Success looks different to everyone, and what it looks like to me has changed a lot over the years.
Looking back at my past in Wheeling, I had a wonderful childhood. There were things wrong and things missing, but the way Wheeling is and how you feel when you’re from here — you don’t realize it until you’re grown.
Being a black man raised in West Virginia, specifically Wheeling, gave me a certain perspective on what success looks like. One thing that was universal to everyone my age was the idea that success took the form of leaving the valley. It was an odd thing, now that I look back on it. There are slight differences between how my friends and I looked at this, compared to other kids our age. Their focus was leaving, going to get a degree. They’d use that education to make a difference in the outside world.
My friends and I — our focus was less about leaving and more about “making it out.” We wanted to be an adult without a felony, a child or ties to “the system.”
Two different outlooks, but similar themes.
Luckily, for those of us who didn’t leave or “make it out,” there were a few consolation prizes that made our lives worth living. The mills, the mines or the plants were there for those of us who didn’t cross the symbolic finish line. Thinking about it now, that was a bleak mindset. It stayed and stuck with me until I was an adult.
But if I was a kid again today, I’d have a much different outlook.
First, I think the idea of getting out of the valley to be successful is a little less prominent today. There are plenty of people who are successful here in Wheeling, and in many cases, that’s because they’ve created their own success.
Part of that is because of a shift in our economy and culture. We went from an industrial town full of blue-collar jobs to a community of creators and entrepreneurs. Back in the day, we felt like staying in Wheeling meant we had to work to achieve the title of foreman, supervisor or contractor. But now, we’ve added words like content creator, influencer and artist. Creativity has become more appreciated.
My former student Vondel Bell is a great example of the evolving picture of success. Vondel will tell you that he had some missteps during high school. He had some brushes with the law. He had a baby earlier than he expected. A few decades ago, these life decisions most likely meant Vondel would have stayed in the valley to raise his family, working a blue-collar job to make ends meet.
But Vondel took a different path. He graduated high school, went to college and came back with a drive to be a successful entrepreneur. He’s a talented artist, and he sells his art and does freelance work. Bridge Street School recently contracted him to paint a mural on the wall of their gymnasium. He had his own art show at Clientele Art Studio. He created and sells a brand of T-shirts.
Vondel has chosen a relatively new path — a path that has become possible because of a changing culture and the growing importance of social media.
Instagram has allowed him to share his work with a larger audience; he’s reaching people all over without having to leave the valley. And social media has given him a blueprint, too. He can follow and learn from other artists all over the world. It’s helping him make a name for himself and be connected in an industry he otherwise might not have had a way to reach. Where we are as a society has given him a different path.
When I think of an evolving view of success, I also think of Tacoholix. Dave Comack, the owner, took a chance. This guy has opened a bar and restaurant that serves specialty tacos. And it’s been a big success. He has a big social media following and encourages patrons to share their ideas for crazy new taco ideas.
Around here, we’ve been a blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes society for so long. The idea that a restaurant that makes specialty tacos can be a career — that is a new thing here in Wheeling. Back in the day, I think people would have laughed at the idea. But now, success in a career that’s all your own — that’s possible.
Both Dave and Vondel are creating their own paths. It’s entrepreneurship steeped in new avenues through social media. The possibility of success in a career — one that you’re passionate about — is much more wide open than ever before.
Entrepreneurship steeped in new avenues through social media. I remember bringing up the idea of the influencer — and how people just didn’t know what it was. And I would just be down on someone being an influencer. and then I thought of things like, how Tacoholix — this dude is opening a restaurant/bar that makes specialty tacos.
And around here, we’ve been so blue collar, meat and potatoes, punch the clock — the idea of a restaurant that makes specialty tacos as your career — back in the day I think people would have laughed at you.
But now, the possibility of success in a career is so wide open. My hope is that Wheeling and the Ohio Valley become the landing zone for even more ideas soaked in potential, creativity and individuality.
• A lifelong Wheeling resident and graduate of Wheeling Park High School, Ron Scott Jr. attended Morehouse College and graduated from West Liberty University. He spent 13 years as a counselor in the field of addictions, working at a variety of agencies. His love for community, justice and creativity has led him to positions such as former president and vice president of the Upper Ohio Valley NAACP, former vice chairman of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, founder of the Ohio Valley African American Students Association, member of Undependent Films, chairman of the Performing Arts Committee of the Wheeling Arts & Culture Commission, and a board member of the Independent Theater Collective. He currently serves as program director of Cultural Diversity & Community Outreach for the YWCA Wheeling.