Category Archives: Race Relations

"A Place Worth Living": Defending a Deeply Stigmatized Neighborhood

This is part of a series on being a white person in the African-American Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. You can see the intro, why it’s like a small townMansfield Frazier’s responsehistory of the neighborhood, and @#!& black people say to white people.

The worst part about living in Hough is that you can’t talk about living in Hough.

Not unless you want to experience Horrible Things from your friends, family and colleagues.  There are three types of Horrible Things: 1) The LOOK, 2) The pat on the back, and 3) The argument.

Horrible Thing 1: the LOOK:
Several of my high school friends went out to dinner, the ladies who have been there through the highs and lows, from the hilariously awkward middle school dances through baby showers and funerals.  One friend was looking to buy a house and I chimed in, “Oh yeah, the neighborhood is everything.”

She gave me this incredulous look as if to say, “What are you talking about?  Where you live isn’t even a neighborhood.”
That night I burned in silent anger.  It’s never completely gone away.

She didn’t mean to hurt me; it was a pure gut reaction.  But in that moment, I saw clearly that places like Hough are not her list of Places Decent People Live.  That possibility of seeing herself as my neighbor in Hough is forever closed to her, and with it so is a piece of my heart.

Horrible Thing 2: The pat on the back:
Scene: social justice networking event. An old friend and colleague who commutes from a wealthy exurb out of the county introduces me to someone new.  “This is Meagen.  She and her family live in Hough.  Isn’t that so amazing?  She’s so brave.”

Ugh.  Yes, I get it: You are all about serving poor people as long as you don’t have to actually live with them.  But you’re glad someone’s doing it, because this mess certainly needs to be cleaned up. Thanks a lot.

Horrible Thing 3: The argument:
This one should be obvious. “That neighborhood is dangerous. You’re putting your kids in harm’s way. I hate that you live there and I can’t wait until you move out.”

This one is reserved for my closest family members, the ones whom I love and cherish and respect and sacrifice for above all things. The only people who dare say this to me are the ones who know my neighbors by name and spent hours rehabbing our home. These are the people to whom I owe my very bodily existence on this earth. They are the people who should know better. Instead some of them are just biding their time until we get over our little idealistic phase.

The examples go on & on.

For seven years of living in Hough, I’ve been sharing less and less of what I really experience in the neighborhood thanks to these depressing interactions with some family, friends, and colleagues. When good things happen I rarely hear, “wow, what a great place you live!” But all the bad things should be a “wake up call.”

Is that how the residents of Chardon, Ohio and Newton, Connecticut responded when they had nationally televised tragedies in their communities? Did they say “this is a wake-up call” and got the hell out of Dodge? No. They said, “This is a terrible thing that happened in a great community.” They said, “It will take us a lot of time and resources and support to heal, but we’ll face it together.”
That captures how I feel about violence in my neighborhood. Living in Hough is not an idealistic phase that’s going to pass. We’re not just flipping the house to make money by renting or selling. We’re not just living here until our kids are in school. This is our home and we get more benefits than we are exposed to dangers. It is much more dangerous to drive daily on highways, and I am very serious about that. But do my friends and family stop driving their cars because we’ve had loved ones die in accidents? They wouldn’t dream of it…to them the daily benefits far outweigh the increased risks.

The idealistic phase will never pass because even if we do move away at some point, which is a high possibility with our mobile American lifestyles, I’m never going to be able to pretend that my Hough neighbors and their joys and struggles have nothing to do with me. I will never be able to run the other way, move out to avoid tragedy, and hope our isolation will save us. I can never say “as long as I have my dream home and a good school for my kids and a shopping mall, life is good,” and then reminisce about when I was young and had energy and passion.

Wherever I go, I will instead reminisce that when I lived in Hough I had my dream home, Excellent rated schools for my kids, and a shopping plaza right nearby. Life is good now.

Except when it’s not. As I’ve written in previous posts, none of us are immune from trauma and tragedy. And the history of Hough tells us how quickly communities can become stigmatized as a ghetto. Less than one hundred years ago, this neighborhood was a pseudo-rich community with elite private schools, close to all the entertainment and shopping available in a booming industrial city. Now it’s full of lead dust, corner liquor stores, and slum lords. It’s also full of inter-faith hunger programs, child care centers, musicians, and community gardens.

We are all responsible for that: the good and the bad. You can be part of the solution just by reading this post and joining me in considering inner city neighborhoods as Places Worth Living. We can all contribute to the solution by being open to the full reality of a place.

Over time, some of my friends and family have slowly begun to remove the stigma of The Bad Neighborhood and actually see the mix of good and bad. After a recent break-in, my Dad commented, “I know you have a lot of great folks in your neighborhood and good stuff going on. But we just want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to make sure you’re safe.”
That’s a perfectly reasonable request, not just a gut reaction of prejudice but a gentle and smart approach. But another family member honestly thought that a compassionate response to a break-in would be: “I wish you would move out.” The more I hear Horrible Things like that, the longer I want to live here just to prove this is a Place Worth Living.

But then I despair that my futile words have any impact on gut prejudice. If all someone sees is crime and violence, if they watch the nightly news which consistently portrays black neighborhood as “war zones,” then nothing that is said or seen or experienced will change their mind that I live in a Dangerous Ghetto. Once on a plane ride I was sitting next to a student coming to Case Western Reserve University from Beijing and that was what he had heard about my neighborhood: “Don’t drive through it or you will be shot.” The “war zone” reputation has made it to Beijing!

If I could change one thing about the neighborhood, it wouldn’t be the actual neighborhood itself. I would change the phrase “Hough is rough.” We would take off our glasses that can only see CRIME, and look around and see the full spectrum of reality. Most of it isn’t even racism.  It’s the Stigma of Place. I’m convinced now I’d get similar negative gut reactions if I decided to raise my kids in a trailer park, or even a gated community…in Montana.

I know you can relate. We experience the Stigma of Place all through the Rust Belt. The Stigma is why I never know what to say at parties when someone asks me, “So what is it like to live in Hough?” I usually just say, “It’s a lot of things.” I find myself just telling about the good things, since I know they’ve probably only heard the bad. But sometimes I feel like they are just waiting for me to say I’ve experienced crime so they can say “Aha, I knew it” and confirm their Stigma. As a result, I’m constantly at a loss to explain my choice of place to even my family and friends because I don’t want to experience more of the Horrible Things: the look, the pat on the back, or the argument.

But I think maybe it will be softer to say in public what has been too painful for me to say in private. The problem is that I understand all their objections, and I see what they see: crime, poverty, and historic racial tension. I’m not naïve. But what is worse than any neighborhood challenge? Not being able to talk honestly about these challenges with the people I love because they refuse to see past their Stigma.

The worst part about living in Hough is not being able to talk about living in Hough. It’s the feeling that I don’t have the support of my friends and family for the long (and repeated) journey of healing from trauma because they can’t see the joy and benefits that make it all worthwhile. They don’t see the same “great community” that gets portrayed in Chardon, Ohio or Newton, Connecticut. That Stigma gets translated into fewer charitable donations, lower housing prices, and lack of businesses. But I see the greatness, and I’m willing to invest in making it even better.

When kids shoot other kids in Hough, I want to hear the same number of talk shows full of support on grief.  Can we please view it as a traumatic experience that requires hope, counseling, and years of love to heal, just the same as it would if it happened anywhere else?
Start by valuing the beauty of Hough: its rich history, vibrant Afro-centric culture, children playing outside, living where you work, proximity to cultural assets, political activism, compassionate service to people in need, and most importantly the burning need for solidarity and cross cultural communication. Glimpsing the neighborhood as it really is—filled with diverse people and organizations with a range of gifts and struggles—has indeed been life changing for many of my friends, family, and colleagues.

I feel like on Rust Wire, I’m preaching to the choir, but that gives me the courage to be honest and to hope I’m not alone. Maybe you, too, regardless of who you are or where you live, can see Hough as a Place Where Decent People Live, and not just a waste to be bulldozed.

Meagen Farrell is an educational consultant, blogger, mother of two adventurous boys, and proud resident of the Hough neighborhood. You can connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.


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Youngstown is NOT (Really) Gentrifying–at Least Not in the Normal Sense

My friend, Youngstown celebrity Phil Kidd, told me a hahafunny recently. After consistently being ranked as one of the poorest cities in the country, Youngstown has recently seen a small reversal of fortunes in its downtown. A handful of new bars, some housing development, and voila–old-school Youngstowners are now complaining about “gentrification.”

I have a message for these people: Stop it!

This is the definition of gentrification, according to the Free Dictionary (an authoritative source is there ever was one!!):

gen·tri·fi·ca·tion  (jntr-f-kshn)


The restoration and upgrading of deteriorated urban property by middle-class or affluent people, often resulting in displacement of lower-income people.

So while some middle-income people have moved into Youngstown, reversing a decades long trend, Youngstown is not really “gentrifying,” at least not in the sense that anyone is negatively impacted by it. And you know why? This is an extremely important point: NO ONE IS BEING DISPLACED.

When I lived in Youngstown, a good five years ago now, there were a few low-income housing facilities downtown and guess who else? One freaking guy! No kidding. There was literally one other guy who lived downtown–he owned the suit store that he lived above. Then, my awesome friend Paul renovated a loft and then there were two people that lived in downtown outside of the two housing projects. Paul used to joke that they were going to try to get their own newspaper route for the Vindicator.

For Christ’s sake, Youngstown lost almost 20 percent of its population during the last 10 years alone. It would take 15,000 young, affluent people moving into Youngstown just to make up for that loss–and that is many, many times the number of young people moving to downtown Youngstown.

The idea that young people moving into downtown Youngstown is in any way negative to poor people is, to me, just outright laughable. It’s the opposite of true. At last count, Youngstown had a nation-leading poverty rate of 49.7 percent–nearly a majority. So almost half the city made less than what the federal government considers adequate to cover the most basic expenses of food, shelter and clothing. Wealthier people moving into the city will only give the city a slightly more normal distribution of incomes, something that the school system, the city government, and anyone else who has any stake whatsoever in the city should welcome. Because Youngstown at large is a strong testament to the fact that cities don’t work real well when they are inhabited by poor people only.

Maybe you have class hangups yourself and you don’t like the kind of people who are moving to Youngstown. And fine, you are welcome to that opinion. But if there’s anyone who is deserving of moral reproach, it’s the suburbanites that abandoned the city, never go there, and have done nothing to stem its notorious decline. And even them, I can’t bring myself, in most cases, to reproach.


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The Tragic History of Cleveland's Buckeye Road

If you’ve got some time to kill, check out this vintage video about how racial change impacted Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood. Sad and unfortunate, but this history is still impacting the city in a big way.

One of the biggest take aways for me, and my friend Charlotte, whose father is a Hungarian immigrant who grew up in this neighborhood, is the packed sidewalks in Buckeye Road. Sheesh. It looks like Madison Avenue in New York. What a contrast with today!

Another thing, I apologize some of the wording in this video is a little dated and insensitive, by today’s standards.

Also, Cleveland State University won’t let me embed it, so you’ll have to follow this link:

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Why Aren't More People Angry About the Way Things are in Cleveland?

People often accuse me of being angry or negative. It’s a pretty highly charged accusation and I have to admit that sometimes it stings; but more and more I’m used to it.

I’ve thought it over a little bit, you see, and I don’t really have an anger problem in my personal life. Not in my family. Not in my relationship with my boyfriend. Not at my job. But, oh my gosh, a land use issue in Cleveland can really set me off. It raises my blood pressure. I had to stop reading the Plain Dealer because it was so upsetting to me every morning.

I think a lot of the people who feel more positively about Cleveland, a lot of people I’m interacting with every day and on the Internet, didn’t read the Plain Dealer like I did. I was a seven-day-a-week print subscriber.

That was a few years ago when I was fairly new to Cleveland. At the time, the FBI was closing in on a corruption ring that included a large portion of the region’s political elite–and a handful of people from the construction industry. It was a pretty appalling scene as the details came to light.

The top guy–county commissioner, Democratic Party chair–was trading sex for government contracts. The auditor, in the middle of this whole FBI investigation, pursued personal audits on some citizens that demanded an independent review of the county’s books. The same guy, the auditor–it came out that he had literally six of his nieces on payroll at the county. No kidding, six.

One day the PD did a feature where they listed every government official implicated in this scandal, with pictures and titles and everything. This huge spread. They had these suburban officials, a lot of bureaucrats. It was insane. Being new to town, I could not believe it. It was so demoralizing.

The most shocking thing of all to me was that the target of the whole investigation, the county commissioner Jimmy Dimora, was at the time still serving in his position. He refused to step down. The Plain Dealer had figured out who he was and what he was accused of–corruption, racketeering, etc.–but the PBI was still calling him Public Official 3, or something. So he continued voting on government contracts until a new form of county government was mercifully put in place months later.

That was a pretty upsetting thing to witness from a civic standpoint. But I guess Clevelanders are more used to witnessing upsetting things than I am. Because when I see or hear about something like that, I get angry, I get depressed, I can’t freaking stand it. I just feel like I have to do something. But it’s hard to know what.

All my life, I’ve always been sort of outraged by what I perceived to be injustice. I have a compulsion to try to correct it. But this Jimmy Dimora scandal, I obviously couldn’t fix. It was so much bigger than me.

I thought about going to the county commissioners’ meetings and asking to speak as a public citizen and demanding he resign until the investigation was over. I thought maybe if I did it every meeting, it might shame him enough to provide some encouragement. I don’t know why no one else did that. I think in Columbus where I’m from (and I know this comparison will irk some Clevelanders), the community never would have put up with that bullshit. Some of the business leaders would have stepped in and put an end to that foolishness and quietly. You never would have heard about it in the papers.

That story though, the epic corruption ring that was Cuyahoga County politics for decades, for me epitomizes one of the hardest aspects of life in Cleveland for me to accept: a pervasive undercurrent of injustice.

Here we are in one of the poorest large cities in the country: our poverty rate nearly a third of the population, and among children it’s much higher. And we have some fat cat politicians trading bloated government contracts for prostitutes. To get a sense for just how disgusting and outrageous this was, check out this video reenactment with puppets made by a local news station after cameras were barred from the courtroom.

During all this I read a report on government corruption at the national level. The report found that nations with high levels of government corruption had higher levels of infant mortality, higher drop out rates. That money Dimora stole was literally food out of babes’ mouths in Cleveland.

But injustice has always been part of the landscape here, more than in most places. It goes back to the stark historical segregation in the city that erupted in outrage and riots. But that only brought on phase two in Cleveland’s ongoing segregation saga: white flight, the exodus to the suburbs. It left the city full of boarded up houses and the school district insolvent. The Cleveland Public School District has 50,000 students and only half of them graduate.

Inequality is so pronounced and entrenched here that there is a 24-year difference in life expectancy between people living in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood–the site of the riots–and suburban Lindale, just a few miles away.

And Clevelanders are used to those things. They accept them. Maybe it’s just too hard for people who live here to go around angry all the time.

But it’s hard for me. Anger is a natural human emotion that exists for a reason. Maybe anger is the appropriate response.

I think in modern society anger is looked at as something that is intrinsically bad. But are there times when it could be productive? I have to say it is quite a mind fuck to live in a place where everyday circumstances inspire an emotion in me that I am silently told it is not ok to feel.


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Mansfield Frazier on the Need to Integrate Cleveland Neighborhoods

As famed Bronx, New York environmental activist Majoria Carter said, “I believe that you shouldn’t have to move buy paxil online 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 lasix community after community… one at a time.

The most valuable takeaway from the decades-old civil rights movement ed simple set online 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 reglan dosage for over four decades, causes America to be more racially stratified today than it was 50 years ago viagra coupon when integration began.

Nonetheless, a grand opportunity currently presents itself to core communities if we can but navigate the sometimes troubled racial viagra online pharmacy waters. The urban agriculture component cialis pack online 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 order viagra online 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 viagra online canadian pharmacy 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 does once a day cialis work 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 proscar 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

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7 Reasons Why Hough is Like a Small Town

Unfortunately, there’s a strong perception that small town people are clueless about “big city” life. While it’s true that the rural “deep South” is where many African Americans have faced (and continue to face) some of the worst discrimination, that does not mean small-town people are unprepared for transplanting to a black, inner city neighborhood. I grew up in an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh and my husband comes from a small town of about 4,000 residents. He was definitely more prepared for living in Hough than me. Why? Here are the top seven reasons why Hough is like a small town.

1. Offensive graffiti on playground equipment. Basically, I have to accept that by the time my children can read, they will know that Johnny wants to f&^$ Sally, whether here in Cleveland or out in Geaugabula.

2. Random rusting “decorations” in the yard. Old tractors. Used cars. Lawn chairs. It’s Tin Man’s hell.

3. People actually walk. This is both because there are actual sidewalks, but also because there are more folks who have no other option.

4. Housing diversity. In a small town, it’s not uncommon to see a manicured century home next to new construction with a pool next to a trailer. In Hough, I look down the street to see a ten year old house with bar and hot tub next to an empty lot across from an antique apartment building. Suburban zoning typically favors rows of identically sized houses, all single family.

5. Teenagers with nothing to do. Whether it’s a meth lab in a basement or some bored kids spray painting their made up “gang” symbols… it’s a hard knock life for me.

6. Shopping? What shopping? I fantasized about urban neighborhoods where you could walk to school, church, and the grocery store. Instead I drive 20-30 minutes to buy a baby shower present. My small-town husband, on the other hand, was used to planning ahead for the Big Shopping Trip once a month.

7. Fireworks and firearms. In small towns or inner cities, you can assume a lot of people are packing. I now hate the Fourth of July, plus the months before and after when there are periodic explosions every night from dusk to midnight. One year we tried to escape to a party at my husband’s friend’s place out in the quiet, dark woods, where their favorite pastimes are bottle rockets and BB guns. Different scenery, same number of headaches.

This is part of a series on being a white person living in Cleveland’s African American Hough neighborhood. Read the first part here. Next up? A short history of Hough.

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On Being a White Person Living in Cleveland's Hough Neighborhood

What do YOU think it’s like?  Here’s an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the typical week for 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.

My husband and I met because we both independently decided we liked the neighborhood.  I had friends who took me to the Afro-centric Catholic Church called St Agnes + Our Lady of Fatima and I became a member.  He 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.  So we fixed up an abandoned house  and now live there with our two boys, six chickens, and an attack cat.

I wish more people did the same.

Think you can handle the neighborhood?  I’ll be doing a series of posts for  Rust Wire about living in Hough: a short history, why Hough is like a small town, Hough is rough, money flight, things black people say, finding food in the desert, and a virtual neighborhood tour.

— Meagen Farrell is a blogger, grantwriter, edtech enthusiast, GED instructor, and adventurous mother of two.  You can connect with her on WordPress, Twitter, or Facebook.

Photo Credits:

Renovated house, late evening sun by flickr user cafemama

A machine-fun team from Landsturm Infanterie Batallion ‘Gotha’ (XI 24) by flickr user drakegoodman

Hot Tub by flickr user rvoodoo
Bleacher crowd, League Park by Louis Van Oeyen, on Cleveland Memory Project

Freedom Riders on bus, unknown, from Mississippi Department of Archuves and History

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