“We are focused on providing all students, but young males in particular, a safe place to express themselves, ask questions and grow as individuals.” 

For more information about programs offered by the district, visit

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