Miami’s University Over-the-Rhine Residency Program completed its fifth iteration in the fall semester of 2010.
Eight of the twelve students in this year’s cohort were architecture/interior design majors, with the remainder coming from anthropology, art education, and business.
Chris DeLuca, an alumnus of the first Residency cohort in 2006, continued as our Resident Coordinator. In addition to his work at Peaslee Neighborhood Center and urban green initiatives around Over-the-Rhine, Chris lived on site with Miami students, and held weekly common dinners with the students and community residents. Chris understood the role of the community dinners in helping students acclimate to the community. The dinners complemented the students’ coursework and their service-learning experiences; they were the places where relationships were started and conversations deepened. In keeping with his adventurous spirit, Chris has moved to China to teach English. We wish him well.
Professor Marcia England, who taught in the Residency Program in Fall 2008, rejoined us with her course GEO 458 Cities of Difference. Jennifer Summers, Community Education Coordinator at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center and a former resident of Over-the-Rhine, taught her Service-Learning course again. And I taught my ARC 427 The American City Since 1940 to round out the three core courses offered at the Center for Community Engagement.
Bonnie Neumeier, long-term resident and Community Liaison to the Residency Program, again held invaluable weekly sessions for journal writing and reflection. She was involved in all aspects of the program, from supervising the service-learning experiences, team-teaching classes, and overseeing the students’ engagements in community-based campaigns.
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 projects for two different community groups.
The first was for Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) with the renovation of a three-room office/meeting room for tenants at buddy’s Place, home to tenants just out of homelessness. From the opening of the affordable housing project in 1999 the office/meeting space was conceived as a space where the social worker for OTRCH and residents could meet. Due to budget limitations, the space remained unfinished until the students tackled the project. Though only three rooms, the extensive program included a new accessible bathroom, a kitchenette, and a conference room with a custom-designed meeting table fabricated by students from scrap lumber found in the space. Students also fabricated concrete counter tops, installed new bamboo flooring, walls, poplar millwork and trim, and a large glass door assembly which provides access to an exterior terrace with commanding views of Over-the-Rhine.
The second client was the Peaslee Neighborhood Center. Here the students were asked to appraise the entire building- to evaluate the building’s operations/programming, systems, envelope, and fenestration to ascertain both short and long term architectural solutions. Modular storage units were designed and built for toys and play equipment used by the young children of the daycare program.
In our Community Assistance work, students worked in neighborhood organizations that serve low and moderate income citizens, 24-27 hours per week. They worked at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, Venice on Vine, the Contact Center, and one student worked outside of the neighborhood at the Respite Center in Avondale. Our art education major worked as student teacher at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy. A special thanks goes out to Tammy Schwartz of the School of Education, Health, and Society, who as part of the administrative team mentored this student teacher.
In our Community Advocacy and Agit-Prop work, students collaborated with a broad-based constituency to bring forth the People’s Platform for Equality and Justice, which articulates the vision of Over-the-Rhine and other urban neighborhoods from the point of view of the city’s most vulnerable citizens. A project spearheaded by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, students were directly involved in the draft of the language, the graphic design of the document itself as well as the design of several flyers for neighborhood dissemination to encourage citizen participation in meetings and events. The ten points of the People’s Platform developed through this process are:
- We want neighborhoods where all citizens are respected and appreciated for who they are. We don’t want to be overpowered by corporate interests. We believe healthy neighborhoods have real democratic decision-making power. We believe empathy and the quest for understanding are core values for social life.
- We want full employment for our people with meaningful jobs and livable wages.
- We want policies, legislation, and development projects to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
- We want the renovation of Washington Park to welcome all citizens and to be maintained as a genuine public space.
- We want the assault on Metropole residents to stop.
- We want the assault on the Drop Inn Center to stop.
- We want commercial development that serves existing neighborhood residents.
- We want our urban core neighborhoods to be racially and economically integrated with housing options affordable to all income levels.
- 9 We want an auditing system in place to make sure that the mixture of household incomes called for by participatory neighborhood plan are on track.
- We want “Shared Equity.”
The Center appreciates the many individuals and organizations in Over-the-Rhine that nurture and shape the Residency Program. We have learned much about student, faculty, and community learning through our engagement with the community over the past five years. Our model for engagement takes us beyond those based upon charity or noblesse oblige. At the core of our practices, students work with neighborhood organizations and build trusting relationships with residents. Through courses, research, and active service students assist that which is already in motion, dedicated to a community vision that is inclusive and socially and economically just. Education sharpens when real life is at stake.
The students’ reflections of their time in Over-the-Rhine this past fall span a range and depth of experiences, and illustrate much about the students’ and community’s learning when borders are crossed in empathic ways.
Looking back on these past months in Over-the-Rhine, I recall many fond memories, even more amazing people, and so much change. Change of heart. Change of mind. Change of outlook. All change for the better. Forever.
In Over-the-Rhine, a place that all too many fear, I have learned far more than any textbook could ever teach me. I have seen myself look at life from a different perspective. I have witnessed new things, listened with someone else’s ears, looked through someone else’s eyes, and walked through someone else’s shoes. This was much different than what I have ever known. Yet, there too are the smiles and friendly faces, hellos and stories, that made it all worthwhile. These people that many try to avoid, I have fallen in love with. For their hope for the future. Their inspiration for a better tomorrow. Their commitment to a neighborhood they love and cherish.
Through the design/build studio, working with Over-the- Rhine Community Housing at buddy’s place and creating an office/meeting space for a social worker and the formerly homeless residents of the building, I didn’t know the impact this seemingly small space could possibly have on the residents and the community. Hearing the excitement from the residents of buddy’s place about their new space was evidence enough to know our work truly touched not one person, but many. As I was taking a community member through the space at our open house, she was literally brought to tears. The dream for this space on the fourth floor of buddy’s place, balcony and all, had finally become a reality after so many years. The residents finally had a space and rooftop courtyard they could call their own, and to celebrate their wonderful life.
Additionally, working with Peaslee Neighborhood Center over the course of the semester, hearing their amazing story, meeting their wonderful staff and program coordinators, I am so happy to be able to be a part of the outstanding work they are doing in the community-even if it was just to provide them with some simple storage solutions and some thoughts for the future of their building.
I spent most of my Tuesday and Thursday evenings with the students at Children’s Creative Corner, an art class open to any child of age 5-14 of the neighborhood. This was a delightful experience for me. All the hectic crazy nights, the glue, the paint, the popcorn everywhere. The troubled times of trying to calm little Maurice down. The peaceful times of playing Connect Four with Elijah and Amari. All of it. I have loved getting to know the children of this wonderful neighborhood, gaining a glimpse into their lives and learning through their eyes. The kids, though rowdy as they may be sometimes, have given me hope for the future of Over-the-Rhine.
As I have sensed it, this Residency Program has been the source for me to not only serve this Over-the-Rhine community in many various ways, but to get to know them for who they really are as well. It is this kind of engagement-not just serving someone for a day and then leaving, but continually working with them as you live beside them, getting to know them for who they truly are-that I prize and love. I have come to know many amazing people here, who are so full of life and joy and a gratitude for everything around them. In trying to help them, they have in turn helped me more than I could ever know. They give me hope for the future, that everything is not always as bad as it seems, and that people really can make a difference.
I am sad to leave this wonderful place, but I know a piece of it and its people will always be with me-their friendliness to a stranger, their hope, their smiles, their stories, and the way they have touched my heart and life forever.
In the city, everything relates. There are walls of brick and narrow alleyways and the screeching of the bus stopping on its route. There are four-floor walk-ups and street-level stores, boarded up buildings and those newly renovated. Sirens pierce the night. Arguments are often public and occur at all hours.
They brew in the street under our windows at 5 am. Yelling from Washington Park almost always puts me to bed. Hot August nights teach lessons in how public the city can be. Noise becomes powerful, a springboard which sparks my curiosity.
The volume has been turned up, a volume that cannot be turned down, no matter if I am surrounded by silence.
In September, the volume is created. I am still an outsider. Everything becomes routine, wake up, go to studio and get your hands dirty, go to another class and talk, eat dinner, study. At glance, routine is not exciting, but it is powerful. It allows you to soak into your surroundings as everything becomes more comfortable. The smells and faces here are becoming familiar. The volume is just starting. A new vocabulary is emerging: gentrification, mixed-income, suburbia, poor, community. Thinking has reached a new level, which becomes more intertwined as weeks pass. Each week brings a new issue: homelessness, affordable housing, capitalism, education, globalization, jobs, and gap. Reading, analysis, and reflection consumes my life. Gently, routine submits to complete acceptance of my surroundings and an ever-increasing volume inside.
Soon the howls of summer slowly vanish. Residents start anticipating the uncontrollable, cold months of the year. The community braces for what is ahead. The controversial developments of Washington Park come with screams of the people who want to be heard. Where will the homeless go this winter? Who will this community cater to in the future? Over- the-Rhine is on the brink of combustion. Balanced by those who care and fight for its future. October awakens to the history of the people, scarred by their struggles, and weary of their future. Sidewalks are familiar.
November becomes numb. The volume is overwhelming. So many people are at a disadvantage. They do not fit in to the typical picture of America. They live with standards far below those of others. Society criminalizes, judges, and casts out people; denies them of their rights, blames them, and sets the system against them. Compassion exists, yet, dedication to true social change remains a threshold, talked about but not crossed. People help the poor and the homeless, but this is just a temporary solution. More permanent changes remain in the dreams of those who fight for Over-the-Rhine’s residents. The community has embraced and shared its stories with us. It has called us to think of its people and what they stand for. Thanksgiving comes with many blessings and many thanks for those who care for the well-being of others.
The sharp air of December has breached the community. The snow falls early this year. Our bodies are forced to adjust to the cold months. Our experience is almost over, but the volume will never be gone. The final push to complete our academic work is made, while talk of adjustment back into our past and future lives is spoken. Belongings start to be placed in boxes, to be moved to a new place with new experiences, but the community that is Over-the-Rhine remains in our minds.
Public to those who walk its sidewalks, know its streets, and talk to their neighbors. Private to those who fear its boundaries, exclude themselves from its people, and develop buildings without consciousness. Over-the-Rhine is a community full of front stoop dwellers, sidewalk conversations, and strategic development meetings, one full of the beauty of people, their acceptance, and their sharing.
This semester has been emotionally challenging, academically lax, and intellectually expansive. I learned how to barter over fish and asparagus at Findlay market. I have practiced the art of declining cat calls, navigating one-ways, saying no to cocaine, and I like to think I have done my part in helping out a small non-profit.
I have been given the time to grapple with some big issues that-while generally aware of-I have never been able to tackle face-to-face. I have single handedly witnessed the complexities and emotions of what people call “gentrification.” I have re-evaluated my own career path as my understanding of American economics has expanded and I have processed and reprocessed my ability to cope with the realities of the world while negotiating my own place within it.
What has really gone on here has been a process of growth. It came, I think, in different moments of inspiration, of depression, of hopelessness, of stubbornness, and reflection. Never before have I helped a homeless woman-drunk and laying in her own pee-off of the sidewalk and given her something to eat and rush off to class in the hope that she would recover. Never before have I felt threatened by the presence of a group of men walking behind me, their taunts growing louder and more vulgar as I clenched a key between my knuckles and sped up. Never before has my whiteness or class been called out on a daily basis, marking me as an outsider, as a minority, or as a threat to a community feeling the pressure of change.
There were times this semester I felt overwhelmed with a growing sense of emotional overload followed by a personal distancing of myself from the need I was consistently exposed to. Coming home from the Contact Center, which has no money and yet continues to fight against poverty, only to go to class and learn about the injustices our world faces and then walk home through a neighborhood filled with need was at times difficult. There were days when I spent all my intern time interviewing people who were in desperate need of healthcare or could not afford to take care of their families. Then, when finally having the spare time to grapple with these issues, I was so overwhelmed with emotion I felt like all I wanted to do was take myself away from it.
How do you tell a generation of children suffering from poor school systems, who have never been told they have the ability to go to college, that education is the key to their success? How do you reach out to the political powers of our State from the office of a place that cannot afford to buy computer paper? Is gentrification really the only solution to a community crippled by high poverty? Who defines when a community is of mixed-income? Will mixed-income, in and of itself, save the poor from their poorness? In a world where capital is king, should we be fighting gentrification or the deeper systematic injustices that have worked to fuel it? Where does one begin, and in what capacity, to take a stand?
I do not have all of the answers to these questions. But by living here and experiencing life here, I have expanded my understanding of just how the solutions to these problems may be procured. Sitting at the fundraising dinner for the Coalition for the Homeless, surrounded by the faces of people I have worked with throughout the neighborhood, I saw in a moment what change looks like. Here in a room filled with long-time community activists, grant writers, sponsors, donors, college students, and a myriad of others in between, I was in the midst of community development. Through these people, words become actions. Ideas become movement. Energy becomes change.
I am very thankful for my time here. I will forever remain connected in an attempt to live beyond my own individual existence. I will continue to tell others the important lessons that I have learned here. And wherever my career path leads, I will maintain awareness and a connectedness to those less fortunate so that I may forever be humbled by the bigness of the world. The people I have met have been truly inspiring, challenging, and moving.
I came to Over-the-Rhine with culturally experienced eyes, but a very rudimentary understanding of the social, economic and political forces that act on urban society. I have travelled to many countries around the world, have seen all types of poverty and excessive wealth, and political, economic and social systems. Being from Detroit, I know how destitute some inner cities have become. Because of these factors I cannot honestly say that I was really shocked by anything I encountered on the streets of Over-The-Rhine. What really got me this semester, though, was learning about why things are the way they are and how the community has come together to combat those forces.
Over the course of the semester, I learned more than I have ever learned about the creation of the ghetto, welfare, poverty, the interconnectivity of race and class, gentrification, mixed-income housing and lastly, community. I was baffled by how much had been going on in these realms of which I had simply never heard, to which I had never been exposed. I find this incredibly disturbing because I have come to realize how invaluable this knowledge is, how important it is to understand the urban core, especially if you want to work or live there, which is what I want to do.
I hope to eventually return to Detroit and work in the inner-city. The semester has become irreplaceable in that it has taught me many of the skills I will eventually need when I return to my hometown. It has taught me the importance of true community, meaning the value of loving your neighbors and allowing community to flourish within and out of its own self. It is as if trying too hard to create a community ruins it and tends to end in the exclusion of certain people, something I have witnessed here in Over-The-Rhine. I hope to never forget this and use this knowledge to foster community in my own life.
The interview I had with Al Rohs taught me how valuable it is to connect with people. He has become such an influential figure in Over-The-Rhine for the simple fact that he listens and helps everyone.
As I leave this place, I hope to never forget the things I have learned here. I plan on returning from time to time, so that I may witness how Over-the-Rhine continues to grow and change and how true community continues to thrive in the streets of Over-the-Rhine. In every way imaginable, including random encounters, new friendships, and an abundance of information, this semester has made me confident in my ability to create change.
I am now overloaded with information about the city, which has forced me to create my own opinions about the information we have discussed. I am now confident and capable of having an intellectual conversation with others about urban society and providing support for my arguments when challenged. My understanding of the world has grown substantially and I credit this Residency Program with pushing me to the edge of my beliefs.
A healthy tension characterized my time in Over-the- Rhine-the delicate balance of preserving the romance but at the same time uncovering the reality of the neighborhood, its challenges and its strengths. There is plenty to romance about Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood with a history embodied in the very buildings that comprise it, unsullied by modern glass towers like the central business district or the vinyl siding of the suburbs. However, these old buildings have been witness to decades of economic deprivation, isolation, and a myriad of other social ills. The neighborhood has a bohemian vibe with new bars and arts venues popping up. However, the artists and the hipsters exist largely in isolation from the poor mostly black residents of the neighborhood.
It seems unlikely that the world is going to suddenly rethink neoliberalism, nor does it seem likely that, as the economists tell us, the kinks (namely massive income inequality and a huge reserve army of labor) will iron themselves out. The unfortunate state of the public sphere and widespread narcissism makes the likelihood of a youth movement cropping up in universities laughable. Not to mention the irony of a globalization resistance teach-in occurring in a lecture hall where the chairs, the wallboard, and all of the electronics were made in China. Is there hope for progressive social change in absence of the movement? Maybe. One of the side effects of the renewed interest in urban living is that more and more people are talking about Over-the-Rhine and determining its future. I am one example, as a potential long-term resident of the neighborhood I am happy to see development in the neighborhood and I do patronize the cafes, bars, and other establishments. Likewise I am eagerly anticipating the construction of the streetcar. But, I am also deeply concerned about the availability of low-income housing in the neighborhood. There is a place for both, and there are people, probably including many of the new upscale residents, that want both. Perhaps, the key to success is getting these new residents to rally behind the cause of decent, safe, low-income housing as well as the schools, public safety, and public spaces that make communities work. In the absence of the movement will a movement be enough? Can the preservationists, the activists, the capitalists, and the dreamers agree on enough to make real progress?
Everyone likes to talk about what they found in Over- the-Rhine-again the delicate balance of romance and reality. It is too easy and disingenuous to say that I found community, joy, hope, peace, and simplicity. Not that any of these are untrue- indeed at some point throughout the semester I found or felt
all of them. However, I also saw someone die on the street, felt afraid walking alone at night down twelfth street, and spent a lot time feeling awkward. I like this neighborhood enough to want to move here and to continue volunteering when I am able, and that is perhaps the most telling sign.
Prior to my experience in Over-the-Rhine I knew very little about the city of Cincinnati, let alone the unique neighborhood that I would be living in for the next four months. I knew nothing about the people I would see and walk past every day, nothing about the community, and nothing about the experience I was about to embark on. My only previous impression of Over-the-Rhine was that it was once rated “one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in America.”
Living and student-teaching in Over-the-Rhine proved exciting and challenging. At first, the “culture shock” of the neighborhood was even greater than I had experienced before in my travels to foreign countries. The people look, speak, and act completely different than me, and that was something that was hard to grasp when I was responsible for teaching the children of this neighborhood. Their background and surroundings gave them a different platform for learning than I grew up with.
From day one in the art classroom of Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, I was forced out of my comfort zone and into the extremely diverse lives of these children. They taught me so much. I was able to see true community through the eyes of children, as well as what some students all over the country are subjected to simply because of race. The difference I saw between my education and theirs is that my education was practically handed to me by my parents. I had to work hard in school, but I always had someone behind me pushing me and encouraging me, even if I didn’t see the goal. For most of the children in Over-the-Rhine, it can be a struggle just to get to school most days. Many of them only get meals at school, and don’t have the same opportunities to participate in sports and extracurricular activities as I did. My experience in the school gave me a great appreciation for my parents, and for the opportunities that I was handed as a child. More than ever I saw the great need for positive role models in the lives of children, no matter what their socio-economic background may be.
Overall, my semester proved to be the start of an improved outward look on society. This has given me an awareness of real issues that people may be subjected to, regardless of their skills or talents. I have gained much knowledge about the history of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine that I might otherwise have never known. Even though Over- the-Rhine is a small community, being engaged this semester has made my world so much larger. I would recommend this Program to any student at Miami; for the exposure to the diverse reality of life for people different than themselves.
As my semester in Over-the-Rhine drew to a close, there was a small but nagging part of me that was interested in finding an experience that could be used to easily illustrate all I had done and learned. However, like many other goals, expectations, and plans this semester, this quest proved to be misguided. Thus, the semester for me became one of challenge and conflict, though in a positive, enjoyable, meaningful way.
The first point of contention centered on basic patterns of social interaction. While I was keenly aware that I was more comfortable in this type of place than others seemed to expect, I also sought to temper this confidence with the knowledge that such an outlook could insulate me from many of the important lessons to be learned. This challenged both my own personal behavior, as I sought to be uncomfortable in a way that seemed unnatural, and my interaction with others in the Program. As the semester progressed, however, I realized that the expectations of ‘the Program’ were not nearly as important as the opportunities for growth that may have been unique to me.
The second source of conflict was one of worldview or perspective. On an economic or political level, my background and the background of many of those with whom-and under whom-I studied was very different. While growing up in a conservative middle-class family in the first-ring suburbs of Cleveland certainly made this difference of opinion more familiar, it did nothing to reconcile what I was thinking, feeling, and learning easier. While ignoring the views I travelled to Cincinnati with or ignoring the lessons being taught in Over-the-Rhine were not options, a resolution of this conflict was necessary to make this a meaningful experience.
Furthermore, the views of those around me were not such that they could serve as models for my own growth. Those who shared my religious background, for the most part, put their beliefs into action in a way I could not understand or support. Those who shared the practical components of my worldview were wildly different than I in terms of theoretical beliefs. Thus I was forced to integrate lessons from the past and present in a unique way.
The third challenge was to reflect in a meaningful way.
The realization that many of the lessons learned over this semester would not be apparent until much later conflicted with the high priority placed on immediate reflection in many of the classes and discussions. Of course, I could have reflected on the lessons I thought I was supposed to learn, the lessons those around me were learning, or even the lessons I thought I was learning. However, in each of those scenarios, the actual ability to learn and reflect later would be compromised. Thus, my reflections were often not what was expected, requested, or assigned as I tried to set up the most meaningful experience for myself on a broader scale and leave room for lessons to be learned well into the future.
The fourth difficulty was that of how to discuss this experience moving forward. The discourse in many of the group discussions implied that this discussion would be difficult and possibly contentious, though my personal experience seemed to suggest otherwise. Instead, I struggled to decide whether to explain what I saw in Over-the-Rhine, what I did there, or what I felt and thought. However, I soon realized that contriving a story to tell would be both dishonest and limiting. Thus, during the open house at the semester’s end, we decided to expand the normal discussion of our experience to allow a meaningful account of what we were thinking and feeling as a group to replace the usual short, ambiguous, repetitive narratives.
The common thread that weaves these four challenges together is that of honesty. Though, on the surface the idea that all of these conflicts are best solved by simply being honest, the profound lessons come in how exactly this honesty looks and feels and manifests itself in these specific situations. In the first case, honesty was embodied in often ignoring the expectations and discussions about social interaction and contributing my own thoughts and experiences without being bound by what was expected of me. In the second, there was an equal measure of setting aside the expectations of others, though the focus was much more emphatically placed on honestly evaluating what I believed and what I learned, and integrating the two equally. In the third scenario, the honest reflection I sought to produce and provide turned out to be valuable both in the moment as a more meaningful experience than I expected. Finally, as I seek to explain this experience to others, I have found value in stepping back and letting the format of the discussion or the questions of others guide me. Responding to these conditions with the most honest account has proven both a meaningful tool for reflection and an accurate method of communication.
Living in Over-the-Rhine did not extremely impact my personal life. As a Hispanic living in the United States, I have encountered difficult situations many times. Being from Mexico and coming from a working class background, I have experienced racial differences in this country at work, out with friend, or when I shop at any store.
There was one experience that resonated with my own life. In early December I went to Canticle Cafe to hear two men speak about how growing up in the neighborhood impacted their lives. Aaron was incarcerated when he was 16 years old, and he spent 16 years in prison. He recently got out and is working hard to find a job to support his recently born daughter. He struggles to find work because of his criminal background. He wants to help the community and be an example for future children. T.J. had similar issues even though he spent less time in prison; he regrets the bad choices he made as a young child. Both of them have had rough lives but they are trying desperately to improve them.
When I heard them speak, they instantly reminded me of a few friends back in Mexico. They were also imprisoned for things they did. As a young child I was raised in the city. Similar to Aaron’s and T.J’s. stories I grew up around gang members. I made bad decisions, but I am fortunate for reacting before something major happened. Although, I never sold drugs or shot anyone I have been in serious vandalism gang riots. I am fortunate and thankful for my parents who made the decision to bring me here and join them when they did. I do not regret growing up in Mexico with my grandparents.
They always provided me with everything they could. I think of what could’ve happened to me if I had stayed in Mexico. I could be married with kids, which likely would have ended my education. I will strongly admit that its hard to hear Aaron’s and T.J’s. stories because they reminded me of my friends and the things they are probably going through.
Over-the-Rhine taught me to become more educated about issues of urban poverty, race, gentrification, and city segregation. The neighborhood, my housemates, and the courses made me focus deeply on my studies. It was a good way to challenge and experience part of my career in a different environment away from my family. This experience will encourage my extended family and friends to go to college and strive for something more than being construction workers or restaurant employees. To be the oldest of my siblings and the first child of my immediate and extended family to ever attend college is difficult. Someday I can look back to this community and show my parents and siblings a good example of my career.
I think the courses were excellent. They challenged my way of thinking and writing skills. I think I’ve improved my speaking skills. I am more confident to discuss and raise my voice during class discussions.
I am not the person I was when I swung open the gate at 1324 Race St. in August. That girl was quiet, scared, and certain she knew what she wasn’t. I could never let anyone see this.
I was eternally fearful of saying, doing, or believing the wrong things. I never wanted to offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable. But something happened. I was uncomfortable. My domes of Oakwood and Oxford had been lifted, but it felt as if they had been violently ripped away from me.
I smiled on the sidewalk and floated through classes with an air of intention and belonging, but once I was safely alone, I was broken. I was not experiencing what I was supposed to. On the surface, everyone else assimilated into this community flawlessly. They felt comfortable. They loved this place and wanted to stay. I couldn’t let anyone see that I felt differently.
Then, in a moment of weakness I had a realization: I am not anyone but myself. It was silly to think I was meant to experience this semester the same way as others. In that moment, everything changed.
I let myself experience and mourn the pain around me, the homelessness, the hopelessness, the hurt. This place they call Over-the-Rhine is more than beautiful architecture; it is more than politics and policy. This place is community; it is people and children, lives and mistakes. There are people who are fighting through everyday, and then there are those that have given in and given up.
I have to admit, sometimes it was very hard to walk into studio and feel that I was making a difference. The only things evident and tangible were the calluses, scabs, and aches. In a very selfish way, I wanted people to know what I was doing and why I was doing it. Every time I was asked what I was doing down in Over-the-Rhine, my answer was automatic and technical: living down here, architecture credit, construction, service-learning. These things were not what I was experiencing or feeling, but they were the easiest to verbalize.
What was I doing in Over-the-Rhine? I was breaking out of my comfort zone, slowly and painfully. I was helping, with every swing of the hammer and every piece of flooring. In the end, I was a small part of something beautiful. Not just the obvious, visual beauty of the space at 1300 Vine. But the beauty of the effect that this Program had in its short run. As students we were stretched. We were challenged, we were taught, we were changed.
I will never forget Over-the-Rhine. I will never forget the faces and stories that I passed in my paint-covered yoga pants everyday. I will never forget the professors that showed their raw passion for the untold tragedies of this place. I will never forget the family that we formed, with our inside jokes that make no sense and our ability to say a thousand words with a glance.
When I started this semester, I was always open to listening to others beliefs and problems, but I don’t think I ever let them affect me. I was set in my ways.
If I had to choose one word to describe my semester it would be: affected. I am affected to my very core and I hope that even the smallest piece of this community is affected because of my presence.
I really enjoyed my experience in Over-the-Rhine and benefited in many ways from the Program. I participated for three reasons. First, I already had experience in inner-city communities like Over-the-Rhine and I enjoyed spending time in those environments. Second, because of my religious conviction I wanted to leave the comfortable environment of Miami and to spend time with lower-income people and to build relationships with them. Third was the opportunity to work at Venice on Vine.
This past summer I lived in Chicago and did mission work with the Christian Community Development Association. There is a big difference between doing a service project by visiting the neighborhood than from actually living in it. The best part of the experience for me was just hanging out on the block and getting to know people in the community.
I really enjoyed the readings and I feel like I learned the most through them. I always knew not to judge people from their circumstances and the readings showed me why I shouldn’t because of all the structural forces that circumscribe people’s lives. Learning about how Over-the- Rhine became what it is as well as the different political and social perspectives of community activists was quite valuable. Probably the biggest take home point for me is that I now more firmly believe that the Gospel and Christian community development model is truly the answer to the all the problems in the inner-city.
As a stated earlier, the nonprofit Venice on Vine was a major reason for participating in this Program. My concentration in the Farmer School of Business is Social Entrepreneurship. Social Entrepreneurship is defined as a for- profit company that has a mission of a nonprofit. This model tries to address deep social issues through the capacity and efficiency of a normal business. Venice on Vine is one local organization set up this way and I wanted to come down and see this type of organization from the inside out.
Working at Venice on Vine was difficult and wonderful at the same time. Working there has encouraged me to continue in my study. I don’t know what my future entails but I know this experience has been helpful in guiding the direction of my life. I know now that I would not be interested in product development and I feel like this has shown me that I’d prefer to work with a larger organization than small business.
Thank you very much for allowing me to participate in this Program, I truly enjoyed it. I know it will help me in the long run in my life and career. This Program is great because it affords someone the opportunity to see life from an entirely different perspective.
I grew up in Northern Kentucky hearing about Over-the-Rhine and the “horrific” things that happen there and the “dangerous people” that live there. People are described as poor, black, homeless, drug addicts, and dealers. From the newspapers, media, and adults around me, Over-the-Rhine seemed to be a far-away evil place that should never be encountered.
I was intrigued to find that Miami University had a Program that assisted this local community with the skills and time of their students. I wanted to partake in this engagement. I was curious about this place and its people just across the river from me but has always felt like a distant land. I wanted to use my time and energy to assist an underprivileged community all the while learning something in my field of interest. And I did learn, especially from my interaction with the community.
Here in Over-the-Rhine, I have learned that people are powerful through their voices, ideas, and community. What drives change in our world is determined by ideas. The communication of ideas is powerful. The ability to listen and be open to understanding when someone speaks are crucial. Through the Over-the-Rhine Program I have encountered several challenges in communication.
For example, I was part of a community-based team, sponsored by the Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, to draft a “People’s Platform for Equality and Justice.” We were trying to communicate issues relevant to the neighborhood to get people involved with the Coalition and to advance a movement of people. These issues are very complex, and we had to put the message across in a few images and words. It was fascinating to see how something seemingly so simple could be so complicated. Simple editing went for weeks.
I experienced a vast variety of people and their opinions. These experiences are what I value from Over- the-Rhine. These people are not evil deviants that must be expunged. They are trying to gain a voice, people that want to be listened to and understood. They are trying to change the stereotypes placed on the area and its people.
Over-the Rhine is a place that is friendly in its own culture. When I walk down the streets people ask me how I am doing, and say “God bless you.” People here are always interacting with one another-walking side by side on the streets, having public places nearby to go to, and sitting out on the front stoops socializing. The community is very close spatially and in its relationships and experiences. This is an environment different from the secluded suburbs where people are either at work or cooped up in their homes. Over-the-Rhine welcomed me and I’ve learned so much from the genuine human interaction and the experiences with communication.
I specifically chose to take part in the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program because I wanted to broaden my perspective on life and shatter preconceptions I have had about inner-city life. The Program presented a unique opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and immerse myself in a foreign world. At the time I had only a fuzzy idea of what the Program was about, and honestly, I came to Over-the-Rhine not knowing what to expect. Having spent most of my life growing up in middle-class suburbia outside of Washington D.C., my perception of impoverished inner-city neighborhoods was vague at best. Bearing this in mind, I decided I would move in to Over-the-Rhine and try to be as objective as possible.
Over-the-Rhine fostered an incredible transformative process in me. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but now it is plain to see that I am not the same person I was at the beginning of the semester. My perspectives have changed. During this semester, more than any other of my college career, I was able to learn as much, if not more outside of class as I did during class time. My alternative education took the form of talking to neighborhood residents, engaging the community through volunteer service, as well as by living with a vibrant group of peers who shared a variety of diverse experiences with me.
At the start of the semester, I was foolish to think that the service work we were doing was going to make changes manifest themselves immediately in the neighborhood. Through the course of this semester I learned that real change takes time-more than a semester at least. Yet, in that process of learning, it became easy to feel defeated. I started to think that our presence in the neighborhood was not producing positive results, especially when pitted against the physical transformation occurring all around us. The renovation of Washington Park became symbolic of our frustrations. How could we ever alter the direction of progress? Although it was difficult to see at times, I am now certain the work we did this semester has undoubtedly made a difference. No matter how small our contribution was in the grand scheme of things, what’s important is that we made a positive impact on the community that exists in Over-the-Rhine. The beauty of it is that in trying to make that change in the community, the community changed us for the better.
Whether it was discussing plans for Peaslee Neighborhood Center with our clients, Jenn and Kathy, helping neighborhood children with their art projects at the Children’s Creative Corner, sitting down at Canticle Cafe and having a chat with the patrons, cleaning up abandoned houses with the OTRCH work crew on the weekends, exploring Cincinnati with my peers, reflecting and sharing our experiences in Bonnie’s journaling sessions, or just the camaraderie present at our Sunday Potlucks, the richness of such diverse experiences combined with the multidisciplinary education offered by the Residency Program made this semester such a transformative experience for me. In learning more about what was going around us, we learned more about ourselves. And that became a valuable asset to helping us become better citizens. Citizens who are aware of the injustices at play in our capitalist society. Citizens who are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone and become active participants in their community. Citizens who refuse to subscribe to the same old stereotypes that group the poor, the blacks, and the homeless into homogenous categories of deviant minorities. I could go on, but the point is this has been an eye-opening experience. Now that we see the world more clearly, we can help others clear their eyes as well.
I never thought I would find myself interacting with homeless folks or ex-felons. Now, however, whatever barriers might have prevented me from interacting with them are gone, for I have learned that they are no different than me; they have simply grown up under different circumstances. No one is inherently inferior, flawed, or evil. We are all just people living out our lives as best as we can, given what we have. It can be incredibly depressing to hear the stories of some of the residents of Over-the-Rhine. They have dealt with situations I cannot even begin to relate to. Couple that with our classes, where we studied the structural problems that have led to such dire situations for some people while others profited from their misery and all of the sudden I began to feel negative. I was not sure if I felt guilt, anger, anguish, or a combination of all three. How come I have such a privileged life when others have nothing? Why the heck do we have such extensive abject poverty in the richest nation of the world? These questions infuriated me. However, negativity never leads to good things and I learned that maintaining a positive attitude throughout my experience was not only the best way to cope with the depressing reality of some people’s lives but also a vehicle for ideas on how to change the status quo.
Ultimately, I couldn’t have picked a better way to end my undergraduate career. The multitude of diverse experiences that I was able to get out of this Program far outweigh anything I could have learned in Oxford. I came to Over-the-Rhine seeking immersion and to broaden my perspective and it did not disappoint. Preconceptions have been shattered while awareness has gone way up. Yet, now I realize that this is only the beginning of a new stage in my life where doors have been opened and barriers cleared away. Wherever life takes me from here, I know that I will have the wisdom gained from this semester in the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program guiding the decisions that I take.