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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Published: 2/2/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

COMMENTARY

A homecoming: On doing better in, and for, Toledo

I am certain the city is a different place; help me rediscover it

BY SUZETTE HACKNEY
BLADE EDITORIAL WRITER
Suzette Hackney. Suzette Hackney.
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The first time I walked into The Blade building, I was a wide-eyed 17-year-old fulfilling a graduation requirement called “Senior Project.” I was a student at Notre Dame Academy; all of us seniors who expected to receive diplomas had to pursue a project that would expose us to life’s possibilities through career exploration or community service.

I had known since sixth grade that I was going to be a newspaper journalist, so deciding where to do my senior project didn’t take much thought. I wanted to experience a real newsroom.

Blade editors welcomed me into the organization. I spent two weeks shadowing reporters on the city desk who covered crime, city government, and general assignments, as well as a features reporter. I was in journalism heaven.

Nearly 25 years later, I have returned to The Blade, this time as an editorial writer and columnist. I never thought I would come back to my hometown, or work at my hometown newspaper. But the excitement I feel conjures those memories of my senior project and the hopefulness of embarking on a profession I love.

Much has changed in my industry in the past two decades, but as I watch my co-workers hustle to publish One of America’s Great Newspapers — and its constantly updated Web site — I know I am where I am supposed to be: Back home, in more ways than one.

A century-old slogan provided the inspiration for a native Toledoan to return home. A century-old slogan provided the inspiration for a native Toledoan to return home.
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I have spent most of my professional career as a reporter in Detroit. I left the Detroit Free Press in 2012, after a 14-year run there. I accepted a fellowship at the University of Michigan, where I studied emerging technology in journalism and social media. After a year and a half of being away from the daily grind of newspapers, I am refreshed and ready to take on new challenges.

I spent the fall job hunting, and I had a number of prospects. In December, I was recruited, interviewed, and offered positions, yet I was still struggling with where I wanted to take my career.

As I was driving home on New Year’s Eve from visiting family in Columbus, I spent quiet time in the car thinking about my prospects, my professional desires, and what would make the most sense for my personal obligations.

I prayed and asked for a sign of what to do. I looked at vanity license plates and billboards for any signal.

When I walked into my place in Ann Arbor, set down my bags, and took off my coat, I saw on my table a headline staring up at me from a magazine I had grabbed at the Toledo Club when I was there interviewing for this job. It said: “You Will Do Better in Toledo.” I had no idea that the slogan was a century-old Toledo Commerce Club contest winner that has been recently revived.

For me it was the answer, clear as day. So here I am in Toledo, where I feel as though I’m in a new city, but one where I likely won’t get lost as much.

I’ve done quite a bit of living since I left Toledo, and I am certain the city is a different place. I want you to help me rediscover good old T-Town. I have to find a place to live, and build a life here. Just being back for the short period I have, I recognize how my perspective is skewed by my small frame of reference as a child, teen, and young adult.

My memories of Toledo consist of climbing on the school bus to make my way to Little Flower Elementary School and then to Notre Dame, serving soup and sandwiches at Barry Bagels at Westgate, and checking out new bands at Frankie’s before dancing the night away in the basement.

I remember walking around St. Francis de Sales High School football games — I was a Franny, not a Johnny — and talking to that rare species known as male. My classmates and I didn’t get to see boys in school, so that was our outlet to flirt and discover the opposite sex.

Growing up, we listened to Mitch and Mary Beth (I never did know her last name) on WSPD-AM every morning while getting ready for school. I knew nothing about CVS or Walgreens, but I can remember running into Lane Drug a couple of times a week to pick something up. And during the Blizzard of 1978, I had to be carried to the car because the snow was taller than I was.

On special Saturdays after Mass, my family would have dinner at Golden Lily. It was downtown then, but I did not know until I just looked it up that I was eating in one of the city’s oldest Chinese restaurants — and that it has relocated.

My sister and I would collect lemon wedges that came with the fried shrimp my family ordered. We would suck on them while my grandmother straightened the table and stacked the dishes for the wait staff after our meal was complete.

I could go on, but I won’t subject you to my walk down memory lane. And I pledge not to compare the Toledo of the 1970s and 1980s to the city it is today.

Much of what I write will not have my name on it. The Blade’s editorials express the newspaper’s stance on local, state, national, and international issues. I sit on the editorial board and will offer what I hope is a fresh perspective on the topics we discuss.

I am a political junkie, and I am excited to experience and weigh in on this year’s statewide elections, including a potential ballot proposal involving same-sex marriage. I also tend to gravitate toward urban issues such as crime, social services, education, and the plight of the poor.

Much like Detroit, where I spent nearly two decades as a reporter, I know that Toledo suffers from the clutches of poverty and the inability to stop its residents and businesses from fleeing to the suburbs.

I plan to engage with readers, in print and digitally. I ask that you follow my Twitter handle and my blog, which will be up and running on The Blade’s Web site in a few weeks. I also ask that you email me interesting stories about your neighborhoods and schools, suggestions about people I should get to know, and issues and happenings that should be celebrated or exposed.

I want to explore my hometown with you, and to tell the stories that represent us all. I will do better in Toledo, but only with your help.

Suzette Hackney is an editorial writer and columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: shackney@theblade.com or 419-724-6018, or follow her on Twitter @suzyscribe.



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