By John Stran
Outside the Youngstown City Hall, a proposal demanding a new Youngstown was made on Sept. 19.
The “Reclaiming Our Identity” event was held by the City of You to push the idea of letting go of the city’s past and building upon all the various achievements that Youngstown has recently earned.
“This is our beginning; this is our time,” said Derrick McDowell, Youngstown Flea creator and initiator of the “Reclaiming Our Identity” event.
He said he wants a change in the city that will impact more than just those who attended his event.
McDowell was presented with a mayoral proclamation, city council resolution and a resolution from the office of Tim Ryan officially made Sept. 19 “Reclaiming Our Identity Day.”
Throughout his speech, McDowell continued to stress the importance of having and owning one’s own identity.
“Your identity is your passport to freedom,” he said. “You have to tell your own story because it’s impossible for someone else to tell it for you.”
Speakers at the event included Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Youngstown City schools CEO Krish Mohip and founder of the City of You marketing campaign R.J. Thompson.
Thompson said things are progressing in the city very quickly, and this can continue if residents continue to push their goals and initiatives.
“Smart, hard-working determined; these are some of the qualities of the people in Youngstown that are doing what they can to make this city a better place to live, work, play and learn,” Thompson said.
The date marked the 41st anniversary of Black Monday, a day that saw the closing of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube’s Campbell Works steel mill, removing 5,000 jobs and created a chain reaction increasing the unemployment rate in the valley.
Prior to the day that altered life in Youngstown, Bill Lawson, director of the Mahoning Valley Historical society, described a time when the city was so populated there was a shortage of homes.
“It was a time when grit was in the air and in the people,” Lawson said.
Though McDowell wants the city to move forward and not dwell on the past, he said he wants the city and its people to have the same promise as when Youngstown was booming.
“The story we’re telling ourselves about what happened to us; it is by that lense we need to wipe clean and see new,” he said. “The same exact things that those pioneers of the mills recognized in the city still stand today.”
Brown commended McDowell and said from the moment he met him, he was really initiated to tackle different issues that the city faces.
McDowell’s determination to create an improved Youngstown stems from his brother’s murder within the city when McDowell was 14.
“When it happened I was so angry at the city,” McDowell said. “But I never looked at Youngstown and said ‘you owe me.’”
Brown said it’s up to valley residents to carry this day forward and make it more than just a public speech.