When I was growing up in Fort Wayne, my family taught me the importance of hard work, as well as the importance of getting an education. Today, in my position as Wayne Township Trustee, I make every effort to impress upon our clients those same principles.
My great-great uncles migrated to Fort Wayne from Southern Alabama in 1915. This was a time when many African-American families were moving north to seek 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.
I am very proud that my great-great uncle was one of the original founders in 1919 of Pilgrim Baptist Church, which has grown to 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.
Many new Black 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 vehicle 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.
Before I close, I wanted to remind everyone to make sure to exercise your right to vote. You can either vote at your precinct on Election Day, November 2, or vote early on the first floor of the City-County Building. Early voting is currently taking place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturday, October 23 and 30, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Early voting closes at noon on November 1.
Richard A. Stevenson, Sr.
Wayne Township Trustee
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