Activist works to help better Gary
July 30, 2013 12:50PM
For more information about the Central District Organizating Project, call 886-1522, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.facebook.com/Midtowncdo.
Updated: September 1, 2013 6:21AM
“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”
— African proverb
My interview with Kim McGee took place in a small white house on Massachusetts Street in Gary. It is owned by St. John Baptist Church. The church — built in 1918 — is directly across the street.
McGee is the interim director of the Central District Organizing Project based out of the historic Midtown neighborhood of Gary. Prior to that, she was the youth program coordinator and the outreach coordinator for CDOP.
McGee, 37, lives in South Holland, Ill. She attended Thornwood High School.
“I attended Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.”
What exactly is CDOP?
“Basically, we’re a community action organization with our own 501c3. We focus on youth engagement and direct action.”
“Building local residents into leaders who will speak out at city council meetings. Leaders who organize petitions and demonstrations. We host community action meetings here at the office every Monday night at 5:30 p.m.”
Who founded the project?
“Gary native Lori Peterson-Latham. She has attended St. John Baptist since she was a child. The church donates this space. Lori wanted CDOP to be a place where people in the community could come and work together on local issues and to hold city leadership and other officials accountable. CDOP has been around since 2007.”
Tell me about the youth programs.
“The last official session of the CDOPs youth project was called the Anansi’s Web Youth Media Action Project. It resulted in the youth creating a 10-minute video short.
“In the last few months, we organized a voter empowerment campaign where we organized crews of young people to register new voters and distribute voter rights information.”
What about adults?
“We hosted our annual Malcolm X house party, a community house party, and a workshop on activist Assata Shakur. We also hosted a workshop on community arts with local educator Sam Love.”
“We helped facilitate the Participatory Democracy Conference with the department of minority studies at IUN.
“Our members watchdog city meetings and we’ve supported local citizen campaigns like the Boycott TGI Friday’s discrimination campaign. We’ve spoken out against the proliferation of liquor stores... .”
Kim, you really are quite the activist.
“I’m not the only one. Artist and activist Davina Stewart was Midtown history tour instructor. She also was the organizer of our Art Happens community art series among other projects.
“Natalie Ammons is a very active board member; she’s a force. The Rev. John Jackson at Trinity United Church of Christ and all its members are very conscious and active, as is Jonathan Wilson.”
I know Jonathan — fine young man.
“Jonathan is presently doing volunteer work in Africa.”
Kim, wasn’t there once a campaign called Build It Up Or Tear It Down?
“Yes, that’s where our members put up signs on or near abandoned homes and buildings. The vacant homes you see around here are hazards, eyesores and invite crime. Build It Up Or Tear It Down was one of CDOPs earliest campaigns.”
“A couple of those buildings did get torn down.”
Earlier, you mentioned Assata Shakur. I’ve read a little bit about her. Isn’t she somehow related to the late Tupac Shakur?
“I believe she was his step-aunt. Assata was a Black Panther and an activist who was framed up in a situation where a state trooper wound up dead. She was convicted and sent to prison, but escaped with the help of other activists. She was able to gain political asylum in Cuba.
“Assata was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Recently, they upgraded the reward for her capture from $1 million to $2 million. Now, they’ve placed her on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list.”
Your thoughts on that?
“Just because you’re an activist and you’re seeking social justice and you have a problem with racism in America, doesn’t make you a terrorist. They’re portraying her like she’s a member of Al Qaeda or something.”
What’s with the “no new sanitation service pick up fees” poster?
“There was a rumor that trash pick up was going to be privatized. Those were jobs that Gary residents could have. Upon finding that out, our organization and similar organizations, challenged it.”
“It wasn’t just a rumor; 29 sanitation workers lost their jobs. We tried to go to bat for them, but it didn’t work out.”
You know, four days before my 11th birthday, there was a man who also went to bat for sanitation workers down in Tennessee. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when 22 of the workers were sent home without pay because of inclement weather. They all were of color. Not one white worker was sent home.
“You speak of the day (Martin Luther King) was shot down.”
Keep fightin’ the good fight.
The Central District Organizing Project is about as grass roots as it gets.
Kim McGee is one of its hardest hitters.