This week on Senior Voices, Sharon Christian remembers growing up in Dayton’s Westwood neighborhood during the 1960s and 70s. Sharon spoke with volunteer interviewer Barbara Gerla at the Wesley Community Center, near where she grew up.
Sharon Christian (SC): It was a great neighborhood to grow up in. I’ve heard different about it now, but when I was young we used to go to the park all the time, or go the library all the time, our church was in our neighborhood, so we could walk to church. There were corner stores that were more like family-ran stores, of people that had lived in that neighborhood before you, or with you. I could remember kids could go out trick-or-treating without fear, and if you got in trouble, everybody on the street knew you were in trouble before your parents knew it. We had pride about our neighborhood; you don’t throw your trash outside, you don’t throw it out your car. Everybody watched out for each other. I remember having block parties, which I don’t know if they still have today or not. The first time I caught the bus it was right down the street. I remember going downtown to stores like Thal’s and Donenfeld’s. When I was a little girl and they were going through the race—I don’t think it’s really called race riots in Dayton, but when it was unrest I can remember seeing, you know when you’re in the army, and the people sit in them with the gun thing—and I remember them riding down the street. I was just amazed, I didn’t really understand what was going on or what it was about.
Barbara Gerla (BG): How old, do you remember how old you were?
SC: I think I was probably like nine.
BG: Did you parents try and keep you away from all that?
SC: Well, we were on the porch, so as a child I can look back and realize it was going on, but we were never involved in it, as far as children, so what somebody down South probably went through, it never reached us, it never was of that magnitude that it was down South.
I went to Meadowdale, and we were the first black kids bussed to Meadowdale, Meadowdale High School, we were the first ones. I was just in awe of it, you know I hadn’t really dealt, can I say it? ...dealt with white people, and it was just amazing to be that close proximity with them, pretty emotional. I can remember riding the buses home.
BG: What are the most important lessons that you’ve learned?
SC: Than you’re never too old to learn. My grandmother taught me that. Being here at the Center, I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know, I’ve kind’ve opened it up to more things that I just never thought about, so you know when they talk about you start your second life after you finish working, I agree. You’re not over the hill, you’re just getting up the hill, so that makes a big difference.
This interview was edited by Community Voices producer Dave Barber. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation. Jocelyn Robinson coordinated this series as part of Community Voices.