Youngstown, Ohio

Derrick McDowell
Download: Audio icon 00148.mp3

Youngstown must become more “autobiographical”. Our way forward relies on it. So let me explain why. I chose the word ‘Autobiography’ as a polite way of saying to anyone hearing this, that in my attempts to #DefendYoungstown, the city of my birth and full affection, that those attempts fully include a passion and drive to call out as many of the “outside” inaccuracies and “damaging” accounts of life here in the city of Youngstown as I can. Should you not have the proper context, perspective and/or qualifications to give a proper account of the lives of the residents here - it’s my intent to help every resident here arrive at a place where we’re going to call you out. Every time! 


So many of the stories that I read about Youngstown, are written by people who aren’t from or have never been TO Youngstown, and may of whom may not even be fully educated or aware of what’s going on IN Youngstown. Anyone who even so much as inadvertently creates a ‘Biography’ of events on our behalf will soon be met with a Youngstown that’s being taught to fight for the right to author our own, self-written accounts of our city.


As often as I can, I intentionally spend time hammering the point home, to the amazing people here, that we must author and own our own narrative. False narratives, misreported stories and political “hit-pieces” all do the kind of damage that sinks deep into Youngstown’s soul. They rob us of what’s most essential to our progressive efforts; which is our culture and our identity. They actually serve to kill us twice over, by damaging our reputation and traumatizing our bright future. 


No other city’s story will do. We’ve got to see our city’s law enforcement, our local racial justice dialogue, we’ve got to own our educational challenges our job opportunity obstacles, our low income housing crisis, our 36.8% poverty levels that we need to eradicate. We cannot afford to allow the outside views of others, to muddy our waters.


In a world full of “clickbait” and quick glances, where so many don’t read past a certain point, we can see how a simple choice of words in an article’s title can serve to reinforce the negative perceptions of Youngstown. My work to end these kinds of overt & covert things is so that we can move forward in truth and reconciliation as we look to solve our many issues. 


Youngstown is continually made to bear its soul and to expose the stains of its issues for all to see (locally, regionally & nationally). So many of our surrounding suburbs work tirelessly to maintain their ‘inviting’ appearance. It’s my desire that no community have these kinds of issues. But how we report them, to the residents of Youngstown, about the Valley or any community matters. It should be done thoughtfully and with care and concern for all who consume it. We are all different, yet in so many ways, the same. We are ALL human. We are all wonderfully made & full of potential. We also are all fallible & imperfect. And we all have a choice in how we transparently share our story and our struggles. My hope for us ALL is that we recognize that some places are not as “bad” and some places are not as “good” as they appear. If we work together, honest about our challenges and issues, we can win this fight for a better future — together.


So time & time again, I’ll remind Youngstown (and the world) of who we are! That can be difficult when we ourselves can often forget. But a few things remain. There are NO perfect places. There are NO perfect people. I’ve simply come by to tell you that Youngstown has hope. I’ve seen it. The faith we have in our future comes from the people here, giving their firsthand accounts of their Youngstown. So mark my words, “the Youngstown I see, will be an ‘autobiographical’ example to the nation.” 


In a Share It! WYSU Commentary, Derrick McDowell, founder of the Youngstown Flea, community engagement and inclusion coordinator for the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, and assistant director of the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.