By Vernon A. Williams
Let me begin by saying this is not a pronouncement based on solid data or insider information. It is not the conclusion of exhaustive research or any compilation of irrefutable empirical evidence even though recent developments may support the speculation.
Some won’t be interested in reading beyond this point, thinking that I am overselling enthusiasm with the expected romanticism of one reflecting on a place dear to their heart since earliest memories. Undoubtedly, sentimentality is a factor.
But no matter your level of skepticism, cynicism or frustration about unfilled promises of the path, read to the end of this column and see if you are willing to reconsider.
To start with, dreaming the impossible dream is the same spirit of faith that has fueled every inch of the journey for African Americans since our 400-year exploitation. We assume that the game is rigged and the playing field is uneven (to our disadvantage) from the start. So defying expectation is intrinsic in our DNA. It is who we are.
For example, there was nothing to even hint that a Black man would fire the first shot of the Revolutionary War leading to the birth of this upstart new nation. But it happened.
The emergence of a moral human force of color with the intellect, conviction and articulation of Frederick Douglass contradicted every element of his people’s reality during that period of the 19th century and yet he stood toe-to-toe with the powerful, offsetting seemingly insurmountable chances of being heard and respected.
Who could imagine the strength of resistance and strategic acumen of enslavement era stalwarts like Nat Turner or Harriet Tubman; or the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Booker T. Washington; the vision of Benjamin Banneker or the brilliance of George Washington Carver? All of them obliterated the status quo or expectations of their time.
Let’s fast forward to the new millennium. No rational thinking person thought they would see the day that America would elect its first Black president. Comedians like Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Cedric the Entertainer each had classic humor pinpointing the outlandish odds prospect to the uproarious laughter of audiences.
Even after he announced candidacy and launched a campaign only a small percentage of the most conscientious, well-educated, eloquent and active African American pundits would venture the forecast that opposing a former first lady, the nation would prefer a Democratic nominee with a name like Barrack Hussein Obama.
That was crazy talk, right?
Likewise, conventional logic dictates that Gary, Indiana has been too dead for too long in the wake of the disappearance of thousands of steel jobs in the 1970s.
It’s easy to point to the widespread blight, political fractionalization, vitriol from Northwest Indiana outsiders, lack of capital, challenges of the local school system and too many things to mention to constitute doubt. The greater challenge is the capacity to see beyond your grasp what’s clearly in sight and reach beyond your grasp.
That is what the Gary faithful will do over the next year or two or three. Now, it won’t be easy, magical, instantly accomplished or unchallenged. But it will be.
I remember one of the white city councilmen from Glen Park calling Gary “a boil on the butt of Northwest Indiana.” I remember those who would scoff and say, “Will the last person leaving Gary please turn off the light.” I remember disparaging television documentaries that loved to catch tumbleweed rolling down Broadway between boarded up buildings.
Gary, Indiana has taken the abuse like the champion city that it is. For those who don’t know, Gary has been home to more than the Jackson Five. There are people who are smart, honest and anxious to invest. We still have the dubious distinction of owning the longest stretch of undeveloped lake front (11.2 miles) in the United States of America.
I haven’t seen the blueprint, but just as a casino with a 4,000-seat theater and first-class hotel spells a brighter future on the far west side, that beachfront land holds the potential for tourist cruises to Chicago, restaurants overlooking the water, an entertainment and recreation complex, chic scenic condos and boutique shops offering a potpourri of goods.
Growth east and west will be accented by the comeback of the middle of the city. Broadway will never look as it did in the 50s and 60s. Good riddance. It’s time for new designs and innovations to draw people into town from all over Northwest Indiana and Chicago, bringing a flow of revenue and strengthening the city’s weak tax base.
There are already major corporations conceding the ideal location of Gary for manufacturing as well as travel convenience by air, rail, highway and waterways. The possibilities have no limits.
If you thought Gary was a great city at the height of its prowess, just wait until you get a look at the sequel. The makeover will quiet haters and reward the faithful. It is not a question of “if” but more a matter of “when.” People will marvel over New Gary, Indiana.
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].