Small town guy, with big dreams

A small town in Illinois, that is 17.89 sq miles, with a population of 33,000, and decreasing every year. Danville is the town that I grew up in, and also the only place that I call home, despite of joining the United States Marine Corps, at the age of 21, and moving away. Danville is located 120 miles south of Chicago, and 90 miles west of Indianapolis, Indiana. Nicknamed “Little Chicago“, not sure why, and who gave it that nickname, but it is far from the caliber of a Chicago, as far as things to do.

While growing up in Danville, we played little league football, little league baseball, went to the mall, went roller skating at Illini Skateland, played in a basketball tournament called the “Dustbowl“, and watched the Labor Day Parade, which was a huge parade downtown, that brought everyone out. As a kid, those were the things that I, and everyone else looked forward to every year. All are still popular things to this day.

Little league football, has always been very big in the town that I grew up in, and a lot more bigger to this day. It has always been one of the more popular things to keep children active. Coached by the generation that I grew up with, and my cousin being one of the main coaches. Little league football teams now travel to places more further out. Last year, they entered a tournament in Texas.

The weekend hit, and we were all quick to catch a ride to Illini Skateland. Some of my favorite times at Illini Skateland were picking what skates to wear, playing arcade games, playing limbo, the race around the circle, and watching the Super bowl. Picking skates was always fun, because there were two different types: the brown skates, and the black skates. The brown skates were the slower, and cheaply made skates, and came with general admission. The black skates were the more faster skates, that you had to pay extra for. I remember playing video games, like it was yesterday at Illini Skateland. Arcade games such as: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Street Fighter 2, Pac Man, NBA Jam, and Roller ball, which is similar to bowling, but with a tiny ball. Getting a high score in Roller ball, you get tickets, and with those tickets you can turn them in and get prizes or food. Limbo, and the race around the circle put us all in the spotlight, and against one another. Limbo, is always fun, but much more fun with skates on.

The race around the circle was a chance for the speedy skaters, to race against one another, and hopefully you did not have those brown skates on, while trying to race or you would get left in the dust. Another good memory, that I can not forget is watching the Super bowl at Illini Skateland. Arriving at Illini Skateland on Super bowl Sunday, you pick your team. Once your team scored at point, you got a free drink. It was always good times, and got us out of the house as children.

The Dustbowl Basketball Tournament has been around for forty-three years, and brings high caliber competition to Danville. The Dustbowl is sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and draws Division I college players, as well as former and current professional players. The Dustbowl is held every year at our David S. Palmer Civic Center, which holds sporting events, our graduation, and is turned into a ice skating rink, during the winter months. In my younger childhood years, I remember going to the hockey events at the David S. Palmer Civic Center, and being more interested in the brawling matches more than the actual game. I always got a kick out of the fans bashing the referee also. Those were the good old times, that I can not forget.

Labor Day is here, and everyone in our small town is out on Vermilion Street to watch our town businesses, local schools, the fire department, Veterans Of Foreign Wars, and many other figures, march down Vermilion Street. My younger childhood years, I loved getting candy at the parade, but playing sports, we got a chance to be part of the actual parade. The attention was great, and made us feel like we were part of something.

Danville is also the home town of a few celebrities such as: Keon Clark, Luther Reigns, and Gene Hackman. In my high school years, I worked at a pizza place named ’Jockos Pizza Inn’, and every now and then, I would see the power forward ‘Keon Clark’ from the Denver Nuggets, at the register, waiting to pick his food up. In my junior high school years, I lived right down the street from the house that ‘Gene Hackman’ was raised in. A classy looking green house, that burned down years ago. Gene Hackman, starred in movies such as: Superman, Mississippi Burning, Get Shorty, Birdcage, and Enemy Of The State. Back in 2004, Gene Hackman, returned to Danville, to sign autographs at the Danville Public Library.

It wasn’t until my graduation from Danville High School, when I realized that I did not want to stay in my hometown forever. The speech at my graduation made me think, and it hit home, after the graduation. I realized that I wanted more, and to see the world. I started to notice that many African American males, were not doing much with their lives in my hometown. Many worked at fast food restaurants, sold drugs, and ended up in and out of jail. It was a life that I did not want to live, and it sparked motivation for me to either go to college, or join the military to get out.

I have been working since going to middle school, and my very first job held was at Steak ’N’ Shake. During high school, and to the time of graduation, I worked at Jockos Pizza Inn, and certainly did not want to work there forever. My senior year my sister had a interest in joining the United States Marine Corps, along with a few of my friends from high school. They drug me out to a few of the ‘Poolee Functions’ held by the Marines. A “Poolee Function” is a big workout session, that prepares future recruits for Marine Corps boot camp. A Poolee, is what you are called, once you sign the contract, and enlist into the United States Marine Corps. From the time that you enlist to the time that you ship to boot camp, you are called a “Poolee”. Once you arrive at recruit training, you are called a recruit.

A year went on, and my friends kept dragging me out to the workouts, and I my fitness level was a lot better than the future recruits. They signed their contract, and was well on their way to Marine Corps boot camp, and I was just a guest. That opened the recruiters eyes, and they kept in contact with me. My recruiters name was Staff Sergeant Jones, now Master Sergeant Jones (Retired). I remember getting calls from the recruiters, on a monthly basis, but still had a interest in going to college, but just did not have the money for it.

I worked, and worked, but living with a single mother was just too much. My dreams of going to college, were fading away, due to helping my mother out on a regular basis with bills. Many depressing moments, and there were times that I felt that I was headed down the road that many other African American males, were at in my hometown. It wasn’t until mid 2001, when Staff Sergeant Jones, called me up and asked me if I was interested in taking the enlistment process to another step. I was very excited to take it to the next step, and September was the month that I shipped to Marine Corps boot camp.

Joining the military ment seeing the world, and also the possibility of getting deployed, but at the time I really did not care about getting deployed. I heard many horror stories from my uncles, and co-workers, but the only thing on my mind was getting out of my hometown. I felt that I made it, and there was not going to be anything that stops me. The main people with things to say about my decision, were people that did not seem to have settled for living in Danville.

Graduating from Marine Corps bootcamp, December, 2002, I looked forward to stopping at my old job to see everyone. My mom drove me around to show me off to everyone. I remember it like it was yesterday, having my military style haircut, and being kind of embarrassed by it. As the years went on, I continued to visit Danville, while serving in the Marine Corps. I served a total of twelve years, and have lived in Okinawa, Japan, Jacksonville, North Carolina, Arlington, Virginia, Columbus, Ohio, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 2014, the military was downsizing. Not having the same desire I had before, I felt that my time to go was near. The same Marine Corps that I had joined in 2002, was not the same anymore. Tattoo policies became strict, and minor situations turned into something big, that would leave you with a write up, that made it tough to compete with others, as far as re-enlistment and promotions. I lost my desire, and started planning for my future outside of the Marine Corps. 

Making a life in Hawaii, or going back to my home state were my two options, and I had plenty of time to figure out which was a better choice. I had little luck with employment in Hawaii, not having a degree. The jobs that I received calls from did not pay enough, and Hawaii was a very expensive place to live, so I reached out to my home state. Chicago was always a place that I traveled to, when I flew in to visit my family in Danville. I also flew out to Chicago to run a half marathon, and full marathons in the past, so I liked the idea of possibly relocating to Chicago. It was close to family, but not too close. A lot better than Hawaii, as far as distance to family.

I had no desire to move back to Danville, which had changed throughout the years. Many business were shut down, and many new business had opened up. Danville, now has a Buffalo Wild Wings, and a Hibbett Sports store, that I’m mesmerized by every time I visit. Walmart is better than our actual mall, which is named the Village Mall. It is the only mall, that I have every seen, that does not have a food court. It had one, when we were younger, but I’m not sure what happened throughout the years. Maybe the business was not so good, so they shut it down, I don’t know. That remains a mystery.

A month prior to my departure from the Marine Corps, I found a place on the north side of Chicago, and also made contact with a few jobs outside of Chicago. I felt there was hope, after the Marine Corps. I did not want to be a veteran on the streets, or without money. My goal was to get settled, and enroll in a school. Departing the Marine Corps on a good note, I left with a lot that I’m very thankful for. One of those things were the opportunity to go to school, and I had a list of schools to choose from.

The desire to get out of Danville, drove me to joining the Marine Corps, and seeing the world through my career. I now have everything that I ever wanted, graduating from Danville High School. It just took me fifteen years to obtain it. As of right now I’m currently attending Harold Washington College, near family, and not in Danville, Illinois. Unlike some of the others that fueled my passion to get out of Danville, I have a lot to be proud, and to be thankful for. Chicago is a great city! I love the history of it, love riding the ’L’ train to school, the long bike rides downtown, and also running on the Lakefront trail. Chicago has definitely gave me the chance I needed, but my dreams do not end in the city nicknamed the “Windy City”.

Isaiah 40:31

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. -Isaiah 40:31