In his new novel, Omari and the People (ShirleyCastle Press) author and former youth leader Stephen Whitfield describes his near fatal beating by a street gang for speaking out against their terrorizing Gary, Indiana.
Former Youth Leader Describes His Beating by Street Gang in New Novel Orlando, FL, April 24, 2015 –(PR.com)– In May, 1969, seventeen year-old Stephen Whitfield, then president of the Gary NAACP Youth Council, told the Gary City Council that gangs had turned the city’s streets into battlefields. He had the full attention of the council and the regional media, because street gangs had filled the council chambers at the previous meeting, demanding political power. When Whitfield spoke, he expressed the views of many who had witnessed the swarming rise in gang violence.
Two months later outside an NAACP Youth Council dance, he was attacked by a band of youths who tore his car door off in an effort to pull him onto the ground and beat him for what he described was like an hour.
“When I finally got away, I found myself driving a car with no door. I remember hearing people laugh out loud as I passed by.”
Whitfield, now 63, used this scene in a new novel, Omari and the People (ShirleyCastle Press, 366 pages, paperback and Kindle at Amazon and other bookstores). Although the novel is set in an ancient time, there is a clear connection between fact and historical fiction. In this excerpt, he has just been badly beaten by guardsmen of “the City Master.”
“As he stumbled slowly through the camp, all eyes were on him. He could tell by the way people gawked at him that he was a hideous sight. His face was lop-sided and discolored; his eyes were nearly swollen shut. He saw people staring and pointing and heard them gasping. Some even laughed, which only served to darken his mood further.”
Being beaten half to death is not the only thing Whitfield remembers about Gary, however.
“My fascination with the desert began when I used to play in the sand dunes off Lake Michigan. I even described climbing up (Indiana Dunes State Park) Mount Baldy in the novel. I also remember what is called the Great Chicago Blizzard of 1967, how it buried Gary and brought out the best and worst in the people. I learned then that overall, people tend to come together during a crisis. That’s what this novel is all about.”
In the years that followed, Whitfield found himself in a variety of adventures, such as service in the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force in 1983 Beirut, traveling through Apartheid South Africa as a seminary student, and looking for missing children in Chicago as a Cook County Investigator. All of which, he claims, has informed his novel. He insists, however, that he holds a special place in his heart for Gary.
“Living in Gary was a foundational experience for me – made me who I am,” he said with a smile and a hint of pride in his voice. “For better and for worse.”