Ohio Values | Dee McCall

As told to Josy Jones 

Every four years, America turns its attention to Ohio. And for good reason. The Midwestern flyover state has voted for the winning presidential candidate in 29 of the last 31 presidential elections. That’s from 1896 on.

In the days before COVID-19, journalists from six news outlets from across the state came together to give local national and global audiences some advanced insights into our state’s electoral magic, straight from the people who know it best — Ohioans. All kinds.

They learned how to use the storygathering tool A Picture’s Worth and agreed to make the resulting content free and open for all to use, with credit to original sources, of course.

This audio story series, Ohio Values, is intentionally not political, although you will hear some stories that involve political topics and issues. Instead, we made an intentional choice to focus on our people, sharing photographs and stories about what they value the most, whether they’re heading into a voting booth or weathering a pandemic.

Dee McCall identifies herself as a Black, Filipino American grad student who currently attends the University of Akron. A military vet in the Ohio National Guard, she thrives on volunteering and engaging her community by doing everything from feeding people experiencing homelessness to spending time with the elderly. For her Ohio Values story, she chose a picture of her family sitting on the stoop of her grandmother’s house from a time in her life where she learned to value family, community, and connection. 

Below is a partial transcript from Josy Jones’s interview with Dee. 

Listen to the audio recording here.

Read more:

That picture is my great grandmother and my younger sister and my two first cousins. They’re twins, fraternal twins. We’re hanging out at granny’s house on the porch after school. I am sitting at the foot of my grandmother to the left of her, with my hands on my head, like in the sleeping position with the biggest cheese. My younger sister is in front of me, turning around, having the muscle arms. And then going up is my cousin Sharniece. She’s holding up the peace sign and sticking her tongue out. And her twin, her older twin, Char, is above her and is signaling, “Please don’t take my picture.” And granny is in the middle, trying to control four children. 

My grandmother took care of almost every kid on that street. Every kid would at least come by her house, get some food or just come by because she was in the garden and she always had extra food for the kids. She was the street’s grandma. The neighborhood granny. 

These were my first friends. And when you’re in school, you have to [develop] your understanding who’s who and what’s real and what’s not. Back then, it was really peaceful, and those were my best friends. Those were my first cousins and my younger sister. My sister’s not here, and then my cousin is in a coma, and my grandmother passed away. So it’s something that really touches my heart. 

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It shows up every day due to the fact that I always want to talk to somebody or figure out how I can help them, or if I can connect you to some resources, or if I know somebody who knows somebody, I want to make that connection. That’s just my human nature, I believe. Prior to COVID, I used to facilitate a support group for women getting out of jail and also feeding the homeless and then talking to little kids in the projects. Currently, I’m really just trying to figure out life, and how I could go back… Well, I know I can’t go back to regular life, but how I can still keep what I used to call my normal life into COVID life. 

I am currently in survival mode, and I am truly trying to get out of this space. I am truly just trying to provide my basic needs by working in a warehouse and working at a church. The warehouse is hard to socially distance. It’s hard to not be around other people. Honestly, it seems like I get an alert almost once a week, that there was a COVID case. Praise God it’s not on my shifts or the days that I work. However, it is very common. 

At the church,  we get a lot of prayer requests on praying for the people who have COVID, and it’s frequent. 

I’m connected mentally, because I physically can’t be connected. Sometimes I just want to hold people’s hands. I can’t even do that. I am a touchy person, so it is challenging, but I do try to find ways to hug a teddy bear or something. I go to my little cousin’s house and they have plenty to choose from. Give me a Teddy bear, the extra big one. Just for me. 

Half of my family is from a third-world country and they believe that America is truly the land of the free and the land of opportunity. And their experience is completely different from my experience. However, I would never negate their experience. So with that understanding, I have a 360-degree perspective, from living in a first-world country and then having a family from a third-world country. It gives me the understanding that my perspective isn’t the only perspective, and that you have to play on the part that there’s multiple pieces in the pie for everybody to eat, if that makes sense. ‘Cause everybody’s hungry. It’s like we’re a pot pie with everything in there. That’s so corny. 

I feel that as a citizen, as a human, I feel as though we’re all like in flow, connected. And in this, in the state of the nation, it’s like we’re at a spiritual warfare. I just feel that it’s a lot of things that’s trying to keep us separated, but the force — like whatever forces there are — wants us to keep that connection. I try to combat the divisiveness by trying to create that connection with people and build that bridge for those people who feel as though they can’t be connected to other people. I feel as though I’m in so many different social spaces that I can be that bridge-maker in a lot of those spaces. 

It shows up how I think about voting because I truly look at the effects that it could cause for humans. For example, for humans not taking climate change seriously, we’re living — this is what we’re living in. For people not recycling. Now that we can identify the problem, we can also identify the solutions and how to implement them. So in that I am holding these politicians accountable to whatever they do say. I say, “have you done this?,” and then bring it to the people’s attention. I’ll use my platform and say, “Hey, they said this, this and this, but they did left. They didn’t even go in a direction that they said they were going to go in.”

Accountability is the value that was not represented in the presidential election… it’s quite challenging because I don’t truly feel that those two people represent America. Yet, we still have to vote. But locally, I feel like I, as an individual, have more power to vote locally than the presidential election. And with that, I feel as though I could be more active in city council. I like introducing myself in these spaces where the local political leaders are, are having conversations and just make my face be known. 

I served the nation. I went overseas to fight. So it’s just like, how can you look at me in a manner? You can respect the military, but you can’t respect me as a person of color.

I felt as though I was, I had a mask on and I cannot truly be my natural self because I am very — I inquire about a lot of things. So when I was deployed, I would ask these people, like, “why y’all going in they house acting like y’all live here?” I’m like, “we’re visitors. Act like one. Don’t act like you want to be a colonizer. That’s not cool.” And people would look at me as though I was really speaking irrationally, and then I would pose it. “What if someone came into your house? Guess what you would do, since you’re pro guns, shoot them dead. Then you get mad when you go overseas and you go into somebody else’s house and they try to shoot you.” It doesn’t make any sense at all. And that’s just overseas. 

Anytime I go to any other place, I always think about, like, “what if I lived here and I actively talked to the people who are from the country?” When I was in Kuwait, I talked to the Kuwaiti police and the military. I was cool with the Kuwaiti sergeant major. The coolest thing that happened to me when I was in Kuwait is, I was on my posts. We were guarding the border of Iraq, and I was with the Kuwaiti police, and it was lunchtime. They didn’t invite the other people. They invited me. And I was like, y’all know, I love food, praise the Lord. They put their hand on top of my hand and they was like, “sis.” And I was like, “that is just so precious.” Because most of my company was white and they had that complex, like, “I’m in the military, you gotta respect me.” And it was just a very colonizer mentality. 

And once I made that difference of who I am compared to who they were, they gave me food every time I would come. And when we had to leave, it was like we had a little party.  And they really did look at me as like family. The white folks, not too much, because they were kind of rude, starting off. And I was always told, “your first impression is it is the lasting impression,” and it always took me far. 

I don’t think you should judge a book by its cover, to anyone. People are very diverse and people experience life differently and they also grieve differently. So when meeting someone new, be gentle, truly — be gentle, because you never know what someone is truly going through.