GARY, Ind. — The teens, holding spray cans, gathered around the old post office on Sixth Avenue and Massachusetts Street and began spraying the marble.
They joked that a passer-by might think they were vandals, until they took out their sponges and scrubbed away paint stains on the graffiti-covered walls.
“We are improving Gary little by little,” said Samantha Brooks, 14. “And I think we can really make a comeback.”
On Wednesday, young volunteers and members of the Gary Youth Leadership Council began their campaign to wipe Gary of graffiti.
The group of 37 teens used spray paint remover to scrub graffiti off the old post office marble, painted over graffiti on an old theater on Broadway and cleaned along Broadway from Sixth to 21st Avenue, The Times in Munster, Ind., reported.
In early July, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson contacted Ken Patrick Barry, director of the Gary Youth Service Bureau, about helping accomplish her goal of cleaning up vandalism in the city.
“The mayor has a larger vision of stopping the violence,” Barry said. “A lot of these acts of violence are committed by young people because there’s no alternative for them.”
Klayton Porter, 14, rolled paint over the boarded-up windows of the old theater. In minutes, the graffiti that covered the building’s side was gone without a trace.
“This accomplishes that the youth of Gary can do something positive,” Porter said. “It proves Gary is making a change for itself.”
As members of the group took paint rollers and sponges to the old buildings, they talked about stories their parents told them about the Gary that existed before they were born, and the sites that once filled the city.
Niavia Wilson, 17, believes one day, that Gary could be restored.
“I hear stories, that the city was great, and there were bustling stores everywhere,” Wilson said. “It seems people gave up, but I’m glad a group of people haven’t, who are out here helping.”
While picking up trash around the old theater, the teens discovered a space between the brick walls of the building. An opening revealed the inside of the theater with the colossal stage and looming balcony.
“This is amazing; I am astonished. I live down the street and have never seen that before,” said Janetta Barge, a teen volunteer. “I think we should have more ideas of replenishing these things, getting Gary back to the way it was.”
Barry said the council, consisting of youths ages 12 to 18, has been growing quickly. Two weeks ago there were nine members. Now there are 35.
The group will be doing several graffiti cleanup efforts for the remainder of summer. Barry said this project can change Gary by doing more than just beautification.
“With all the negative things we hear in the city, adults think that’s all young people do,” Barry said. “But if we can change their mindsets, and they see what these kids are doing, we can start building together.”
“Now we have proof, we aren’t all the same,” Wilson said. “There will always be people who contradict the negative stereotypes.”