Who or what determines the legendary status of a human being?
It’s rhetorical. No right or wrong answers. But it comes to mind in the wake of the recent recognition of Richard Gordon Hatcher who received the National Urban League “Living Legend Award.”
In music, it’s usually the artist who sells tens of millions of recordings, fills a football stadium and cops enough Grammy or Tony Awards to fill a trophy case. In acting, it’s the man or woman whose stage or screen portrayals become instantly iconic, setting the bar to which fledgling thespians aspire.
For the athlete, legend is born of incomparable individual and team dominance in sports – setting records and winning championships; performance unparalleled in a given time.
Without going through every profession, there are clear metrics for most. Educators. Scientists. Engineers. Builders. Lawyers. Entrepreneurs. Theologians. Stylists. Writers. Painters. You see what I’m saying. In each area, you can think up or research enough real and perceived concepts to justify the rare designation of LEGEND.
So, what’s so great about Hatcher?
Well, the Michigan City native came to Gary and formed the socio-political action force that came to
be known as Muigwithania. Kindred spirits raised the consciousness among African Americans and challenged the status quo – leading to the rise of Black involvement in municipal, township, county, state and federal government.
Hatcher didn’t settle for becoming the first Black elected mayor of a major U.S. city – he lifted as he rose; organizing the monumental Black Political Convention in Gary – a seminal moment in the emergence of African American elected officials across the country.
As a statesman, Hatcher articulated the needs of a voiceless people with dignity, courage and principle. Despite his national stature, he always put Gary first. He walked with kings and never lost the common touch. Today, he still lives in the same modest home on the city’s west side that was the mayoral residence for 20 years.
Before he came into office, the last government buildings constructed in Gary was the police station and jail.
With him came the Genesis Convention Center, the Adam Benjamin Transportation Center, the Hudson-Campbell Fitness Center, Gary Municipal Airport expansion and significant capital improvements that staved off ill effects of white flight, anti-Gary media, regional and state antagonism and abandonment of industry as long as possible.
And yes, Gary political infighting and internal turmoil were often palpable. Some spent the four years following an election campaigning for the next; bent on resisting compromise. Some carry the antagonism even today. But what is, is. At some point, decent people bury differences and forgive imperfections in the same way they seek forgiveness.
Richard Gordon Hatcher stayed the course. His commitment to the people was unswerving, his character irreproachable, and his courage to say what needed to be said, when it needed to be heard, to those who needed most to hear it, is a far cry from present-day social media pundits’ bravado or rebels whose bombast and self-proclaimed intellectualism never transforms into sustainable change.
Hatcher not only talked the talk – he walked the walk.
Real legends never pursue that status. It is thrust on them by their reality, by the truth, not by people. It is appropriate and impressive that Mayor Hatcher was acknowledged by the National Urban League. But his legacy did not depend on it. Mayor Hatcher reached legendary status long before any public accolades or affirmation. It was already established – in reality…in truth…and most of all, in service.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].