So my hometown of Whitehall, Ohio was recently ranked #1 on a list of Ohio's Most Dangerous Cities. I'm not sure if it was that dangerous when I grew up there or not. I do know that my mom still lives there, and when I visit, things seem about the same to me. So maybe it was. But let me share my thoughts on growing up there...
This is not going to be an "I made it out of there" story.
I do not think I am where I am today despite growing up in Whitehall, OH.
I think I am who I am today because I grew up in Whitehall, OH.
I learned that the quality of your house or apartment has nothing to do with your character. I loved growing up in a duplex rental community. Loved my friends being so close we could play 10 houses down until dark because my parents could always reach me by yelling loudly out the door. Most of the adults I knew had not attended college. Some of my friends were raised by single parents. Some by grandparents. Many (including me) with a step-parent. But from what I saw, most of the adults worked hard and made the best lives they could for their families whatever their structure.
I developed a sense of independence that has served me well my whole life. My friends and I walked all over the neighborhood. We walked to school, and we walked through the Beer Dock on the way home for candy. In junior high, I would take a bus with my friends to the mall and other places. I know I was able to do some of that because 30 years ago it was a safer, simpler time. However the ease of getting around town, and the independence that fostered, was enabled by the lower-income nature of Whitehall. We had public transportation for one thing. And we had a mixed-use urban community. Unlike my friends who lived in more affluent suburbs of Columbus. Those friends had nothing but nice houses on large lots near them. There were no stores to walk to and no bus to take anywhere.
I had fantastic teachers who instilled in me a love of learning. Our schools may not have been the best equipped, but we had some really great teachers. After taking Dr. Bradshaw's History Seminar, I was honestly over-prepared for college the first year! And I learned first hand that a great education is not about money. It is about great teachers.
I experienced the power of community. I knew my neighbors. I knew my friends' parents. I felt supported and loved at Eastview United Methodist Church. I was part of the Ram Band with all the Ram Pride that came with it. I took class trips to DC, NYC and Chicago. I performed in plays and sang in choirs. And I honestly never felt limited by resources. Our community found ways. Our parents found ways.
Since growing up and moving away, I have traveled the world with little fear and with confidence in my ability to use public transportation. Naive or not, I do not let worry about potential crime stop me from living my life to the fullest. I know that bad things can happen anywhere. But I also know that good things can happen anywhere.
Now I'm not saying that raising children in a lower income area is the right place to raise them. But I am saying, that it is not the wrong place. Among the friends I grew up with, there are now teachers, and lawyers, and business executives, and Phds, and great parents, and even greater human beings. I can think of way more success stories off the top of my head than I can of failures.
So yes, I am proud of where I came from and proud of the lessons I learned there. They have served me well. So thank you Whitehall, Ohio.
(Written September 26, 2014)