Category Archives: Race Relations

The Biggest Story About Cleveland Not Being Told

This is the biggest story not being told about rust belt cities, and maybe cities generally, in my opinion.

Check out this map of cities in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) that fared “best” and “worst” since the recession. This was published in the Plain Dealer, based on a real estate analysis by Frank Ford.

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Kevin Leeson, who works for Cuyahoga County, really cut through the clutter here. The places that are fared the worst are the blackest. The places that fared the best are among the whitest. Notice how one of the best performing places, Orange, is nestled right up against two of the worst performing. What’s the big difference? Among other things, I’m sure, Warrensville Heights is 93 percent black and Orange is less than 10 percent black.

Households by percentage African-American:
Highland Hills: 93.6%
Warrensville Heights: 92.8%
Orange Village: 9.8%

It’s actually pretty remarkable that such starkly contrasted segregation could be maintained.

Anyway, this an enormous equity issue. Millions and possibly billions of dollars in black wealth tied up in homeownership just evaporated in the last few years.

I tend to get a little frustrated when equity advocates seize on the issue of gentrification, which is admittedly a huge problem in Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, and try to apply the same kinds of struggles to Detroit and Cleveland. This is a much, much bigger problem for the Cleveland region from an equity perspective. And it’s hardly discussed.

I’ve heard it called a “segregation tax.” Because of racism in the housing market, essentially, some people even wonder if homeownership is a worthwhile investment for black people. Meanwhile, homeownership has helped lift millions of white families into the middle class.

The median home selling price in East Cleveland (93 percent black) last year was $12,500. It’s disturbing.

The blog recently shared a study from Social Psychology Quarterly investigating how the racial composition of neighborhoods affects their perceived level of “disorder.” The study found there was a correlation, basically showing that racial biases are a fundamental way we understand neighborhoods. That leads to a “stigma” for black neighborhoods. It’s easy to see how that “stigma” can translate into lower home values and white flight.


Admittedly, I don’t fully understand the causes. If I had the time and financial support for it, I’d love to interview researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland about this issue. (I have a feeling unfair lending is part of the issue, as well.) Anyway, I wish we were having a more substantive discussion about it locally.

–Angie Schmitt


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The Fall of East Cleveland

This is pretty interesting, if you’ve got the time. East Cleveland is sort of a spectacular example of everything that’s gone wrong in the Cleveland area.

One interesting thing about this video is that the people from East Cleveland seem to blame the city’s people for its downfall. I don’t at all. I think this is what happens when you have absolutely no housing policy and building new communities means throwing away the “old” ones. A few people got rich building new suburbs in northeast Ohio over the last few decades even though there were no new people to occupy them. This is the fallout. We accept it.


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Cleveland's African American Museum–A Hidden Gem

Tucked into a corner of the east side of Cleveland—unbeknownst to many in Northeastern Ohio and even in the city itself— is one of the region’s great cultural treasures. In operation since 1953, the African American Museum of Cleveland was the first independent museum in the country dedicated to chronicling the Black American and African experience.

The African American Museum of Cleveland. Image: Sean Posey

The museum was the brainchild of Icabod Flewellen. Born in 1916 in West Virginia, Flewellen began obsessively collecting items relating to black history at a young age. At that time black history was very seldom studied. Not until 1926 was Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s “Negro History Week,” later to become Black History Month, celebrated. Flewellen’s original collection was destroyed when a mob of whites burned his house  down immediately after WWII. At the end of the 1940s, Flewellen moved to Cleveland and began his collection anew. Black family histories, local history, African artifacts, and the history of black inventors constituted much of what became his new, massive collection. Icabod’s Cleveland museum, originally dubbed the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Society, started in his home. In the early 1970s, the museum relocated to 1765 Crawford Road in the Hough neighborhood.

From 1984 until 2005, the museum was open full-time. After the death of Flewellen in 2001, the museum remained open for a few more years. In the subsequent years after its closure, break-ins and thefts plagued the shuttered museum. In 2010 a new executive director, Frances Caldwell, and a new board re-opened the museum part-time. Since the start of their tenure the museum has been designated a local landmark. The museum also arranged through the county to receive individuals needing to complete community service. As part of this program, a library science student and a retired librarian managed to catalog thousands of books and magazines, left as donations for the museum, in six weeks.

This summer the museum received 13 children from Youth Opportunities of Cleveland. The students provided community service at the museum, and they had numerous chances to hear from a variety of speakers and educators. Students learned about African history, Kwanzaa, good citizenship, and community service. They even received instruction in African dance. At the end of their service the children held a poetry slam and set up a bake sale to raise money for museum repairs.

At the start of the summer the executive director asked the students a simple question: “How many of you would like to go to Africa someday?” Only two raised their hands. At the end of the program, when she asked the same question, nearly every hand went up. Several students approached her and said, “My parents say it’s okay if I go with you to Africa!”

As of right now the museum is open part-time Monday and Tuesday from 10-3 and also on Saturdays. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Ms. Frances Caldwell at 216-374-2899.

Time and the elements have wrecked havoc on the 108-year-old former Cleveland Public Library building. The museum needs a variety of repairs, including a new roof, in order to re-open full time.

Anyone interested in donating to the museum can send a check directly to the following address: African American Museum of Cleveland, PO Box 1830, Cleveland Ohio, 44106.

You can also donate online at

–Sean Posey

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Shared Responsibility for Detroit's Woes


As a Michigander for the past 21 years, I’ve heard my share of Detroit criticisms, jokes, and put downs, both from within and outside the Great Lakes State. While fingers can be  pointed at the lack of past civic and political leadership in Detroit, our collective actions (or lack thereof) can certainly share in the responsibility. Some may scoff at such a notion, but here’re a few reasons why:

  • As a nation we elected leaders who adopted a tax code and laws that advocated, promoted, and accelerated flight from cities and suburban sprawl. Many in this nation continue to support such policies. Granted, this affects every city, but that doesn’t mean it was beneficial for them unless they had scads of excess land for new subdivisions or the ability to annex freely.
  • As a nation, we collectively turned our backs on inner cities and the residents thereof many years ago, only seeing fit to reverse course when the notion of revitalization became profitable.
  • As a state, Michigan has some of the most arcane home rule laws that created thousands of 36 square mile “kingdumbs” (pun intended) that fight with each other like cats and dogs and seldom do the right thing.
  • This nation very nearly turned its collective back on the auto industry due to political self-interest.
  • As a state and nation we allowed expressways, poorly placed factories, urban renewal projects, sports stadiums, and other projects to carve up and displace perfectly healthy inner city neighborhoods, leaving a tattered and disjointed landscape.
  • Residents/politicians living in outstate Michigan from Detroit would short-sightedly say, act, and vote as if Detroit was not their problem too.
  • In Southeast Michigan, leaders and residents alike outside of Wayne County often could care less what happened south of Eight Mile.
  • One of the best interurban transit systems in the nation was torn up and replaced by diesel-belching buses that have as many endearing qualities as a lump of coal.
  • Corporations ran away from the city in the ’60s and ’70s…with some finally seeing the light of their actions and returning to Detroit in the ’00s and ’10s.
  • Half of Detroit’s professional sport franchises left for the ‘burbs with one, the Pistons, still playing practically closer to Flint than Detroit.
  • Far too many lenders and insurance companies red-lined inner city neighborhoods.
  • Shady lenders who offered inner city loans foreclosed on homeowners the first chance they got.
  • Absentee landlords let their properties decline into disrepair and blight.
  • Politicians shied away from making the tough decisions, and rhetoric replaced reason in far too many discussions and decisions concerning Detroit.
  • Too many people in Southeast Michigan acted like the city was an island unto itself, when, like it or not, their collective futures have been inexorably linked to Detroit’s fate.
  • Up until recent years, the national media tended to solely focus on the bad news  about Detroit. There are many great things about Detroit, and piling on does nothing to reverse problems: it only reinforces misperceptions and stereotypes.

Shall I go on?

– Rick Brown


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Filed under architecture, Crime, Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Politics, Public Transportation, Race Relations, Real Estate, Sports, sprawl, The Media, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

4 Steps to Become an Ally of an Inner City Black Neighborhood (or anything, really)

This is part of the Hough series intro, like a small town, Mansfield Frazier’s response, history, crossing racial lines, A Place Worth Living, and interviewing Dee Jay Doc. If you’re new, I am Meagen Farrell writing about my experiences being a white person living in the 97% African-American Hough neighborhood in Cleveland. You can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or my website.

So you are aware that having racially-segregated, poor communities in our post-industrial cities is a bad idea. And you want to do something about it!Hough. Photo by Anna Arnold

The good news is that you don’t have to be white or a resident to be an ally of an inner black neighborhood. You can of any ethnicity, religion, culture or nation and still support the improvement of this community.

What is an ally?

Being an ally means you are not part of an oppressed/minority/marginalized community, but you are conscious of their situation and support efforts to make it better. The steps here can work for being any kind of ally. You can be a Chinese ally for a poor, white trailer park. You can be a straight ally of the LGBTQ community, or a German church with a sister parish in a Salvadoran mountain village. I am just using my personal experience of being a white ally in an inner city black neighborhood. I’m far from perfect at it, but here’s what I have tried that has worked so far:

  1. General cultural competence.

What are the hallmarks of general black culture? It helps to have a sense of how African American subcultures are generally packaged as “blackness.” BET, Jet, Ebony, Call & Post and sometimes Oprah will help you out there. Subscribe to get acquainted, but don’t take it all at face value. These media outlets can help you see trends, but don’t assume every individual black person aspires to live up to the cultural ideals in the media.

The most important first step is to realize that it is not someone else’s responsibility to explain to you what’s going on. It’s YOUR responsibility to educate yourself…all the time. Go ahead and ask respectful questions, but it’s not Tyrone Smith walking down Hough Avenue’s job to be your personal cultural ambassador. Find a professor to chat with or do some reading and research. Or just show up in the neighborhood and people watch.

At the beginning of my intentional learning, I started by finding three black mentors. I did not approach them because they fulfilled any media-fueled vision of “blackness,” but because they were proactive in offering resources to educate myself. They were open to both answering and asking challenging questions about race, equity, and justice. Sometimes they were angry, cynical or paranoid, but most of the time it’s because they are prophets like Jeremiah who had “fire in my bones and could not be silent.” It is a good workout for your brain and emotions.

It can be challenging to be observant of cultural differences without passing judgment, but I find the more I understand about history, the more I understand inner city black culture. Thankfully I took African-American studies courses that helped me deepen my understanding of what happened during the triangle slave trade, segregation in the South, the Great Migration, Civil Rights and race riots, the epidemics of crack and HIV, etc. Learning this history from a black perspective gave me insight into the systems that have impacted the way many of my neighbors live and think.

Learn something new every day. You will be an amateur forever.

  1. Critical Consciousness

Before getting into specific issues of race and class, first it helps to understand the concepts of identity and social defaults.


Race, poverty, and location are a few aspects of how people understand who they are and where they belong. Some people are very conscious of their race, income, and where they live. Being a poor black person from the ghetto is their central story of who they are and where they came from. Some people embrace that identity, while others strive to be something else.

I’ve come to realize that most people in my neighborhood (or in most places) don’t really think about their “identity.” The neighborhood is just where their family happens to live, and they were born with more or less melanin…so what? For many people, their career or religion or music is a much bigger part of their identity. Some black people really embrace their African (or Native American or Irish or Caribbean) ancestry, while others think it has nothing to do with who they are now.

Being an ally means becoming sensitive to how people identify themselves. You allow people to choose their own identity, and don’t impose it on them. This is an important step beyond just general cultural competence.

What’s the difference? In step one, I noticed that Memorial Day BBQs are a really big deal. In step two, I respect that while lots of people grill out and invite all their family and co-workers, another neighbor might be a non-violent vegetarian that spends the day planting a community garden to halt the obesity epidemic and protest a militaristic holiday.

People don’t fit in neat checkboxes. Let people tell you who they are and where they come from; don’t assume you have the right to decide who is “black” or “woman” or “ghetto” or whatever.


Another aspect of critical identity consciousness is realizing that communities and institutions have a default setting. This is often called privilege, hegemony, or power, but I prefer the word “default” because it highlights that this is something all people are programmed to do unconsciously.

For example, when the transportation department planned the Euclid Avenue corridor, it intentionally privileged the public transit Health Line and created a bike lane. Traffic for cars is slower there. But when they renovated Superior Avenue, despite the equal prevalence of biking and public transportation, there are no such spaces created especially for busses or bikes. Despite being a central vein of a neighborhood with high percentages of small children and limited-income seniors, “car” is treated as the default mode of transportation. That makes it harder to opt for a cheaper alternative.

The same is true of how we create social, economic, civic, religious, and other cultural organizations. When institutions are created and managed exclusively by rich white people, they tend to assume and build a system that works for people who internalize “white” culture as their identity. If you are outside that default, you just have to work around…or don’t participate, as is frequently the case. Just like a cyclist struggles for safety on Superior Avenue built for cars, being a black person in most of our white-led society means it’s harder to navigate those spaces. You are more likely to be honked at or run over.

Once you get versed in this language of identity and hegemony, you can pose as a graduate of a private liberal arts college. There, I just saved you $35,000 a year. You’re welcome.


One way to overcome your own default setting is to intentionally become conscious of it. Hence the title: critical consciousness. Here are a handful of authors who are particularly talented at awakening this kind of critical social analysis.

Local author: Mansfield Frazier’s From Behind the Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate

Local author: Margaret Bernstein’s The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive and Reconnect with Their Fathers

Black Girl Dangerous “On Rape, Cages, and the Steubenville Verdict”

bell hooks Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism

Online presentation: Race, Allyship & Intersectionality

Meadow Braun’s blog: White Girl, Black Face

Every episode of Everybody Hates Chris, or lots of stand up by Chris Rock

  1. Make interpersonal connections

Create a personal and professional network that includes people outside your “default” friends and family setting. This might mean you go out of your way to intentionally make connections in specific communities. One example of how to do this well is the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites.

Warning: Don’t make friends with individual people just because they are black or from Hough. Here’s the trick: in social setting where it’s appropriate to meet new people, you should intentionally interact with people who look and dress and talk differently than you. But always reach out with the initial intention of finding out what you have in common, not highlighting your difference.

Don’t force it. You need to develop a strong bond in a common identity as the motivation to work through your differences. I think this is good advice for any relationship, actually.

Example: in college when I was considering converting to Catholicism, some friends took me to St Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima Church where they have a mass with a gospel choir. When I moved to Cleveland, I chose that as my church home. Now that I’m a member, I know people by name, have their emails and phone numbers, and we’re Facebook friends. A couple years after moving to Cleveland, I got married and bought a house within a mile of the church in the Hough neighborhood. That’s part of the story of how I came to live in this neighborhood.

Living here is an indirect result of years of creating a diverse personal and professional network. These friendships have grown (or not) based on common interests.

Some relationships don’t work out. That’s okay.

I do my best to be comfortable and respectful, but have to accept that at times it is uncomfortable and awkward. I don’t think it’s the end of the world to be offended or to offend other people. I just try to pay attention, reflect, and be willing to change my actions or attitude when appropriate. With practice, I have learned how to be comfortable in my own skin and respectful of others’ differences at the same time, but I still stumble.

  1. Support black-led organizations and black leaders working in black communities.

This is probably the most important part of sustaining a lifelong commitment to being an ally: fighting the savior complex. No one needs you to swoop in and create one more damn project and think you’re saving the world. It just creates more systems with your default, instead of you learning to adapt to the default of other ways of being in the world.

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.

As an entrepreneurial woman who gets frustrated with injustice, I sometimes find it difficult to have the humility and patience to let someone else lead and genuinely support their efforts. Lending expertise or offering constructive criticism should be offered with permission on the other person’s terms. For example, once I made the mistake of trying to help a neighbor’s son catch up on his homework when it wasn’t wanted, and it was embarrassing for both of us.

If I were to recommend some Hough Leaders for RustWire readers to support, here are some of my top picks. This is far from an exhaustive list of great people and organizations serving inner city black neighborhoods, so please respond with your own “nominees”.

All the Hough Leaders on my list have well established and effective organizations. 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 it with everyone you know.

Lila Mills, Editor of the Neighborhood Voice

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

Janice Chambers at Mary’s House

I’d love to hear your comments on black-led urban organizations worth more support and attention. How are you taking action to become an ally?

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A literary triumph – “Nothing But Blue Skies” by Edward McClelland

It is difficult to describe how truly outstanding the book entitled Nothing But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times, and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland is to read. As a nearly lifelong Rust Belt resident, I can attest to the fact that Edward McClelland’s newly released book simply nails our industrial heritage, decline, and hopeful potential squarely on the head. From nationally known politicians like Dennis Kucinich or Coleman Young to the everyday blue-collar laborer toiling in our mills and factories, Mr. McClelland personifies the Rust Belt like no other book I have ever read on the subject. As a Lansing native, he has personally witnessed the dramatic (and sometimes catastrophic) changes just in his lifetime. In Nothing But Blue Skies, Mr. McClelland takes the reader on a quasi-chronological step-by-step sequence of events that shook the Rust Belt down it its very core.

From Buffalo and the loss of its competitive edge with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to Detroit’s dramatic fall from grace following the 1967 riot, to Cleveland’s multi-decade search for post-Cuyahoga River fire redemption, to Flint, Homestead, and other cities. Mr. McClelland whisks the reader through a series of events that spelled the disaster for America’s Industrial Heartland and gave rise to its current moniker of Rust Belt.

Nothing But Blue Skies is a literary triumph that must be read by anyone who has an interest in history, sociology, economics, demographics, geography, politics, planning, environmental protection, and many other topics. Author Edward McClelland takes the best (and worst) of our post-World War II legacy and paints a tapestry of images that is very hard to put down. I guarantee that you will empathize with many of the everyday folks identified in his book, as they are exactly the same as you and I – Rust Belters.

– Rick Brown

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Filed under Book review, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Headline, Labor, Politics, Race Relations, the environment, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

Video: East Cleveland Middle School Students Respond to a Police Shooting

Late last year, at the culmination of a long high-speed chase, 13 Cleveland police fired 137 rounds into a car in East Cleveland killing two unarmed people.

State and local authorities are currently investigating the case: why the chase — which violates official department policies — occurred; why police thought the fleeing couple was armed.


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department. None of the 13 shooters was black, but the victims were.

Anyway, one of the more upsetting elements of this case is that the shooting took place basically on the grounds of a school in East Cleveland, although not during school hours. Some local filmmakers interviewed students at that school, Heritage Middle School, about their thoughts on the case, below.

Pretty tough environment these kids are living in. It’s interesting to hear their opinions.




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Filed under Crime, Race Relations, Urban Poverty