After driving two days from New Orleans, MobileEast arrived in Dayton, Ohio where Supervisor Whitney Henry-Lester, seasoned Facilitator Jeremy Helton, and I were warmly welcomed by staff and members of WYSO, our local broadcast partner in the Miami Valley.
On our first day of recording, an enthusiastic group of participants made their way to the Booth, in front of the Schuster Performing Arts Center in downtown Dayton, and introduced us to the area by sharing their stories.
One of the first participants was Margaret E. Peters who came in to interview her friend and colleague Willis “Bing” Davis. During the interview, Mr. Davis shared stories about growing up in East Dayton’s small African American community. In the 1940s West Dayton could boast a significant African American population, but only about 200 African American families lived on the east side of town, he explained. The four streets around Diamond Avenue, with their community center, church, and playground, created a unique environment for its youngest residents. “The extended family concept of the South and Africa was prevalent all the time, which could not have happened in a larger community,” he said. “Someone you hardly even knew could chastise you and correct you right there, take you home and tell your parents exactly what was going on,” he remembered.
But both Margaret and Bing agreed that the smallness also meant a lot of camaraderie and mentoring from older members in the community. Bing talked about his high school teacher and coach, Dean Dooley: “More than a teacher, he was there, he talked with my family, talked to my mother, aunts and uncles, to point me in the right direction.”