This year’s cohort drew from majors in teacher education, urban planning/geography, and architecture and interior design. New to the administrative team this year was Matt Scott in the role of Resident Coordinator. Matt was part of the Residency Program in fall 2009 and since that time has kept in close contact with the neighborhood. Matt coordinated weekly community dinners with students and residents. These dinners, seemingly benign, are actually pivotal in helping students acclimate to the community. They complement the students’ coursework and service-learning experiences; they are the places where relationships started and conversations deepened.
Of the three core seminars we offer as part of the Residency Program, Jennifer Summers, Community Education Coordinator at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center and a former resident of Over-the-Rhine, again taught her course on Service- Learning. I taught ARC 427 The American City Since 1940.
And lastly, in a new venture, Chris Wilkey, professor of English at Northern Kentucky University and I co-taught a new course ARC/ENG 405Z Designing/Writing for Social Change. The course was unique in that it brought students from Miami and NKU to work collaboratively on community campaigns with the neighborhood’s leadership.
Bonnie Neumeier, Community Liaison to the Residency Program and long-term resident, as she has from the start of the Residency Program, held invaluable weekly sessions for journal writing and reflection. She was involved in all aspects of the program, from the students’ initial orientation; to historical walks in the neighborhood; to supervising the service-learning experiences; to team-teaching classes. And this year, Bonnie was indispensable in the community’s campaign to document the history of the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement in an Historical Timeline (see below).
The Residency Program engaged all four social practices of the mission of the Center—Design/Build, Community Assistance, Agit-Prop, and Community Advocacy.
The architectural Design/Build studio, led by John Blake, the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator, worked on a new project for new client (but longtime ally), the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Currently the first floor of their headquarters at 117 E. 12th St. is a jumble of offices and small meeting rooms devoid of natural light or effective gathering spaces. Students were asked to devise a plan to move offices, kitchenette, and a conference room to the now-unused second floor. In preparation for this students gutted the second floor, salvaged and inventoried wood shelving for future use, recovered and refinished the gorgeous pine floor, repaired the ceiling, and primed and painted. The students then fabricated and installed components for the new offices, including custom wood ceiling panels, and a unique conference room panel wall system with a custom sliding wood door that incorporates a painted “Housing Now” panel, a relic formerly used in protests. Work on this space will continue this summer with those students participating in the Summer Design/Build Residency Program.
In our Community Assistance work, students worked at Venice on Vine, helping that organization tutor workers, develop a social media plan, and promote its products throughout Cincinnati. The three teacher education majors worked fulltime at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy doing their required student teaching as part of the Urban Teacher Cohort Program at Miami University. A special thanks goes out to Tammy Schwartz of the School of Education, Health, and Society, and Director of the UTC, who as part of the administrative team mentored these student teachers. Many students volunteered with the Children’s Creative Corner, a two-night per week art program for youngsters. Several students also met weekly with a young girl’s group.
In our Community Advocacy and Agit-Prop work, students collaborated with a broad-based constituency to produce a 2’ x 18’ representation of the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement History Timeline. This was a difficult yet fabulous project where students from Miami and Northern Kentucky University compiled information, conducted oral history interviews (organized by Jennifer Summers), and designed multiple versions of the Timeline for community participation.
The Timeline was first exhibited at the 15th anniversary commemorating the death of buddy gray, the People’s Movement leader. This event drew approximately 300 people and was held at the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine, arguably the institution most associated with his work and legacy. The Timeline was also exhibited for prominent display at the annual fundraising dinner for the Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, an event that drew between 400-500 people. Comments were requested and received for the Timeline, as it is a working document. Students in the Residency Program in fall 2012 will be able to expand the Timeline and incorporate more of the People’s history.
Much has changed in Over-the-Rhine since the Residency Program began in fall 2006. The work of the Center and the Residency Program continues to learn and evolve through the community-based relationships that nurture us. This practice- rich environment has sharpened our theory of community engagement that social change happens when those of wealth, privilege, and power learn to cross borders, when those in the center engage the margins in an honest way. The work of the Center for Community Engagement is powerful and effective because it immerses students (and faculty) in a new setting, complemented by readings, seminars, reflection, community campaigns, and service. There is an important distinction here to make. While we do a fair amount of service, it is not at the core of what we do, and it isn’t what we mostly do. The Residency Program is not a service model. It’s a fully embodied pedagogical, curricular, and scholarship model that engages community rather than being content with “community service.” This model challenges students to move from a base of service to engagement and activism.
And when students do this, they are changed through the relationships they make with people and organizations of Over- the-Rhine; by those motivated by social justice and human rights. They are changed because the stories they heard before coming to Over-the-Rhine do not match up with the stories they came to live. They are changed by the eruption within themselves of “just anger,” because they come to see how easy it is for their neighbors to slip from helplessness to hopelessness to nothingness. And they are changed because they had the courage to question their assumptions and beliefs as they struggled to understand what they experienced in Over-the-Rhine and their own lives.
The students’ reflections of their time in Over-the-Rhine span a range and depth of experiences, and illustrate much about the students’ and community’s learning when borders are crossed in empathic ways. Students continue to see, against most media depictions about Over-the-Rhine, that the greatest unique value about the neighborhood is its people!
My experience in Over-the-Rhine was challenging, exciting, frustrating, eye-opening, and enjoyable. The time slipped by and I cannot help but feel a sense of sadness as our time here is closing. I have grown accustomed to the neighborhood, the people, their faces, their stories. The richness I have experienced has been found in the people I have encountered, got to know, and built relationships with. I have gained a new perspective and have been given the opportunity to see the world through a different lens.
The most significant personal transformation has been my changed perception of Over-the-Rhine and urban neighborhoods in general. Prior to coming here I knew very little of the neighborhood—but everything I heard was negative. When I would tell anyone about my plan to move to Over-the-Rhine, the responses were always the same—shock, followed by lectures on being safe and never walking alone. Considering the frequency of this response, I was considerably nervous about living in the neighborhood. But the past four months have proven that the mainstream perceptions and assumptions of the neighborhood do not tell an accurate story of its reality.
My service at Venice on Vine provided me with an opportunity to get to know a wonderful group of people— dedicated and over-worked staff members, committed tutors and volunteers, and of course, the trainees. Getting to know the trainees and hear of their struggles have certainly been the highlights of working at Venice on Vine. Everyday I walk in I am greeted with a smile. I laugh and make jokes with the trainees— they are all so energetic. I am always surprised and slightly caught off guard to hear of their past struggles—working with them everyday I have come to see them as co-workers; we laugh and have inside jokes together, their past struggles do not come up in conversation often. Yet, when they do, I am always inspired by their strength to overcome the barriers set before them. Theirs is a story of hope—and Venice on Vine plays a significant role in providing its trainees with renewed hope in their futures and confidence in themselves. Herein lies the beauty of Venice on Vine—it provides a positive, nurturing environment for individuals to start fresh and develop both personally and professionally. At Venice, you’re not defined or identified by past mistakes; you’re just another human being—with the same hopes and aspirations as anyone else, working to better yourself. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the organization.
This experience has provided me with an opportunity to engage with a wealth of different people from a diverse set of backgrounds. From fellow students who were strangers and are now close friends, to the residents, educators, and staff of countless social service agencies who tirelessly work to bring about positive social impact in their community. But most importantly—to all of those on the street who I have had the chance to get to know—they are the ones who have taught me the most. From them I have learned that stereotypes are horribly hurtful, that people homeless have a name, a face, and a story that would often surprise us, if we actually listen. I have learned the value of sharing a smile and a hello. I have learned that much can be gained by opening yourself to conversation. I have seen human beings being treated as though they were invisible and have seen the damaging effect this has on one’s spirit.
Through these experiences I have become increasingly sensitive to the negative way in which urban areas, low-income populations, and those homeless are referred to in the media and in society as a whole. Words such as ‘ghetto,’ ‘gentrification’ and ‘homeless’ now have an entirely new meaning. With this understanding comes the responsibility to educate others and speak out against the injustices that take place in Over-the-Rhine and in urban areas across the country. Our most valuable weapon is our voice—may this experience spark and inspire all those engaged to speak out and stand up for those most vulnerable.
Lastly, as a senior, I plan to take this newfound perspective and sense of advocacy with me as I set out to make my own imprint on the world around me.
It took me ten minutes to commit to the Residency Program.
My reasons were many, though they all seemed to change as my time in Over-the-Rhine grew. I came to Over-the-Rhine partially to give back. The victim of a physically and sexually abusive relationship, I am a survivor and a successful product of the judicial and psychological system that helps individuals overcome hardship. I wanted to provide the same shoulder for someone else. As well, I also possess a passion for construction and design, the main focus of our studio endeavors. What I found in Over-the- Rhine, however, was a community and people that had much more to teach me than I would ever truly be able to give them.
Yes, I am talking about the Over-the-Rhine, the community that your parents tell you never to enter, that advisors at surrounding universities tell their students to stay away from, the ghetto, the hood. Also, my favorite place I’ve ever lived.
Why, you ask? Over-the-Rhine is unique because of the people. Walking out of my apartment every morning, taking a lunch break during the day, coming back from the gym at night, each time you pass the same people. Some are experiencing homelessness, others living close by, but each smiles, says hello, most ask about your day and actually keep up with your life. It is a close-knit community, one that looks out for one another and cares about each individual. It is community devoted to social rights; the right to have shelter, to be fed daily, to keep warm in the cold of winter. It is a community taking charge of its own, working to ensure that neighbors and friends do not become ill or lose their lives simply because they do not have the means to acquire basic things. It is a community helping others to find their way through struggles, to get back on their feet. I love the community for what it has given me.
Our studio project focused on redesigning office spaces for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, the individuals who work to maintain social justice for those experiencing poverty. The faces I experienced each day were warm despite personal conflict, were engaging despite their effort to overcome struggle, and treated you just as they would treat anyone else despite the fact that your life is so much different. Outside of our studio work, I had the opportunity to mentor a group of eight girls who attended the local Rothenberg Preparatory Academy. These young women seemed quite a challenge. The reality, however, was that they were more of a mentor to us than we ever could have been to them. They opened my eyes to the harsh reality of the real world, to the potential that life as a child could have been quite different than the way I was raised. A fresh perspective on life. They also renewed the appreciation I have for my life, especially for the small things. The things that make you smile the most, the things least materialistic in nature. These girls and I developed a bond unlike any other I have ever formed.
What I was reminded of most and what I would encourage others to think about is that poverty is not always self-inflicted. I met veterans who had returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan who had no homes. I met businessmen whose companies couldn’t survive the recession. I met family members who could not afford shelter because of medical problems and the expense of medical services. And I met people who simply could not get hired because their circumstances led others to be hired instead. The point is, if you view poverty as “individuals did this to themselves,” then I encourage you to spend some time in Over- the-Rhine. I am not talking about walking down Main Street and sitting down for a fancy lunch, I am talking about serving people at the soup kitchen, engaging residents at the Drop Inn Center, spending some time at the Homeless Coalition. What you will find is that the people who are experiencing homelessness, many of their circumstances are ones that could be experienced by anyone sometime in their life.
I have begun to look at urban development in a different way. I don’t see fixed up buildings and brand new stores; I see the faces of people. I look to see if companies are working to make sure existing community members are valued. Overall, I analyze the effects of racism, classism, and econocide from a people’s point of view instead of a developer’s point of view.
I encourage others to go to Over-the-Rhine to live within the community. Open your eyes, let down your guard, and embrace people on a common level. What you will learn, and what you will experience, will carry with you positively for the rest of your life.
When I first moved into the neighborhood, I have to admit I was nervously anxious. I was anxious about being away from my life at Miami and having to face a whole new environment. I was comfortable at Miami and had everything in order. I arrived and suddenly had to learn to live on my own and face the new challenges set in front of me. But this feeling lasted only about two weeks. I quickly made friends, met neighbors, and had my schedule down. The people of the community immediately welcomed me, and this made me feel like this place of Over-the- Rhine was indescribably, uniquely special. I quickly started recognizing that everyone you pass on the street says hello regardless whether you are a stranger or not. This was new, considering most students at Miami are too busy on their cell phones or Ipods to greet you as they pass by. Each day, I grew more and more attached. I have deeply connected myself to the people, the sense of community, the hands-on building experience, the friends, the volunteer work, the city life, my apartment, and the sense of belonging. I have been granted the gift of a real life experience, instead of reading about it in a textbook or designing a hypothetical building.
This semester has meant being willing to try new things, openly wanting to learn, and being flexible. We had constantly changing schedules as new events would come up, but this was to our benefit because it allowed us to see and engage with so much more. We went to the grand opening of Friars’ Court, experienced the 15th anniversary commemoration of buddy gray’s death, questioned Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and other leaders at “The Right to the City Conference” at the University of Cincinnati, engaged with Occupy Cincinnati, led our Girl’s Group for the teens from Rothenburg, and helped with the flood at Peaslee.
I learned to make friends with random strangers, and after a few days we were no longer unfamiliar to each other. I grew close to Tom, our neighbor in the building next to ours.
He was always on his stoop and willing to chat with you about anything you like. Tom enjoys referring to himself as the “Mayor of Washington Park.” He was never shy about analyzing your parking job on the street either. He always made me laugh and remember not to take life too seriously. Lee, the Streetvibes vendor, was always eager to greet me and genuinely loved a good conversation. He always asked about our project at the Coalition and was always proud of our endeavors and of us. Overall, I I learned most from the young girls we mentored. They showed me the innocence of what it’s like to be a kid, yet they allowed me to see how different their childhood is from my own. They inspired me to make our world better so that we can all live higher quality lives, and they challenged me to understand not only what it is like to live in the city but also what it is like to be black and live in the city. They have honestly taught me as much as we have tried to teach them.
Our course on the American City provided us with the knowledge to how any city, and specifically Cincinnati, developed. Our other evening classes encouraged us to learn not just about the community, but the people. We discussed healthcare, education, housing, and how service organizations operate here in Cincinnati. The courses allowed us to see both the good and bad, and then determine our own opinions from there. Four our class on Designing and Writing for Social Change class we took our learning and put it into words and actions. It encouraged us to truly think about what we were feeling and question what we did not understand. I personally learned to embrace all of the events and activities going on and decided to make a point of incorporating them into my experience. We were here only sixteen weeks, but they were the most important, life- changing sixteen weeks of my life.
Over-the-Rhine was presented to me in fall 2009, but I truly didn’t understand all that the Residency Program offered. I just thought we would gain experience in architectural construction. This was partly true, in that we as architecture students gained valuable knowledge about how things are put together, but there’s so much more to the Program.
Moving in felt like any other school year, just in a different location. But that changed the first night. During our first evening out walking to acquaint ourselves with our new surroundings, we lost track of time. On our way home we were stopped by a man.
We were a little apprehensive at first, considering it was a new place as well as our social conditioning to fear this area. That was until Lee McCoy introduced himself, welcoming us to the neighborhood. From that moment on I knew I would adore it here and my love would only grow with time. This theory came true, and now I find it hard to leave Over-the-Rhine.
Becoming involved with the community was quite easy. I volunteered at Children’s Creative Corner every week, helped out at the Homeless Coalition when needed, and helped clean up buildings around the area in order to prepare them for rehabilitation. At first Creative Corner intimidated me with the kids back talking, hitting, throwing things, and even biting me.
But as time passed and the kids realized I was going to keep coming back they accepted me more. They knew my name, and they listened and actually engaged what I asked of them. From my time at Creative Corner I learned kids keep a guard up until they know who you are, which I think applies to all those living in the Over-the-Rhine. It’s almost as if there is an Over-the-Rhine code where its “every man for himself,” that is, until they know your standing within the community. Then people open up and tend to look after you.
We see this kindness everyday at the Homeless Coalition, which has become our second home here. We are renovating the second story of the Coalition for the fulltime employees’ offices. Each office will have natural light, which the first floor lacks. We also made the conference room a focal point in order to draw attention from the visitors that come to the space. We have successfully refinished the floor, put up two walls, a door frame, and ceiling panels. The space may not look like much yet but we know how much has been put into the space. We see the beauty in it. It has been a great joy to make a project come to life instead of a hypothetical project in a regular studio. It is also fantastic to be working with such great clients; they have been nothing but supportive and grateful throughout our entire process.
I feel passionately about the community here, and very sympathetic with the People’s Movement. I hope to keep my connections to the Movement and help out whenever I can.
At the beginning of the semester I was not sure of what I was getting myself into. I knew there would be an awesome studio project, a couple other classes, and a lot of service work. I now realize the classes were much more than your average classes. They brought you closer to those in the community. We reached out and let ourselves grow as well. It has been a journey to discover and evaluate where we stand on certain issues and how we can place ourselves in order to find justice and equality. I think an added bonus has been the introduction of the Occupy Cincinnati. The principles it stands for often align with the community organizations we have engaged.
Before now, I steered clear of politics. Now I feel differently; I feel more informed on issues and the problems they create, the people they destroy, and the places that bear the costs. I see why I wanted to stay out of politics all together, because for the most part policies do not always benefit all people. I feel more confident about making decisions about various political and politically-based issues, now based on experiences within the community and subjects we discussed in class.
One thing I will miss dearly are the kids at Children’s Creative Corner. After spending almost every Tuesday and Thursday there since August, I have built a connection with so many of them. It took a while to learn all of their names and who was related to whom. It has been a joy to see them create their masterpieces. Some evenings got a little crazy with crayons and markers flying from one end of the room to the other. Other times the space was nearly silent. Their smiling faces and hug attacks will carry with me in years to come.
The people in Over-the-Rhine are absolutely amazing. I owe a lot to these people. They have made me feel safe and welcome in this community. As a member of this community they look out for you. When I would tell people from home that I am living in Over-the-Rhine, they would just give me the look of insanity. They would question why on earth would I want to live there? It’s the people. Yes, the neighborhood is filled with amazing historic buildings and it’s within walking distance of pretty much anything you would need, but it’s the people that make this place. Too often people just see the boarded up buildings and crime reports in the paper. They look past the faces, ignore the people, and keep a negative opinion of the place.
Then there are my classmates who I spent hours upon days upon months with. I am going to miss the craft nights with them and the adventures to Fountain Square to get Graeter’s ice cream in any sort of weather. I came here with my best friend, of over fifteen years, knowing that the two of us would be able to support each other no matter what was thrown at us. And through the whole semester I have gained new friends.
The time I have spent here has been a total experience. Not just school work, not just volunteer work, but rather an absolute experience. I have learned more in just this one semester than much of my time at the university. We worked with the people that have made changes in a real community. We have shared a role in community.
Upon my arrival to Over-the-Rhine I looked forward to living close to the school where I would do my student teaching. I expected to have an easy transition as I had lived briefly in Over- the-Rhine before. What I did not expect was to wake up every morning and be surrounded by a community. I didn’t expect to see my children every day, all day, and not need a break from them. I wasn’t aware that teaching was a 24/7 position that allowed teachers no time to take their minds off their students.
I didn’t realize that the effort you put into your students would show tremendously in how they interact in the classroom, with their peers and with you as their teacher.
It is now time to walk away from the Residency Program but never away from the community of Over-the-Rhine itself and what I learned there. I consider myself to be comfortable in urban areas and with people who live there. It’s also important to say that the community we made within our house was as important as the one with Over-the-Rhine. Our interactions were a great way to think through our time.
I really enjoyed discovering the community. Working through Rothenberg Preparatory Academy I took on responsibility to start a girls’ group. The group was comprised of eight to ten young girls grades 5-8. The idea behind the group was to establish a place in the community that served as a safe place for the girls to go. They were a lively bunch and felt comfortable with me from the first meeting. One of the many incredible things that happened was the time and effort put in by other Miami Residency Program members. Their commitment to this was above and beyond. I was blown away by their dedication for the girls and for the opportunity to be available and open.
Relationships are built or destroyed everyday in this community. Simple interactions such as a head nod or a small hello often end up as a working relationship. We conversed with people on the streets, and learned the importance of the street as a public site of engagement.
I intend to continue working in and with the community for years to come. One of the greatest experiences I would like to be able to continue is the sense of survival. I tip my hat to the mothers, aunts, grandmas, and other women in this community who make it on less than the bare necessities. They are strong, confident survivors. I commend these women and their efforts towards the growth and success of the generations before them. These women wake up everyday with the burdens from before and yet make each day new. I hope to become as strong.
One day I want to be able to say that I’ve accomplished something through the success of others. I will evaluate my success based on the contentment of those around me.
I believe growth is the product of realization, acceptance, and change. Through the Residency Program I have experienced and observed growth. In Over-the-Rhine I was placed in situations that allowed me to challenge my fears and turn them into experiences. I was not alone in this growth. I was able to witness my peers make similar realizations. I was also able to see community members and children grow in our time there. They were able to see “white” people that cared and therefore it created a sense of comfort for them. I don’t have all of the answers, but I would like to think that I have put myself in the position to pose some incredible questions to lead me in the “right” direction, whatever that may be.
Four months ago I arrived at 108 West 14th St. in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine. Most of my family and friends gasped at this decision, though despite the hysteria over the issue I decided to accept my offer into the Residency Program. I realize the area stereotypically is not known for its welcoming atmosphere, but friendliness is present.
In a recent interview with Mike Rogers, a Westsider who now resides in Over-the-Rhine, he stated that during his youth he underwent hard times and fell into a drug daze. He said he came to Over-the-Rhine to either purchase or sell drugs and knew of other individuals that did the same thing. This scenario is simply heartbreaking to me. The individuals that live here get a bad rap for the actions of others. The rumors of this area being economically depressed and under served are true, though this does not reflect the individuals. In the same interview, Rogers told me that he knows a number of homeless individuals that “are the nicest people you will ever meet.” People who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness face stigmas that it is their own fault, or they’re lazy, or that they have done something wrong.
Rogers’ disagrees with those stereotypes, as do I, and states that many homeless individuals have never done anything wrong and have no criminal record at all.
My time here has been a thriving one. I was not afraid to come here in the first place, though I have become more comfortable with the area than I had anticipated I would. I love my house here, I’ve loved having my friends here and making
new ones. I’ve had a grand time exploring all the new stores and restaurants. I have learned to live in an urban environment and have had the ability to step beyond my own level of comfort. My tutoring sessions at Venice on Vine have been life-learning for me and I hope for those tutored as well. Also, on Tuesdays I got to know a wonderful group of young women from the area. Despite their strong personalities and sometimes uncharacteristic manners they are nothing short of what I am sure I was at 12 years old: loud, lively, and completely consumed with clothes, music, and boys.
My time here has been wonderful and life-changing. I have so much more empathy for people less fortunate than me. I hope to one day have the ability to live close to this area again. I love the urban life, and the endless possibilities of a close community.
I am leaving with a positive image of Over-the-Rhine and ready to share it!
My time here in Over-the-Rhine was well spent. This is the first semester of college that I can boast more days in class than out (for health reasons), and I’m very happy about that. It has allowed me to completely immerse myself in the experience, living among a culture different from my own. And yet, it is the same. Over- the-Rhine is an urban setting, yes. It has its violence, and its own myriad of problems. There are the run-down portions, and the beautified portions. However, there is nothing here (besides perhaps an absence of grass) that I haven’t seen in my own hometown of Lima.
Things will be misunderstood anywhere. That’s exactly what’s happening here. If you mention Over-the-Rhine to someone who’s never been here for any length of time, they immediately get a concerned expression. All anyone hears about on the news are the various random crime related stories that take place. And most of them are blown out of proportion. What they don’t hear about is the wonderful community that has been built by the all the people down here over the years, and that continues to stand firm in the local residents. Without all of those people down here, day in and day out, smiling, working, and talking, Over-the-Rhine would not exist.
I came here to try something new, gain some experience and hopefully a new perspective for life, and to do something concrete. I wanted to do a project that I could actually be proud of: something that existed, was worth something to someone, and that I worked on with my own two hands. The Residency Program gave me that opportunity. It brought me into the midst of many people and organizations that do intensive things, on a daily basis, for hard-working people. Without them, everyday people would become homeless, fail to get an education, or lack proper food and clothing. All of these things have shown me ways I need to improve upon design and the system at large in my future methods. I will always be grateful for that. And I will strive to carry on the things I’ve learned here, and adapt them to the things I will continue to learn.
I thrive on human interaction and I love working with my hands. I absolutely enjoyed the studio project all semester. I couldn’t be more proud of it. But when I think of what I’ll miss around here, my mind automatically goes to people. Sometimes it’s my studio mates and John Blake in a work setting, sometimes in a social setting. Sometimes it’s the people at the coalition and all their cheeriness and gratitude. Sometimes it’s my neighbor Tom and all the random, awesome conversations we had. And sometimes it’s just the vague instances of walking around the city and connecting with different people I’ve come to know over the semester. It’s been an experience. One that I’ll take with me to the various places I go from here.
My experience here has been a good one but it has not been life-changing. Over-the-Rhine is similar to a neighborhood five minutes away from my home. Instead of a predominant African American population it is a Hispanic and Somali populated area. So Over-the-Rhine was not a big shock to me, except for the extent of homelessness. My notice of homelessness was because the Residency Program immersed us into that part of the neighborhood’s culture.
The best part about the Program was the fact I was able to help many people, even though it was in small ways. And when I say help I mean I have been able to assist people and organizations. I have gained much from the people in Over-the- Rhine. For example, in Oxford I was one of those people who listened to their iPod while walking to class. In Over-the-Rhine I have been unable to do so. When you walk past people they say, “hi,” instead of walking past you without a word. This has been a big change I see in myself.
I was pleased with the classes we had. I am a kinetic learner, so all of this semester’s hands-on training in designing and building have done wonders for me. With the studio I learned much because I was actually doing it. At times balancing all the courses was overwhelming. It was an adjustment; after many weeks I was able to manage my time and work through it.
Affordable housing and homelessness are two big Over- the-Rhine issues. They are ever present, and it frustrates me to see so many people suffering. I cannot say I understand these issues completely, mostly because I have not been homeless, not yet anyways. I am a strong believer that if you want something bad enough you will work for it, though the odds are becoming worse and threatening any success. 3CDC and other developers are building more market-rate condos, such that affordable housing is becoming more difficult to find. I know one needs a job to get housing, and if one has a criminal record it is very hard to get that job. And I saw first-hand how the market is tight for jobs.
This semester has helped me figure out what I would like to do when I am older. Before coming to this Program I wanted to go into renovation and construction management. This semester’s project only reassured me that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
My experiences student teaching at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy in Over-the-Rhine changed everything for me. It turned all of my ideals, visions, and hopes into a reality. Of course it did slap the reality of frustrations, horror, and raw sadness in my face as well. I think that if I had opted to complete my student teaching anywhere else, I would become an average teacher. I am not placing a value judgment on those teachers who choose to teach in the suburbs. However, Rothenberg gave me this opportunity.
It is now almost 8 pm and I feel like it is midnight. I am in the first full week of my very first teaching job. I teach sixth grade at a large school north of Cincinnati. The demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds of the student population are similar to those of Rothenberg. I believe I was able to get this job a mere two weeks following my graduation because of my passion for urban education and my experiences at Rothenberg. When I tell people that I was teaching at a school in Over-the-Rhine, I get one of two reactions. I either get ‘props’, ‘kudos’ and looks of astonishment, or I get pity and judgment.
I love teaching. Some days, like today, I don’t love as much, but when asked by students and teachers alike, I always respond with the truth—yes, I love my job. It would have been difficult for me to accept a job in a suburban or middle to upper- class school district—which is why I hardly applied to any. This is why sometimes I am taken aback by people’s reactions when they look at me with shock when I tell them what I do. It is hard not to get offended—for my students’ sake.
Completing my student teaching at Rothenberg allowed me to find my inner-politician, my inner-policy-maker, and my inner ‘I won’t take crap’ voice. It helped me to focus my teaching philosophy: “I believe that education is the single most important means for an individual to mobilize in society. Children should be listened to because I believe their insights are valuable. I believe that creating meaningful relationships with students serves as the foundation of an effective learning environment.”
I wrote this philosophy statement during my last week of teaching at Rothenberg—a very emotional and difficult week. Rothenberg taught me that teaching in an urban environment goes way beyond educating a child. It involves clothing, feeding, driving that child home, and loving that child. I was never more exhausted and I was never more frustrated than I was in those sixteen weeks. But I became a teacher—a teacher who cares about children as individuals.
On the way home from work today I was listening to NPR and two segments got my blood boiling. Prior to living in Over-the-Rhine and teaching there, I may not have had the same reaction. The first segment discussed the fact that GPS systems now have an ‘avoid the ghetto’ application. I was appalled because this application further solidifies the outlook of the average white, middle-class American that in order to avoid crime and danger, one must avoid blacks. Secondly, I heard on NPR that 3CDC was is trying to move two homeless shelters in Over-the-Rhine to a new location out of the neighborhood. One of the two shelters is the Drop Inn Center—a shelter where I saw my students walk to and from school. My blood boiled and I simmered in the heat of injustice that I just heard in two radio segments in the same hour. My experience in the Residency Program turned me into an opinionated, news-savvy, justice freak.
I hope that my students will reap the benefits of my experiences in the Residency Program more than I’ve had. I am thankful for that.
Looking at my experiences in Over-the-Rhine, I can think of several great clichéd terms such as ‘eye-opening,’ or ‘life-changing,’ or something like that. But a place as interesting as Over-the-Rhine deserves better than that. If Over-the-Rhine merely opened eyes, there would be no Drop-Inn Center, no Homeless Coalition, no Venice on Vine. These came to exist because the people, plight, and inherent power of this neighborhood impact every sense and nerve when you open yourself to it. It doesn’t just open your eyes, it makes you walk, talk, and think differently.
Over-the-Rhine is a tale of two distinct worlds. There are the new businesses and residents, and then there are the old residents. There are the worlds of Main and Vine Streets, and then there is everything else.
Main and Vine have been dressed up with tidy restaurants and classy storefronts. People come from other parts of the city to eat and drink there after work or on the weekend, and then they go back to their homes elsewhere. New residents live in renovated apartments. The area is marketed for young professionals. It is a place to live before you get married and have a family at which time you, of course, move out to the suburbs.
While having nice bars and restaurants close by is admittedly nice, a looming injustice spoils every bite and sip just a little bit. This area that has been home to families for generations is being designed for someone else. Over-the-Rhine is being whitened and the current population is just being erased.
Despite the imported whiteness that has become the face of Vine Street, three buildings, right in the midst of all this, still give me hope to see the best that Over-the-Rhine can be for everyone. Right across from a new restaurant where you can spend ten dollars on a hot dog, there is a place called the Recovery Hotel, a supportive housing model for those suffering from chronic addiction, homelessness, and disability. Just down the street is buddy’s Place, named for neighborhood leader, buddy gray [sic]. buddy’s Place is also designated supportive housing for those just out of homelessness. And across the street from buddy’s is the ‘best pizza in the city,’ award-winning Venice on Vine. Venice on Vine is dedicated to job-training and tutoring for those who have barriers in their background that prevent them from employment. They help people who normally would have no chance to train, create resumes, and improve their interview presence. These institutions existing on the same streets with expensive bars and businesses offer the opportunity for people of different backgrounds to interact on common ground, not for the purpose of ‘trickle down’ economics or cultural correction, but to end judgments and move past stereotypes. The potential exists to create a mutually beneficial environment.
My experience in Over-the-Rhine taught me all this in a way that learning about a place from statistics or history could never touch. I now consider citizenship to be the most important thing I have learned in this program. Citizenship isn’t voting and reading the newspaper, though those are both good.
Real citizenship is acting as a piece of a community, not as an individual. Citizenship is living for the benefit and betterment of everyone. While it is often difficult to see, plenty of this exists in Over-the-Rhine. It’s in the Rothenberg’s parent center, where children start their day with proper clothing, hygiene, food, and love, even if parents can’t provide for them. It’s in Over-the- Rhine Community Housing with their making sure every tenant is taken care of. It’s in Merchants on Main, who care about the vitality of Over-the-Rhine. Because this citizenship exists so strongly, I have faith that new and old residents of Over-the- Rhine can learn to live together.