In this year of 2016, the state of Indiana’s two hundredth birthday, I have been thinking a lot about history and about how knowing history can really give a better perspective on things. I think about my own family’s history here in Indiana, and I think their experiences had a lot to do with how I feel about education and my work ethic.
My great-great uncles migrated to Indiana from Southern Alabama in 1915, a time when many African-American families were moving north to find better employment and educational opportunities. They often had to leave the south under the cover of darkness because they were sharecroppers and the landlords would not allow them to leave. In Fort Wayne, there were great employment opportunities in what was called the Rolling Mills District, located on Taylor Street surrounding a steel factory that had come to town from Chicago in 1903.
My great-great uncle not only found work but was one of the original founders in 1919 of Pilgrim Baptist Church, which has become one of the largest and most influential churches in our community. I am an active member now of that church, which has meant so much in the history of my family.
When my family and other families came north, they were faced with making a huge adjustment. The only life they had known was rural, and they had to adjust to an urban lifestyle. Their children had to enter their new schools with a limited educational background, often causing them to be placed a grade or two back from other children their age.
Along with manufacturing jobs many of these new residents of Fort Wayne settled in what is currently the East Central neighborhood and took service jobs, such as working as domestics in homes, as parking attendants, at car washes or as janitors. While these jobs were not the best, they were better than the employment opportunities in the south. And, the new residents were thankful for the educational opportunities here for their children because they knew education was the key to achieving a better life.
After arriving in Fort Wayne, my great-great uncles established a hauling business using a horse-drawn wagon. My family operated this business until the 1960s, and I worked in the business when I was growing up. My uncles taught me the importance of showing up for work every day and getting to work on time. They taught me I had to be properly dressed when I arrived for work.
I learned from my family a strong work ethic which I still follow today. Many of our clients at the Wayne Township Trustee’s Office did not have the advantages of a family that taught them the dignity of work and that all work is honorable. Many of our clients did not have the advantages of a family that taught them the importance of an education.
When I became Trustee, I initiated for our clients required weekly employment classes to help them understand the lessons I learned from my family. Often when my staff and I speak with clients, we talk to them about what seems to many of us the basics of getting and keeping a job—the principles I learned from my family. We also emphasize to clients the importance of education and try to encourage our clients to further their education.
I know we can’t make an impact on all of our clients. But I will never give up trying to help as many of our clients as possible understand what I learned from my family during my formative years here in Fort Wayne.
Latest posts by Richard A. Stevenson - Wayne Township Trustee (see all)
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