Valparaiso, Indiana.

I’ll start off by saying this; In my heart of hearts I was SURE that once we existed OUTSIDE of Detroit’s city limits, myself and our cozy van would be the only people of color I’d see. Matter fact, every time I emerge from a bustling city I rehearse the apocalyptic, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, “WHO YOU GONNA CALL?! GHOSTBUSTERS” fighting styles/scenarios JUST IN CASE I run into someone who doesn’t “like my kind.” Be it a problematic way to exist or not, can one really blame me??

The road to Valparaiso is lined with real life Trump signs, real life horse and buggies, a real life McDonalds castle, real life realistic statues of people doing real life activities and to my very own astonishment…  real life BLACK PEOPLE! I attempted to quiet the alarm that constantly jars my my mind in a quaint space like Valpo. The ice cream was good (Valpo Velvet is the BEST), the people were kind, and I successfully avoided any establishment that Mike Pence MAY HAVE encountered. It’s typically fight or flight in these small-town landscapes. I wrestle with my irrational ideals instead of the beauty that occupies itself around me. I twiddle with what I suppose people assume of me. I can settle in this. I can settle in these uncharted waters. I can settle with being small town, me.

Less than an hour away, that desire to fight the flight all comes screaming back. We made a “pit-stop” in Gary, Indiana (and please, take a second to relinquish all the necessary side-eye, here). 

I juggled that fight or flight as Gary maintains its settlement after white flightI wasn’t of the sheltered mindset descending on a place like Gary, Indiana. I knew Gary was real shit. I knew Gary masoned steadily after its industry ran astray. I knew, just like Detroit, that the people of Gary upheld its churning soul and strength that shimmered amongst the rubble of the city. I will say, as a woman of color, the inquiry frequently speaks, “why do they always leave US behind?” Damn, there goes those questions again. 

With a purposeful intent to, “See where Micheal Jackson grew up!,” I saw a few things that glared much brighter than the always-remembered, King of Pop. You do more than cringe when you see a black male being pulled over by two cops. You swallow hard when you watch him keep his hands in plain sight… just in case. You cry when you see someone your aunts age strung out on more than you can name. You start to slowly sob when you watch dilapidated Black owned businesses with a small whisper of what they used to be. I cry for my people. I cry for my people every day. But damn, don’t I celebrate! I celebrate the strength of being Black. I celebrate this honor that we maintain. We’ve maintained. You can leave us amongst the ashes, we’ll always create mounds of diamonds. You can squalor about “your rights”, but we’ve transcended without ours. You can leave us with your broken dreams and my god we will mend them and create destiny. I see that in my people. I see that in you, Gary.  -Ragen

Greer Brown, 21
STUDENT, ICE-CREAM-SHOP ASSISTANT

“I’ve always felt that being a woman here is exactly the same as being a man. I’ve gone fishing with my dad ever since I can remember, and I don’t remember any tasks being gender-specific. In fact, I feel that in my little corner of the Midwest, we are equal. I guess you could say I come from a minimalistic family that places zero importance on appearance and more on character. My parents don’t really notice imperfections, so I’ve never really known how to spot them in myself. One time my friend was complaining about her pores and I had no clue what she meant.”

Malia Campau, 22
STAY-AT-HOME MOM

“I’ve lived within the same 30 miles my whole life. I live with my husband. We have two dogs and then a 1-year-old son. My husband works full time, goes to school. We met when we were 16, in high school, and started dating and now … here we are. I would say that it’s easier to be a stay-at-home mom here than in other parts of the country because the cost of living is so low. I don’t think we could have done the same if we lived in a big city.

“South Bend’s come a long way in the last five years. But Indiana is very conservative. I think the biggest social issue that we have is people still not being accepting of gays and also people not supporting women getting abortions. It’s very hard to be able to openly express your feelings about any of those things when you live in such a Republican environment.”