Reclaiming Our Identity, Rebuilding a Future through Tri-City Observance

Members of the Youngstown area gathered on Sept. 19 for a tri-city celebration to commemorate the region 42 years after Black Monday. Photo by Kelcey Norris/The Jambar

By Kelcey Norris

Forty-two years after Black Monday, members of the Youngstown area gathered on Sept. 19 to reflect on history and discuss a hopeful future.

“Reclaiming Our Identity” was as a tri-city celebration commemorating the region where the Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers limits meet on Poland Avenue. 

William Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, explained the significance of Sept. 19, 1977, known as Black Monday, the day the smoke stopped puffing from the steel mills and many workers found themselves jobless. 

Derrick McDowell, organizer and announcer for the event, gathered the community on the grounds of the Campbell Works of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, a testament to the former booming steel industry. 

McDowell said his vision for the event was to show others that the future of the area is in good hands with an even greater history behind it. 

“The reason we gathered today is not just to commemorate the legacy of the steel mills. It’s not just to honor the brave mill workers who gave it their all,” he said. “It behooves us to understand that the great work is yet to be done.” 

McDowell said the speakers that shared testimonies gave insight on how they hope to shape the futures of Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers. 

“We’ve reached a space in 2019 where we’ve got to deal with the community as it is now and the community we want to see,” he said. “We do not have the time nor the luxury to cry over our spilled milk anymore.”

Robert Gelonese, Struthers Middle School principal, discussed the importance of teaching members of the next generation about what came before them. 

Members of the Youngstown area gathered on Sept. 19 for a tri-city celebration to commemorate the region 42 years after Black Monday. Photo by Kelcey Norris/The Jambar

“When Black Monday hit, I was 15 years old, and I asked myself, ‘Where are these people going to go?’” Gelonese said. “In testimony to the people in this area, they stayed. They dug their heels in and said, ‘We’re going to rise from these ashes.’”

He said many of the families directly impacted by Black Monday are still in the area. 

“We’re trying to create critical thinkers and problem solvers,” he said. “We’re going after not only their minds, but also their hearts.” 

Joseph Meranto, superintendent of the Youngstown City School District, said Youngstown provides many educational and career opportunities for the next generation. 

“There are jobs that require different skills … So, we need to prepare our students for the jobs of the future we don’t even know are here yet,” he said. “[Our students] all have different skills, different training and different talents and abilities, so we need to use those for the hope of the future.”

Meranto said he encourages his students to learn about the past to have a different future; many students have grandparents who lost their jobs on Black Monday. 

“If you don’t know the history of Youngstown and the whole region, you can’t be successful,” Meranto said. “We need to know from where we came to see where we’re at and to see where we’re going.” 

Campbell Mayor Nick Phillips stood facing the audience and made a speech about the steel industry on behalf of the Campbell region.

“My grandfathers worked there, and I would lay in bed at night listening to the trains … I would see the smokestacks and the flames roar,” Phillips said. “I would drive down Wilson Avenue and see this amazing structure that took care of over 5,000 workers. It was a city within a city.”

 McDowell provided a closing statement to the audience about the identity of Youngstown. 

“When you allow others to tell your story, quite honestly, they don’t tell it well and they don’t tell it right,” McDowell said. “This is a challenge for us all … Let us write not just a  counternarrative because that puts us in a defensive position — we need to go on the offensive.”