By Jordan Wilson
I have always enjoyed the enlightenment that comes with every Black History Month.
Some years, I learn new details about events that transformed the nation, like the March on Washington or the tragic killing of Malcolm X in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom.
Most years, I learn about something, or someone new, like Sylvia Robinson, who conceived and produced Hip-hop’s inaugurating single “Rapper’s Delight”.
This past month was no different, and while I have used the last few weeks to discover fascinating details about the legacy of Black History, I have also contemplated the direct impact that understanding our past has on creating the future that we long for in the city of Gary.
Our city rose to prominence as an industrial epicenter, promising economic opportunity to Black families. Gary’s turn-of-century troubles with poverty and crime are highly publicized, but truthfully, the city has created a better way of life for Black families far longer than it has endangered us.
Richard Hatcher’s trailblazing tenure as the first Black Mayor of a major city laid the foundation for generations of elected officials after him. Gary’s own, Katie Hall, would become the first Black Congresswoman from the state while he was in office. In 1985, he was elected President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an organization in which the city and state’s first Black woman mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, would also hold a leadership role.
Well before the days of Richard Hatcher, Dick Barnett, a Roosevelt High School (now known as Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy) graduate, represented the city as a two-time, National Basketball Association (NBA) champion. Having won two NBA titles with the New York Knicks, Barnett helped establish the city’s Black sports lineage, most recently represented by Gary native and basketball phenom, Dana Evans, who won a WNBA championship with the Chicago Sky during her rookie year.
Our city has long been renowned for producing the world’s most esteemed scholars, like Harvard Law Professor and Roosevelt graduate, Ronald Sullivan, and most recently, Morehouse’s 2021 Co-Valedictorian, Nanya El. I am not alone in my belief that the city is a breeding ground for intellectualism, as some of our schools, like Steel City Academy, continue to receive national acclaim and attention for their excellence.
The best is yet to come for Gary. Expanding educational, commercial, and social opportunities will spur a new renaissance. Instead of relishing the lows that we have experienced, this month, I looked to our trailblazers for inspiration on what a bright future would look like. History has indicated that being from the city of Gary means that we are innovative enough to become the gold standard for business development. Certainly, being a Gary native represents the notion that we are competent enough to become international leaders, in politics, sports, and academia, among a host of other industries. Black History is not new to this city, and all we must do is look to our past for assurance and inspiration for a better future.
Jordan Wilson is the Co-Founder of Politicking. Through Politicking, she aims to promote voting and political engagement among young Americans by providing a mobile platform for non-partisan election news and data. She is currently pursuing her J.D. at Boston College Law School, where she serves as a Fellow with the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy. Jordan holds a B.A. in Political Science from Howard University.