Home » Aliyah Patterson Interviews Shelee McIlvaine

Aliyah Patterson Interviews Shelee McIlvaine

Coming from a childhood where I was raised in a rather low-income neighborhood, it was hard not to notice and absorb my surroundings. My neighborhood was considered part of the “ghetto” within Burlington Township, and it wasn’t surprising that it was populated mainly by blacks and other minorities. At a young age I was completely aware of the divide between the residents of where I lived, and the wealthier white residents who lived on the other side of town where it was deemed more desirable. Due to my own personal experience, I found that it was easier for me to connect to and understand the struggles that the residents of Atlantic City face. However, the residents of this community have faced more challenges than I ever did, and they still do currently.

Being able to get a personal account of the golden days and current life within the city was a wonderful opportunity. My group got the chance to interview Shelee, who is currently a resident in Atlantic City, but was born and raised in Cumberland County. Shelee came to work within the city 1985 and considers herself to be an active resident within the community. She began with a story of how she brought her friend to Revel, a currently closed casino, during its opening year. She remembered how gorgeous and sophisticated the casino was, and described the atmosphere as being lively for many people who inhabited the boardwalks.

Contrasting to Revel in the present-day, she now describes it as lackluster, rundown, and nothing but a shell along with many other casinos that have shut down. Many of these areas have become desolate where businesses and casinos used to thrive. Now, all of it only reminds her of the massive loss and devastation that followed after the closings. “People who’ve worked for 30 years may be able to get a job now in one of the casinos that are open, but they’ve lost their seniority, which means they’ve lost the finances to live the lifestyles they are accustomed to living,” stated Shelee. Many of these people had to sell their homes in order to stay afloat. She noticed many for sale signs on home properties within the Galloway area within the past year or so.

In order to understand the changes that occur within Atlantic City, Shelee stays informed through work, reading newspapers, and regularly attending meetings at churches (specifically focusing on the Takeover bill, that was passed). Regarding the Takeover bill, Shelee said that the most profound thing she has heard was someone’s concern about how silent the casinos were when it passed. She believes that the casinos have a significant stake within the county, and is convinced that the casinos that are open and operating are secretly gaining from this move. It is expected that they would suffer losses due to it. She insisted that they would’ve been quite vocal towards the press about the situation. Out of curiosity, Shelee was asked if she believes there is anyone specific who can help or harm the county/Atlantic city significantly. Immediately, she stated that it would be the governor of Atlantic City and Trump.

When asked if she felt she had say in the county and city, Shelee was hesitant at first. “I feel like I have to say. I don’t know if I have a say, but I have to say,” she implied. She finds that presence at council meetings is important, and that there is power in numbers; especially, within the younger population. Her hesitation also stemmed from her mistrust of the state and local government. Shelee had voted for Christy in the first election, in hopes of change after losing trust in the government beforehand when they shut down Atlantic City twice. However, her trust was broken again after Christy’s involvement in the George Washington bridge scandal and his refusal of a bill that dealt with women receiving equal pay.

Regarding the future of the city, Shelee believes that if the county officials are able to persuade the committee to promote activities other than the casinos, it can be bright. She has hope that outside entities can bring blessings to the community, as long as they don’t displace locals. Relating to the relationship between power and interactions, Atlantic City residents face the challenge of getting higher officials to understand and consider their point of views. As discussed in class, deindustrialization and the erosion of the social safety net, such as an increased concentration of poverty, increased crime, or loss of jobs leads to a sense of mistrust between residents and those of power who have a significant impact on how their community is shaped and used (Jackson & Jones 2012).