There are two cities in Cleveland, Ohio, if not more. Grasp the beating pulse of the inner-city and feel its separation, divided by the veins of the boulevard and the avenue. Walk to the sleepy pace of the suburbs that surround the city and you will encounter and come to know in residing, working or studying in Cleveland, what may appear a thin veil, deceiving the eye and confusing the mind. There is the question that is asked of the unreconciled clash of those who have and those who have not within the borders of this humble city.
How can so much be situated so near to so little? How can such affluence prosper while the large majority of others in the city survive in the hands of such meager means? Opening the eye to this disparity will reveal to you another Cleveland—one that may disturb those seeing their hometown for the first time.
I bring tales from the east side. I bring a perspective educated in the reaches of east-side suburbia, tempered in the classrooms of University Circle, and grounded in the adversity we face in East Cleveland. I bring eyes that have seen the many faces of this city and I have come to know and understand my city for the many faces the city embodies. I have scaled, with help, the large wall that at all times surrounds the city: the wall that maintains the status quo, the wall that maintains the unequal distribution of wealth. I have found means to open the mind in the negativity of a city that can do its damnedest to keep minds closed and stunt the growth of the youth. After all, I have arisen at the conclusion that Cleveland is two, that there is more than one city here. To bridge the gap between the city and the city’s suburbs is to recognize the reality in which one lives and moves here within city limits.
Listen closely, and the streets of Cleveland will tell you a tale of two cities. Listen closely, and you may hear a tale of loss and separation bent and twisted around the many side-streets and throughways of the east and west sides. Listening to the words and conversations of people in the city and encountering the lives of city-dwellers on the city’s blocks and street corners, you will find that once you have established your routine and understood your path here, you will find little need to break from this course. The city can repeat and repeat without end.
Step into the city and take a breath of its wind; walk its blocks and feel the rhythm of its beat; witness the city local news turns its cameras away from and you will see the separation that has been made within this city. You will come to know and understand a city deferred. See the buildings from which business and industry have vacated; and the churches that stand as forsaken emblems of an age let to the past. In the dated architecture & closed factories, you will see the ghost of the Great Depression that lingers amongst the poverty here in the eerie and ominous shadow of what once has been. The many signs on the path the city has traveled will appear, and with a compassionate view you may see how the city has grown and how the city has deteriorated. What is evident here in Cleveland is that a great deal of wealth and political strength have been syphoned out of the inner-city. What is left behind is a vision of the past—seen through the day and under the night. Walk alongside the strange contrast of an area of industry and development set directly beside a neighborhood of disenfranchisement and struggle. After all this, you may come to the conclusion that change for the region must begin right here in the inner-city.
There is beauty in Cleveland that some who call this city home may never see: from Severance Hall, to Rockefeller Park, across East Boulevard, and through the Cultural Gardens, up the hills to the avenue. There is strife in Cleveland that some who call this city home may never know: if only to cross over to E. 99th Street & St. Clair Avenue, south to Kinsman Rd., crossing east over Euclid Ave. into the depths of East Cleveland.
There stands a wall here, distinctly erected on the asphalt boulevard, if not within the minds of citizens. It is a wall that separates all that happens in the city from all that happens under the jurisdiction of its suburbs. No visible wall has been as ugly as this wall—for this wall is of the mind, and it stands within the minds of Clevelanders. What results is misunderstanding, dividing those who do and those who do not live in the inner-city. You will find that Cleveland is at odds with itself. A curious sense of normalcy stretches out over the city and most do not recognize how the other half lives within the grips of struggle and pressure.
The wind blowing off of the lake will move through the inner-city with the same concern it has for the suburb.
The rain will fall with the same intent. The snow will pile and while there is difference, there is no separation, no segregated view. The question begs, why do Clevelanders impose these points of division within the city serving only to divide and segregate the city and its inhabitants?
At the end of the day, in the culture of a city at odds with its identity, there is much at stake for the aspirations of the have not, the underprivileged and the unlikely. Change cannot happen only in the superficial. Change ought to come to the root of the tree that grows in the distressed neighborhoods of the inner-city rather than to each broken branch. Change from the grassroots of a community is the most real and lasts the longest. It is this change that ought to come to a city in peril.
The resolute and tenacious spirit of those Clevelanders who refuse to sit idly by while the powers-that-be assert themselves over the city, this spirit is as vibrant as the sun \over Lake Erie on a Spring day. The winter of the city’s discontent, and the tale that is told of two cities separated by powers out of the citizen’s control, this winter cannot last but so long. We take within ourselves the drive and the optimism to win back our communities from despair. We now know we are enough as one within our city, and within the communities that stretch from the heart of the city. All in together now, five fingers are pulled together to form a fist lifted to symbolize the unity of the disparate communities of inner-city Cleveland and as a beckon call against injustice found here that we do not find in the city’s suburbs. Cleveland is set to rise from the ashes and rubble of its own desolation—a desolation to which we seem to owe so much.
This is CLE. Let us not forget it. Let us march forward through our city, heads held high throughout all of its reaches, for all we have been through and all that we have yet to overcome. Let us make Cleveland all that it can be.
This article appeared in the March issue of The Vindicator.