Tube City Almanac

October 19, 2012

Stop Our Bullies, Save Our Valleys

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

I don't spend much time talking about my personal life at Tube City Almanac, so indulge me for a couple of minutes.

I spent a lot of my middle-school years getting my butt whupped for one reason or another by other kids. I eventually learned to fight back --- OK, not very well, but well enough that the beatings had mostly stopped by the time I got to high school, and were replaced with verbal abuse.

There were plenty of reasons. One big one? I wasn't athletic enough. ("Enough"? Ha! I believe my lifetime batting average in the Liberty Borough Athletic Association was a .000. I am not exaggerating. You could, as they say, look it up.)

It left me with a really bad taste in my mouth for bullying of any kind. I can smell a bully a mile away. (As it turns out, they can smell me, too. I appear to have a jerk magnet.)

. . .

This is not a controversial statement: One of the things that holds back the Mon-Yough area is that many of our most talented young people leave as soon as they can. The "One Young World" conference for young leaders is being held right now in Pittsburgh. Hell, we could hold the "One Young Mon-Yough Valley" conference in a booth at Eat 'n Park. (I keed! I keed!)

One of the reasons I think they leave is that we still aren't a comfortable place to grow up if you're different --- if you don't conform. If you don't play sports, if you're not the right religion, if you're part-Asian or part-native American or if you're a feminine boy or a masculine girl.

. . .

The Mon Valley may be the last part of the Pittsburgh area where it's still common to hear ethnic slurs (up to and including the N-word). It may be the last part of the Pittsburgh area where people use words like "fag" or "queer" without batting an eye.

You can understand why a kid from these valleys would go away to college --- even if it's someplace in the region, such as Pitt or CalU --- and see that hey, other people don't act like that. Then they come home to McKeesport or Glassport or West Mifflin and say, "Damn, this is the most backward freaking place in the world."

We lose so many talented young people. Yes, we're known for our athletic prowess in football and basketball and hockey and baseball. And the Mon-Yough area has produced many talented athletes.

But not just athletes --- artists and musicians and actors and engineers and computer experts. Kids who get bullied because they like to paint or dance or they're shy around people. They get called "freaks" or "nerds" or "drama fags." And then we expect them to move back here after college and raise a family? Hell, no.

If they stay in the Pittsburgh area, they wind up on the South Side or in Shadyside or Dormont or Ross Township --- anywhere they find other open-minded young people. And they raise families and start their own businesses. Those areas are vibrant and bustling. The McKeesport area is stagnating.

. . .

You want to bring jobs back to the Mon-Yough area? First, we need to bring back entrepreneurs.

You want to bring back entrepreneurs? Then stop chasing away a big percentage of those people who are the oddballs. Bill Gates supposedly said, "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one." The "nerds" --- in science and the arts --- are the ones who end up starting their own businesses.

Newsflash: By and large, they are not starting those businesses in McKeesport, Glassport, Duquesne or West Mifflin. They are going to Homestead and East Liberty and the South Side, and lately, to Braddock.

Some people in the Mon-Yough area are jealous of the amount of national publicity that Mayor John Fetterman has achieved for Braddock. Well, why has Braddock gotten onto the national radar? Because Fetterman has thrown open the doors to welcome in the nerds and oddballs.

Let's face it --- you have to go against the conventional wisdom to want to start a new business in Braddock. You have to be a nerd or an oddball.

And you have to go against the conventional wisdom to want to stay in the McKeesport area. You have to be a nerd or an oddball.

. . .

But we're not welcoming our oddballs. We're chasing them away.

By bullying our kids who are "different" because they're smart or artistic or sensitive, or because they're gay or transgendered, we are literally chasing away the only asset that ensures the Mon-Yough area any kind of a future.

Today is "Spirit Day." It's a national campaign to encourage people to speak out against bullying.

It was created in 2010 by Brittany McMillan, a teen-ager from Surrey, B.C., Canada, who was disturbed by news reports about several teen-agers who committed suicide after being bullied because they were gay, or because their friends thought they were gay. McMillan encouraged her friends to wear purple as a show of support against kids who were bullied, not just gay and lesbian and transgendered kids, but anyone who's being bullied for any reason.

The idea spread over the Internet and was picked up by other organizations, including GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which is doing the most to promote the concept.

. . .

Tube City Almanac is proud to take a stand against bullying. As the Spirit Day organizers recommend, I've turned our Facebook and Twitter icons purple today. I'm personally looking forward to the day when everyone in the Mon-Yough area encourages its dreamers and oddballs and nerds and geeks to stay here and help change the area.

The very future of this region --- if it's going to have a future --- depends on us changing our outdated attitudes and becoming more open and accepting.

. . .

This has been a personal commentary. Commentaries are opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of Tube City Community Media Inc., its directors or volunteers. Responsible replies are welcome.

Tube City Community Media is committed to printing viewpoints from residents of the McKeesport area and surrounding municipalities. Commentaries are accepted at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for content or length. Tube City Community Media does not and is required not to lobby on behalf of political candidates or causes.

To submit a commentary for consideration, please write to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport 15134, or email jtogyer -at - gmail -dot- com. Include contact information and your real name. A pen name may be substituted with approval of the editor.

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