Place Where You Live:

Youngstown, Ohio

An abandoned gas station is converted to a sign of community hope.

I was born one day after “Black Monday,” as it is known in my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. On that day, September 19, 1977, the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company announced it was laying-off 5,000 workers and closing its mill in the nearby industrial suburb of Campbell.  This proved to be the first in a chain of closings that ultimately erased the identity of Ohio’s “Steel City.” In a matter of a few years, 40,000 jobs left the Youngstown region.

As a child, my parents moved from the area in search of greener pastures. I spent my formative years in a series of suburbs several hours from my then collapsing birthplace. By the early 1990s, Youngstown was routinely referred to as “Junktown” or “Yompton,” in tribute to the beleaguered Southern California city of Compton. My father eventually took me back to the city to view the awesome remains of Youngstown’s heart of steel: collapsing sinter plants, hollowed out pipe mills, and rusted-out signs silently stared back at me through the car window. ‘What happened here,’ I wondered.

A series of circumstance brought me back to Youngstown as the economy entered a free-fall in 2009. Armed with a camera, I began documenting the remains of businesses, neighborhoods, and ghostly commercial districts. But once I became acquainted with Youngstowners themselves, I decided to volunteer with several civic organizations. Within a few years, I had gone back to school and then to work in Youngstown.

Like much in the Rust Belt, Youngstown struggles to not only overcome the shocks of the recent economic past, but also to find a new identity. A new generation, born after the collapse of the steel industry, works to move the city forward to a day beyond the shadow of Black Monday.  I continue working in my own way to honor those who have come before me. Soon I will begin writing a book about this beautiful but broken place.  It seemed as a child that I would never know my hometown, but instead I’ve returned, and it’s changed me in ways that I’m still discovering.