2018 100 Book Challenge Update

Where are you in your 2018 Book Challenge? Join me on GoodReads to track your progress.

To support Henderson Memorial Public Library, I signed up this year for the ICON 100 Book Challenge. Yikes! Posting reviews on YouTube Live kept getting shut down midstream, so GoodReads is the place to follow along.

While nearing the halfway mark, and want to highlight some of my favorites so far (in no particular order):

Thrawn & Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn

If you’ve memorized the original Star Wars movie trilogy, Timothy Zahn’s work is extremely satisfying. He is adept at maintaining a wide range of delightful characters’ voices, while keeping a fast-paced plot moving and tightly focused. Just like with Darth Vader, Thrawn is written as the villain you love to hate: terrifyingly skilled, yet somehow still has a human (Chiss?) heart underneath it all, buried very deep. The juxtaposition of Thrawn with other beloved Star Wars characters such as Padme Amidala and Grand Moff Tarkin is brilliantly written.

I think in some ways, Thrawn is an autobiographical portrait of the author in terms of his ability to outthink everyone around them in ways that are awe-inspiring, instead of condescending. These newest additions to the bookshelves will have even more Star Wars geeks screaming to see Thrawn on the screen.

At one point, a stormtrooper reflects on Grand Admiral Thrawn’s leadership style: “If he lasted long enough, maybe those lessons would someday become the military standard. If that happened, he suspected, the Empire would stand forever.”

The Star Wars Empire, anyway.

Child in the Church, edited by E.M. Standing

This collection of essays documents the early experiments in applying Montessori’s educational methods to catechesis (religious education). The ideas are practical, refreshing, and inspiring. If you’ve participated in formation for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and want to go deeper, I highly recommend this book.

The Story of Job, retold by Regina Doman, illustrated by Ben Hatke

The best commentary on Job & the problem of evil I’ve ever encountered, in a format understandable even by elementary-age children. Read it.

Blink: the Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Part storytelling, part sociological analysis, Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments are worth reading all the way to the end, even if you come to differing conclusions. If I were forced to recommend just one chapter, I would make “Seven Seconds in the Bronx” required reading. This is one of those books that might actually save lives.

Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful by Donna Bryant Goertz

Montessori children come with the same personalities, challenges, delays, and absurdities as other humans. This book confirms it.

Whether you’re in a Montessori environment or not, this book contains a series of valuable vignettes about developing an inclusive community among children. I have to warn potential readers, though, that the book turns into an argument for Montessori method first and only. If you can tolerate the constant digs against non-Montessori educators, the beautiful descriptions and creative solutions are well worth the read.

Next Week in Cleveland: XPRIZE & CLE-BEE

Adult literacy providers and supporters in the Cleveland area have two exciting opportunities next week to network and learn:

$1 Million Adult Literacy XPRIZE Communities Competition Info Session

Want to revolutionze adult literacy by testing out the newest, research-based adult literacy mobile apps? Willing to compete for a chance at $1 million by motivating the most adult learners to utilize mobile learning? Register for free lunch and more information at 1pm on September 12th at Cleveland Public Library, Main Branch.

XPRIZE representative Haneen Khalef will also be hosting information sessions in Columbus on September 10th and in Akron on September 14th.

Not in Ohio? Find out more about the Communities Competition here.

One Night Only: 3rd Annual CLE-BEE

Many years ago, Christine Lee trained me as a volunteer adult literacy tutor, opening my eyes to the depth of the issue and inspiring my future career path.

More recently, Christine continues to inspire awareness and involvement with the crazy, fun idea to host a corporate spelling bee fundraiser to benefit adult literacy.

The whole team at The Literacy Cooperative of Greater Cleveland has worked to make this fun idea a reality. On September 13th, CLE-BEE will celebrate its 3rd year with high energy, local celebrities… and of course some good food and drink.

Individual tickets are $30.

Hope to see you there!

Tale as Old as Time: A Library in Need

Like many of you, I love my local library. I also love parody videos.

What do you get when you put them together?

A librody?

For a laugh, watch “Heat and Cool Our Library,” a parody of “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast. Pay attention for a familiar voice and face!

I live in the most rural county in Ohio. Our small town library is the only one in the county open 7 days a week, but has occassionally closed for furnace repairs. The whole HVAC system needs replaced, plus some ductwork and a reconnection to the boiler. Our lowest quote was $79,500. For all the bells and whistles, the highest price was $120,000.

This once-in-a-generation repair will keep our library functioning for decades. With Ohio’s hot summers and snow-belt winters, we NEED our HVAC system to continue offering:

  • Book clubs,
  • Seed sharing,
  • Computer use,
  • Notary services,
  • Video rentals,
  • WiFi hotspots,
  • and much more!

And as a public library, those services are free for anyone–especially important for our neighbors most in need.

Our Library is open 7 days a week, offers teen services, streaming eMedia, and much more!

Henderson Library transforms lives by partnering with community organizations to offer adult literacy classes, tax preparation, meetings for home school families… the list goes on and on! Along with a warm place to stay, our library is a critical resource for individual and community development.

AND… we continue a 200 year tradition of libraries in small town Jefferson, Ohio. This year we have been celebrating our Bicentennial with fun (free) events for all ages.

1817 to 2017: 200 years in the making

As a Bicentennial Birthday Present, I have set a goal of raising at least $500 to help keep our library open and comfortable for years to come.

But I need your help.

Henderson Library needs your help.

Jefferson area citizens need your help.

You can donate online, or send a check to:

Henderson Memorial Public Library (HMPL), 54 E Jefferson St, Jefferson, Ohio 44047

Will you help Heat & Cool Our Library? ♪DONATE!♪

Crossing Racial Lines in Cleveland, or, S#!& Black People Say to White People Living in Hough

Welcome back to this series on being a white person intentionally moving to a homogeneous community of a different race (inner city African-American Hough neighborhood of Cleveland). You can read the previous articles herehere, here, here, and a response by a neighbor here.

Before writing again, I want to step back and set the context for why my partner and I, separately, became two of the rare white people who decided to integrate into the Hough neighborhood: intentionally moving from predominantly white to predominantly black.

WelcomeToCleveland

We didn’t come here to “fix the ghetto” because of what was bad (which is what many people assume), but because of what was good: Hough is a convenient location with beautiful old homes and a rich history and culture. We had personal and professional connections in and around the neighborhood. The bank said they’d not only finance the house but thought home values would appreciate in any neighborhood of Cleveland. Well the banks were wrong, but most of the other good things and people that attracted us here have remained in our community.

What made us open to the experience to begin with, though, was a staunch commitment to racial justice. At the time, and even when I originally wrote this post in 2012, I actually thought most people in America today believed in their hearts that all people deserve equal access to social institutions. They just differed in their proposed solutions.

I was wrong.

This new series, coming on the heals of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, is in an entirely new context. I was genuinely afraid of riots breaking out again, especially when Black Lives Matter and the KKK demonstrated on the same day.  White supremacy has been breathed all new life by political leaders who profit from spewing racist and divisive language. Those attitudes and ignorance continue in part because while legal segregation is over, but 50 years later residential segregation is still going strong.

One of the things that keep us apart is the unregulated social “race line” that has created our homogeneous communities–African American Hough and the white suburb where I grew up. 50 years after the Freedom Riders, here is a little documentation of one person’s experience of crossing the lines of racial segregation in the 21st century:

“It’s not a gated community, you know.”

This is the response we got from the previous city councilwoman, Fannie Mae Lewis, when we told her at a Ward meeting we were looking at homes in the neighborhood. She wanted to make sure we knew what we were getting in to.

But she didn’t need to bother. We had dozens of people, white, black, and many other ethnicities, warn us of all the dangers and difficulties of moving to Hough. “Hough is rough!” is the mantra. I even had a Chinese Case student tell me, “You’ll get shot if you drive through that neighborhood!”

While we have taken steps to keep ourselves and our kids safe, we’re not afraid of risk if we can see the benefits. But the risk is hyped way beyond reality.

“Hey, snowflake!”

One of the things I enjoy about black culture is the tradition of creativity in wordplay. It turns out racial epithets are no exception. I just ignored these comments shouted from front porches and the second or third time people saw me walking or driving the same way at the same time, I didn’t hear it any more.

When the novelty of my face wore off, the names stopped. One time, I shouted back from my car window, “I’m your neighbor and I’m not leaving!” and I got a face full of beer in response. I was better off keeping my mouth shut.

“You’ll get a lot for this house when you’re done.”

When we were fixing up the foreclosed, abandoned house, many people assumed we were “flipping” it. We got a lot of compliments, and many folks who lived in the neighborhood or who used to live there and were visiting stopped to tell us how happy they were to see one of the abandoned homes fixed up.

Home values have certainly changed since then, and half the houses on our block have been vacated since we moved in, but the gesture to save one of the originals has been noticed and appreciated. Staying and living in the house has been even more appreciated.

“I wish I had pretty white skin like you.”

This just about broke my heart. An elementary-age neighbor said this to me. If you think only white people soak up white supremacy, you’re wrong.

My response was to tell her I think she is pretty just the way she is. A year later, her tune changed and she said to my sons, “You’re awesome and you’re wonderful. Because that’s how Meagen talks to us.”

That is the ultimate message we want to send our neighbors. We looked past the headlines and the doomsday statistics to see a place we could make home. White supremacy is not just white people degrading others; many black people feel & internalize that racism, and can do so at a disturbingly young age. Even small comments valuing the beauty of people of color and their culture can really make a difference, especially for children.

Valuing people of color and their culture is something all people can do regardless of their race or where they live.

“You really know how to read!”

We go to an Afro-centric Catholic church in the neighborhood, and I have sometimes been a lector. Other church members have been pleasantly surprised when, as a white person, I have demonstrated cultural competency by reading Bible verses with the level and style of oral performance valued in the African-American community. No one is going to pretend I’m black, but real integration means you can at least blend in a little by following someone else’s cultural lead.

“Can I come over?”

Now six years in the neighborhood (when this was written in 2012), when the kids on the block are out playing I can barely get down the street or out of my car without someone asking to either come play or have our kids come over. Now our struggle is not to gain people’s trust, but to maintain healthy boundaries—just like in any neighborhood where friends and family are frequently requesting your presence.

Crossing racial lines is not easy. It’s incredibly awkward, in fact, and many people get easily discouraged. On top of these unique interactions, there is the normal level of crime in the city, plus all the disagreements and annoyances that happen in any neighborhood (“another branch from her tree fell in my yard!”), made worse by the absentee landlords and banks. I hope to demonstrate that with some patience and realistic expectations, you can cut through the crap to find genuine community across racial lines.

And the need to combat white supremacy is critical. Due to the increased visibility of deaths of innocent black victims of hate crimes or police brutality, I think white supremacy and institutionalized racism is only going to slow down if we can have the courage to cross our invisible racial lines, right now, whoever and wherever we are.

A childhood friend has asked how her family can address this issue, even without moving. Look for a new post at the end about talking to children about race.

Thanks for listening to one person and one family’s experience!

What are some of your experiences of integration in the rust belt?

A Neighbor Responds: On the Need to Integrate Cleveland Neighborhoods

As famed Bronx, New York environmental activist Majora Carter said, “I believe that you shouldn’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.” Indeed, the best — and perhaps only — way for the rust belt to be reinvented as a sustainable, thriving, and inclusive region is by accomplishing the task in community after community… one at a time.

After my initial post, Rustwire readers wanted to hear from my neighbors, so I asked Mansfield Frazier, Executive Director of Neighborhood Solutions. You can’t have a conversation about the Hough neighborhood without the his voice. Though I usually hear him advocating for Hough to the Greater Cleveland community, I love this piece because he aims to encourage, celebrate, and challenge fellow Hough residents.

The most valuable takeaway from the decades-old civil rights movement is that, while workplace integration is achievable via legislative mandates and judicial rulings, no amount of governmental pressure can force individuals of different races to live side-by-side if they have no desire to do so. This reality, in spite of the fact minorities have been moving to suburban and exurban enclaves for over four decades, causes America to be more racially stratified today than it was 50 years ago when integration began.

Nonetheless, a grand opportunity currently presents itself to core communities if we can but navigate the sometimes troubled waters. The urban agriculture component of the national sustainability movement is rapidly taking root in rust belt cities, causing young neo-pioneers of all races to look toward inner-city homesteading in growing numbers. The challenge for current residents of these communities is to make all of our new neighbors feel welcome and to encourage diversity by inviting more of them to make their home beside us. In response, all our new residents need to do is engage their neighbors one-on-one and attend community social and political events, such as ward club meetings. They should not be bashful about making their voices heard and running for some position in these community groups. People love it when new people just come right in, roll up their sleeves, and help with the heavy lifting.

The overwhelmingly African-American Cleveland community of Hough, where I’ve resided for over a decade and recently build a three-quarter acre vineyard, is ideally located midpoint (a brisk 15 minute walk in either direction) between downtown and University Circle, a sprawling area comprised of Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, and a plethora of the region’s finest cultural attractions such as the Art and Natural History Museums and Severance Hall, home to the famed Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. It’s a near-perfect neighborhood (in terms of comfort level) for whites and others to move into, considering the fact that over the last 15 years hundreds of upscale, new homes have been built, thus reconstituting the community with an influx of open-minded, welcoming, middle class residents of color.

While blessed by proximity, older residents of Hough have nonetheless occasionally cast a wary eye at its wealthy (and landlocked) neighbors, fearful of gentrification as these entities need to expand. But in the last half-decade these august institutions have done a 180-degree turnabout and now are building bridges to the minority communities they’re completely surrounded by—instead of erecting walls.

Our response to newcomers, as residents of these core communities, should be to extend an outstretched hand and an open invite to all who wish to reside in inner-city neighborhoods and to make them feel safe, secure and welcome. If America is to fulfill its promise of greatness we have to start in local communities with the realization that the door to housing integration—which indeed has been difficult to keep open—works best when it swings both ways.

It bears repeating: African-Americans have to be as welcoming to whites (or any others) who wish to move into our neighborhoods as we would have them be welcoming to us into their communities. Fair always is fair, plus it builds stronger, more viable, and far more interesting neighborhoods.

-Mansfield Frazier, writer and executive director at Neighborhood Solutions

How Did We Get Here? A History of Hough

I am not great at trivia, but am fascinated by local history that you can see, feel, and smell every day. Learning the history of Hough helped me appreciate how the community has pulled itself up by its own bootstraps. It also taught me: never be a slumlord.

8000 BCE. Humans and mammoths co-exist in Northeast Ohio until we hunt them into extinction. Hough probably not settled due to bugs.

1200 AD. Native peoples begin settling into villages in river valleys.

1500 AD. Mound builders start to disappear.

1600s. Iroquois take over Ohio in a bloody war with various tribes.

1700s. Iroquois move east to fight the French and English. Wyandot move into region (most artifacts near Sandusky). They were known for their “rough hair” (read: mohawks—my husband is a descendant.)

1799. Doan family builds tavern at E. 107th & Euclid Avenue in East Cleveland township.

1854. Area settled as a farm by Oliver and Eliza Hough.

1860s. Oliver and Eliza die, and their land is divided into parcels.

1872. Hough incorporated into Cleveland, which doubled in size in 10 years. Millionaire’s Row built on Euclid Avenue.

1890s. Two electric streetcars run down Hough & Euclid Avenues. League Park built at E. 66th and Lexington as home of the Cleveland Spiders (now the Cleveland Indians).

leagueparkrailwaycar
League Park Railway Car at E 68th St and Lexington Ave

Many of Cleveland’s landmark organizations were founded in this decade. Eliza Bryant built the first “Retirement home for Colored Persons,” later moved into Hough. Area filled with single family homes and exclusive schools like Beaumont School for Girls, University School, Notre Dame Academy, and East High School. Houses of worship built include St. Agnes Parish and Congregational Church.

universityschool
University School (Cleveland Memory Project)

1900s. Hough Bakeries founded at 8703 Hough Avenue and Rainey Institute on E. 55th. Our two-story, foursquare house was built, along with several blocks of similar structures that same year.

1920s. Apartment buildings constructed as wealthy residents migrate to the Heights to avoid air pollution from their own factories. Millionaires destroy their homes as they move out.

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Alhambra Apartments at 8616 Wade Park Ave, circa 2014

1930s. Hough fills with middle class immigrants and laborers. Homes take in boarders or split into multi-family dwellings.

1950s. Urban renewal and highway development force African-Americans from Central into Hough, increasing from 14% to 75% of its population. Realtors threaten reduced home values; Polish, Irish, and Spanish-speaking immigrants move out.

1960s. Mounting racial tension caused by deteriorating and overcrowded housing owned by whites and occupied by blacks. (Tip: Don’t be a slumlord) Population peaks at 66,000 residents.

July 18-23, 1966. Hough Riots cause massive property damage and four deaths, and required the assistance of the Ohio National Guard. A grand jury ruled that the Communist Party organized the uprising, but poverty and housing issues are more believable causes.

1970s. Middle class families flee the neighborhood while activists work hard to rebuild with little outside support. Religious communities collaborate to provide food and other social service programs. Nonprofits like Hough Multipurpose Center, Fatima Family Center, Famicos Foundation, and Hough Salvation Army are formed.

1976. Jesse Jackson speaks at dedication of new East High School building.

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Rev Jesse Jackson at East High School Dedication

1985. Lexington Village opens, signaling a new era of residential development. Crack and AIDS weaken the community.

1990s & 2000s. Population continues to decline while large number of new, single family homes and townhouses are built. Church Square Shopping Plaza built and visited by President Clinton.

2010-2016. Euclid Avenue significantly rebuilt with Health Line bus connecting Downtown to University Circle, while neighborhood bus lines are cut. Deteriorating schools replaced with new buildings. Funds dedicated to maintain and restore portions of historic League Park. Large scale developers experience community resistance to plans aimed to displace current residents.

churchsquarecommons
Development along Euclid Ave

If you’re looking for another history of Hough, check out The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

A huge thanks to Christopher Busta-Peck, Founding Editor of Cleveland Area History for fact-checking my dates against the primary records.

And here we are! What are your lessons from Hough’s history? How about your own neighborhood?

What is it like to be a white woman in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland?

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This series started in response a simple question by Angie Schmitt, editor of RustWire. The evening I met her and said I lived in Hough, she asked, “What is that like?”

“A lot of things,” I responded.

Ground breaking, right? Even though I’ve been asked that question many times before, I never developed a pithy, insightful response. And Angie’s question was different. Most of the time, people tell me by their face and tone of voice exactly what they think it’s like. And I know I won’t dispel an entire life of prejudice with one casual conversation.

But Angie was genuinely, openly curious. And she has a blog (read the original post here). So I took some time to write out my response, for Angie and her readers. Thanks, Angie, for giving me the space to develop my own long form response at my own slow pace.

What do YOU think it’s like?

Here’s an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at a typical week for me (in 2012) as a white woman living in Hough, a 97% African-American neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio:

  • Check email and Facebook every day.  It’s way better than TV.
  • Push my kids on the swings in our backyard.
  • Feed our six chickens.
  • Teach the neighborhood kids that eggs come from chickens.
  • Do the laundry and then fall asleep and forget about it in the dryer and my husband has to fold the clothes so our sons have pants to wear.
  • Convince a screaming three year old that it’s not a big deal his socks have bumps; he still needs to put on his shoes so he can go to pre-school.
  • Go grocery shopping at Aldi because we ran out of milk and bananas.
  • Curse the banks for the abandoned house next door.

By the way, I do this all while being one of few white families in the African-American Hough neighborhood.  The one that went up in flames in 1966 during the Hough riots because some idiot white restaurant owner put “No water for N*&&#%s” in the window and the National Guard had to come in?  Yeah, that one.

How did I get here?

My husband and I met in part because we both independently decided we liked the neighborhood. Many years ago, when I was at Oberlin College, I had friends who drove up to the Afro-centric Catholic Church called St Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima. I was living in the Afrikan Heritage House, and also converting to Catholicism at the same time. I had no idea I would live in Cleveland after graduation, but after getting a job here and visiting other churches, I decided to become a member. Fatima was welcoming, spiritually invigorating, and challenged me to live Gospel values. It felt like home to me.

My now-husband worked in a lab at the Cleveland Clinic and wanted to walk to work. Neither of us let race or abandoned houses distract us from the great things this location has to offer. We had friends, church, and work all in the neighborhood, so when we got married, we decided to live here.

We fixed up a foreclosed house (in 2006, before the recession) and now live there with our two boys, six chickens, and an attack cat.

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I wish more people did the same. The neighborhood offers so much!

Think you can handle the neighborhood?  I’ll be doing a series of posts about living in Hough: a short history, why Hough is like a small town, things black people say, things white people say, and defending a stigmatized neighborhood.

Photo Credits:

Renovated house, late evening sun by flickr user cafemamahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/cafemama/1399548174/

A machine-fun team from Landsturm Infanterie Batallion ‘Gotha’ (XI 24) by flickr user drakegoodmanhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/drakegoodman/4424397894/

Hot Tub by flickr user rvoodoohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/rvoodoo/198739282
Bleacher crowd, League Park by Louis Van Oeyen, on Cleveland Memory Projecthttp://images.ulib.csuohio.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/press&CISOPTR=370&CISOBOX=1&REC=10

Freedom Riders on bus, unknown, from Mississippi Department of Archuves and History http://mdah.state.ms.us/freedom/index.php

Listen to the Many Voices of Hough

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Hough riots, I am reposting a series of articles I wrote about being a white person in the 97% African-American Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. With the Republican National Convention also in town, I am praying for a peaceful event. I hope in some small way, I can lend my voice to the ongoing and critical conversation on race in this country.

imageSource: Facebook, Circle the City with Love 2016
Source: Facebook, Circle the City with Love 2016

Before I tell you my story, I want to acknowledge some of the voices that have welcomed, challenged and inspired me as a neighbor. As an ordinary (though minority) resident of Hough, I did nothing extraordinary for my neighbors. To the contrary, I intentionally tried to resist the “white savior” attitude that assumes white people integrate into black neighborhoods to “fix” them. I just bought a house, and food, and went to church, and work, and sent my kids to school…all because I genuinely thought it was a cool place to live.

Just being there exposed me to people who are making Hough the great place that it is right now. And I want to start by briefly introducing you to some of them. If you want to invest in the neighborhood, then invest in the people who are already doing good work here. Give them money, press, resources, and access to your networks.

These leaders welcome support, and can help direct you to places you can make a genuine impact! And if you want a real feel for the pulse of the neighborhood, then pay attention to them.

All the Hough Leaders on my list are not only cool individuals. They also work with established and effective organizations that serve our community. Please check out their projects, sign up for their newsletters, send them lots of money, contact them to volunteer or get a tour, and talk about them with everyone you know.

Lila Mills, Communications Director for Neighborhood Connections

Mansfield Frazier, Founder of Chateau Hough

John Anoliefo, Executive Director of FAMICOS

Charity Hall, Outreach Director of NEON Health

LaJean Ray, Director of the Fatima Family Center

Mittie Imani Jordan, Chair of The National Institute for Restorative Justice

How are you taking action?

This list is by no means exhaustive, so just consider this my recommended starting point for conversation. Please comment with black-led, Cleveland-based organizations you know deserve all the support and attention they can get.

Please note that URLs and positions may change, so my apologies if any of these links don’t work in the future. Try to track them down via social media or internet search.

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