2009 Student Experiences

Miami’s University Over-the-Rhine Residency Program successfully completed its fourth iteration this past fall semester 2009.

This year’s cohort was our largest ever with sixteen students. Ten were architecture/interior design majors, with others from international studies, teacher education, psychology, and family studies and social work.

Many individuals and organizations in Over-the-Rhine nurture and help shape the Residency Program as a model for community engagement different from programs based on charity or noblesse oblige. Students in the Program 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 entails no displacement.

Our administrative team changed this year. Chris DeLuca, an alumnus of the Fall 2006 cohort who works with the childcare program at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, continued as the Resident Coordinator. He helped students acclimate to the community by holding weekly common dinners, inviting guests for the students to meet, and encouraging students to attend community meetings and events. Professor Alfred Joseph, who taught in the Residency Program in Fall 2007, rejoined us with his course FSW 362 Family Poverty. The new face this year was Jennifer Summers, a resident of Over-the-Rhine and a middle school teacher, who taught the Service-Learning course that Sister Alice Gerdeman taught for three years. 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, attending classes, and overseeing the students’ engagements in community-based campaigns.

We engaged all four social practices of the Center— Design/Build, Agit-Prop, Community Assistance, and Community Advocacy.

The architectural Design/Build work, taught by John Blake who is also the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator, concentrated on the Center’s storefront space and façade in order to investigate the range of interaction that a building can inspire. The vehicle was the design and construction of an interior infrastructure to accommodate a photographic exhibition by students from the local School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). Under the direction of photographer David Rosenthal, students from the SCPA engaged the neighborhood, especially the residents of the Men’s Recovery Program of the Drop Inn Center (DIC). This fall, with the completion of the SCPA’s new home, the DIC and the SCPA will be adjacent neighbors at the corner of 12th and Elm Streets. The exhibit opening (December 8) was a great success as both students and residents of the DIC shared their testimonies about how they deeply learned from one another and developed trust through their exchange.

This past summer’s painting of a mural in Over-the- Rhine by the civic organization ArtWorks prompted our Agit- Prop project. Situated at the corner of Central Parkway and Vine, a prominent entry point into Over-the-Rhine from downtown, the mural is the four-story likeness of Cincinnati resident and politician Jim Tarbell. As we learned from Kelly Jo Asbury, an artist and instructor at Chatfield College in Over- the-Rhine who participated in the planning of the ArtWorks mural until she resigned in protest from the project, the decision-making process selecting Mr. Tarbell was not diversified or community-based. Students from Chatfield College, Northern Kentucky University, and the Center’s Residency Program embarked upon a community-based campaign to learn how community residents felt about the mural. The voices tabulated by the students resulted in an exhibition at InkTank on December 1, and some were printed in StreetVibes, the newspaper of the Cincinnati Coalition of the Homeless.

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 Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, and at the Canticle Café, a special place for community residents run by St. Francis Seraph Church. Two of the teacher education majors worked full-time as student teachers at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, and one worked at Taft High School. A special thanks goes out to Tammy Schwartz of the School of Education, Health, and Society, who as part of the administrative team mentored these student teachers.

In one of our more successful Community Advocacy campaigns students planned and executed a demonstration on Fountain Square to raise awareness that “Homelessness Is Not a Crime.” Students designed t-shirts with a logo criticizing the ways homelessness and criminality have merged in the public mindset, passed out information and statistics about homelessness, and tried to engage citizens in conversation.

We have learned much about student, faculty, and community learning through community engagement over our four, fall-based semesters of the Residency Program. Now, as the program matures, and as the campus takes up President Hodge’s challenge to be an “engaged university,” we thought it an opportune moment to share some of the core critical- pedagogical principles that guide the Center’s work.

1.  Critical Community Pedagogy
The Over-the-Rhine Residency Program organizes learning that engages the intersection between Community Life and Critical Pedagogy. 

  • Engaged learning, motivated by Critical Community Pedagogy, entails an analysis of society.
  • Learning investigates the social construction of society and the dominant interests, ideologies, and institutions (in Over-the- Rhine) instrumental in its reproduction.

2.  The School of Social Life
We organize learning experiences in the school of social life in order to engage meaningfully with otherness. 

  • By directly engaging this divide between self and other, our goal is for all participants—students, faculty, community members—to recognize their own partiality and challenge their assumptions.

3.  Political Exposures: Problem-Posing and Framing the Context
We organize learning experiences that expose the workings of the social system and people’s roles within it.

  • Characterizations that we are helping to build community or helping to advance public culture are not adequate enough.
  • Our goal is sharper: to get students and faculty to experience systemic relationships marked by oppressed and oppressor populations—to see how class and racial struggles take specific form in Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati.
  • Through investigating those systemic structures that produce oppressor/oppressed relationships, we act upon those structures and relationships, with the oppressed community.

4.  Power and Knowledge: Countering Privilege and Internalized Oppression
The Residency Program organizes learning experiences that challenge privilege and internalized oppression.

  • Exploring the relationship between knowledge and power, we work to recognize how social knowledge is always produced according to particular voices, for particular ends, situated within relations of power.
  • We work to recognize within ourselves the multiple ways privilege is a learning disability.
  • Deep learning occurs when students and faculty come to recognize and then challenge their own privilege, while community residents surface and then challenge their internalized oppression.

5.Creative Inquiry: The Centrality of Counter-Hegemony
The Residency Program organizes learning experiences that are counter-hegemonic.

  • We are challenged by the Peaslee Neighborhood Center’s motto, “Expression is the first step out of oppression.”
  • One reading here is that when the oppressed express themselves, they are asserting their agency.
  • A deeper, more powerful reading is that expression becomes the liberating practice when it is tied to an analysis of oppression.
  • Peaslee’s motto directly challenges our work not to reproduce models of community engagement based on charity and noblesse oblige because those models rarely challenge students’ self-awareness as to why charity may be needed in the first place. We have learned that the language of help is not helpful, because lurking behind such language are the colonialist assumptions that “to help is to fix,” that Over-the-Rhine needs saving, and that we already know what they need. In place of “help,” we use terms like assist, support, walk with; the point being, that by engaging community residents on their turf and in their terms, we learn, and thus we put ourselves in a better position to make a difference—to assist that which is already in play.

The Reflections

What follows are the students’ reflections of their experiences in Over-the-Rhine. As in previous years the range and depth of experiences are enlightening and powerful.

Anna Chifala

I learned this semester never to assume that you know a person. A person is a person first and foremost, even if he doesn’t live in a house or he finds it hard to communicate because of mental illness. Even if she doesn’t have a job and she may use drugs, she is still a person that wants to be heard in the world that appears to be “too busy” for her. I also began to see beauty everywhere, from the historical buildings to the tattered-clothed man with a rose clipped to his baseball cap.

In a video we watched at the beginning of the semester, a lady spoke the words, “You have not seen our faces.” That phrase replayed in my head throughout my time here. I have gotten to see the faces of so many people—black, white, rich, poor, homeless, and those working at jobs. Everyone has a story and if our world slowed down a little and saw the people around us, then we would see what is important in life. The people living in Over-the-Rhine are willing to fight because they have something worth fighting for. People are only willing to stand their ground when they have something they love. And you may ask what do they love? Their home, their place of belonging; their greasy and home-cooked food; they love the creativity of the musical and fine arts in their schools; but most of all they love each other and are willing to stand together to be heard.

This place has made me realize that life is a BALANCE. I have learned to give more of my time, to humbly accept that I don’t know everything, and to speak my thoughts aloud and let them flow unto the paper. I must constantly be adjusting my footing in order to stand. I must balance the sadness I hold inside me with courage to go out each day. I must balance my overflowing joyful shouts of praise and dancing with tears that mourn for the loss of leadership and increasing poverty.

I, who came as a young innocent questioning fool, that laughed and smiled and talked of hope, without truly understanding how much struggle there is in the word HOPE, now have begun to see. I HAVE TO CONTINUE TO FIGHT BECAUSE IF I DON’T HOLD UP THE BANNER OF HOPE, THEN WHO WILL? I have to convince myself, as well as others that there is a reason for living. Despair is easy. Go look outside or down the empty alleyways or in the eyes of the aimless adults passing on the street. Go up the rooftops and see that this is a living, breathing city. These walls while scarred by fires and infested with bedbugs still stand tall. Their frames and intricate details tell of the people that love this place. These are not just shelters, but homes. These are not just people that exist; they work, play, and fight. This is what I am afraid I will miss the most when I go home, the fight.

There are many things I brought to this place—a wooden table, a lamp, a folding rocking chair, a couple of bruises, a hunger to learn more, a loving heart and a dream. Now as my experience here draws to a close, I realize that I am taking many things with me too. I take open eyes that see the world a little truer; a struggling, fighting hope that burns in my veins; as well as ticket stubs, fliers and bulletins from local churches. I will carry friendships and smiling faces back with me. I will bring time sitting on a decaying stoop talking about nothing, but realizing that there is something more in these people than first meets the eye. I will bear the battle marks of falling in love with a place that I really didn’t know if I would fit in or belong. And as I enter a new place, next semester, there will be a small bit of myself that I will leave behind so that the next visitor, traveler, stoop dweller, realtor, resident or child may see as they walk by: a sunflower, radiant by day and illuminated by night. They will see the battle shield of strength and the beacon of hope that with time will grow into the side of the building, a part of the history in Over-the-Rhine.

Lorita Shrider

On my first day in Over-the-Rhine as an official resident, walking down 14th Street to Peaslee Neighborhood Center, I tried to shove the worries expressed by my parents in the months and days prior to this moment out of my mind. My dad had checked my windows to make sure there were no ledges a “creeper” could use to climb into my room. My mom had made me use a whistle as my keychain holder, “Just in case you need to get someone’s attention in a hurry.” It wasn’t that they weren’t supportive of my decision to come here. The wholesale flower company where my dad works was located in Over-the- Rhine for a number of years; he knows the area well from running flower deliveries all over town. His main concern was of me seeing the realities of life here and becoming frustrated and discouraged because of them.

For my service-learning site, I like to say I didn’t choose Peaslee Neighborhood Center because it chose me. I came into this program having no idea what I wanted to work on while living down here. I figured I would go wherever the need was. Annaliese Newmeyer [director of Childcare at Peaslee Neighborhood Center] said that it would be a great help to have someone come in to the Pre-school classroom. I had no idea what that would entail. Naturally, I signed right up. Walking into the Pre-School classroom at Peaslee, I was greeted by several excited children, lots of hugs and echoes of “What’s your name?” The unconditional love of a 3 or 4 year old is definitely enough to rid anyone of anxiety. I felt instantly welcomed in the classroom and I’m glad to be able to help the teachers. It was difficult at first to get used to the way the kids acted out in class. The thing they want most is to be loved unconditionally.

I liked the idea of being a floater within the Center, doing whatever was needed. I loved it. I made copies, went to the library for story time every week, held babies, sang the Alphabet song, tied a whole lot of shoelaces, wiped noses, swept up messes after meals, helped kids get to sleep at naptime, ran races and went down the slide at playtime, got to go on a field trip to the Zoo, and did a host of other things involved in working at a day care.

I also spent time volunteering at Canticle Café, run by St. Francis Seraph Church on the corner of Liberty and Vine. Four afternoons a week they are open to the public, who come in for a free cup of coffee, a pastry, free and clean bathroom, phone call, and some conversation. This particular ministry of St. Francis Seraph has been in existence for about four years, but it has become a popular place for local residents of homeless shelters to frequent. I was attracted to the setting where I could really get to know the patrons. Some people come in every day, some once a week or so, and others stop in once and are never seen again. Most of the patrons are residents of the community. Some live in homeless shelters, others in affordable housing. They use Canticle Café as a place to socialize. The people who are acquainted tend to look out for each other. They talk about their woes loud enough for anyone to hear. I and the other volunteers there know that we can’t fix anyone’s problems by giving them a free cup of coffee. The fact that we hand it to them with a smile and ask them how their day is going, inviting them to sit down and chat is what gives life to the idea of lifting their spirits. At first, I would get weird looks from people I served at Canticle Café. Now it brings joy to my day to walk in and hear “Ah, there she is! Nice to see you Lori!” It’s a comforting place to go to, I get to hear the latest street gossip and I’ve built a few close friendships with a couple of people who are there every day.

My understanding of the world has changed over the course of this semester. I have found the cliché that reality is more about shades of gray than blacks & whites to be quite true. I need to look at things from all angles and perspectives in order to fully comprehend what is going on. I think that my parents are proud of what I have accomplished here and the fact that I have gained my own perspective on life. I will never forget the valuable lessons I learned through each of the relationships I became a part of while living here.

Jennifer Cahill

When I came to Over-the-Rhine, I didn’t know what to expect. Though I was determined to keep an open mind, I didn’t think my beliefs would change greatly – so it was unbelievable to me that the things we learned through our readings, films, and experiences so drastically changed my way of thinking.

Before Over-the-Rhine, I had no understanding of the underlying causes of poverty. As far as I knew, the reason people were poor was simply from lack of trying–combined with the occasional bad luck. From my school to my family, no one had ever taught me about the systematic causes of poverty. Here in Over-the-Rhine, I could not only learn about them, I could see them. Instead of just reading about the lack of affordable housing, I had my classes in a building where every affordable unit is in high demand. Rather than learning about the poor education in the inner city, I spent time with neighborhood kids like Oshay and Shayla and heard about the situation from their perspective. Instead of just reading and hearing that there were no jobs available, I spoke with people about their own experiences trying unsuccessfully to find work.

One of my most memorable experiences was talking to a panel of residents who had been employed by temporary labor companies. From Valerie to Cleve, these were people actually oppressed by the way our society and economy work. We choose to turn a blind eye to their treatment because it benefits us, as the middle class, to have cheap labor – and because, if we fight to improve conditions for them, we know we’ll have to sacrifice our own privileged situation. Over Thanksgiving break, I got into an argument with someone very close to me about the conditions of the poor, and the things we could do to help them. In her anger, she shouted at me: “Are YOU willing to sacrifice your quality of living?” That’s when I realized, she knew what it would take to improve the life of those on the bottom rung – we would have to sacrifice our own advantages.

And the answer is, yes. I AM willing to sacrifice those advantages–because I’ve realized I don’t deserve them. I had always been told that I did, and I always believed it. It’s easy to think that effort equals success when the situations you are exposed to support that connection. Living here has exposed me to people who weren’t lucky enough to live in an environment where that was the case.

Another experience that meant a lot to me was working with the kids at Children’s Creative Corner. Poverty became a tangible entity–Shayla’s dirty shirt, Oshay’s unfinished art project, Alexis’ temper tantrums. It was a unique environment in which to interact with them–they enjoyed art class more than they did their normal classes at school, and didn’t seem to see us as authority figures so much as friends. For all that I’d heard about the inner city, they were surprisingly bright children. I’m going to miss their cute smiles, their creativity, and their enthusiasm more than anything.

So it’s not surprising that it wasn’t the adults I met in Over-the-Rhine who made the deepest impression on me, although the scars of poverty were most visible on them. What hurt the most was realizing what those kids had to look forward to–futures very similar to the bleak lives of their parents and neighbors. Statistically speaking, the situation we’ve created is going to land a good percentage of those adorable little boys in jail. How many of these kids will grow up to be jobless and homeless before we realize we have a problem? I can’t possibly stand by in silence while Naja, U’Kennedy, Maggie, Precious, Moriay, Devon, Oshay, and all the others grow up without hope for a better future.

To me, the most startling thing about this semester was realizing how much I didn’t know about things happening in my own country–in the cities I’d lived next to all my life. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what St. Louis was like–now I realize I really have no idea. The best part of the program was being able to become, for the first time, part of a close-knit community. I’d never lived in a place where strangers would say hello as I walked by, or where people got this fired up about changes in their neighborhood. I love being able to walk past my neighbors every day on the street; I can’t imagine going back to suburbia, walking past porch after empty porch.

Andreya Veintimilla

It is three days before I am to move out of my apartment here in Over-the-Rhine and go back home. Again and again I ask myself the question: am I happy to be leaving, to go home? It is a loaded question because yes, of course, I am excited to be with my family and sleep in my own bed again, yet I am not excited to leave this place. To know that I have the ability to leave Over-the-Rhine and its problems while so many others will never have that option is a sickening feeling, but I also know that the issues I learned here cannot be left behind because they are everyone’s problem. The people I have come to know here, the new understanding of the world around me, and the kind of person I hope to become are all things that bind this neighborhood and this community to me. Never before has an experience been so important.

Over-the-Rhine changed me. I never thought I would be this sad to leave. Even among so much oppression I have never been in a community so full of compassion. When did we as a people become so detached, uncaring, and short-sighted? We want money to have power and power to keep that money. We are so overwhelmed by the struggle to acquire wealth that we are no longer present in our own lives and we certainly don’t care about anybody else’s. This experience has allowed me to find a way back to what matters and to find some meaningful connection. The people who live in poor communities are a part of our culture and our heritage, we need to embrace them. As a nation I feel like we have let them down and we owe it to them to bring them justice. We owe it to ourselves to live lives that are about more than acquiring wealth for ourselves. We are supposed to be the land of opportunity but where is that opportunity for the millions of poor people trapped in urban ghettos? Warding them off and forgetting about them is not a solution. There is more to these people than we realize and we cannot continue to write them off as not being important.

Modern society detaches us from one another, from our environment, and ourselves.

For the first time I found myself completely interested in all of my classes. Each class never ceased to amaze me because each time I would learn something new about this city, our nation, and the world, and it was enlightening. My experience in Over-the-Rhine would not have been the same or as meaningful without these classes because they brought to my attention things that would otherwise have been ignored. The classes provided the knowledge for me to start to understand what was happening in the community in which I belonged.

While they provided me with a lot of answers, they opened up even more questions. Making me question the world around me is the greatest reward.

I became part of this community, a friend and neighbor.

So quickly I began to change I was amazed even in myself. People close to me came down to visit me one weekend at the beginning of the semester and I brought them up to see my apartment. Like most days James, Willy, Joe, and a handful of other men were sitting on our stoop enjoying the nice weather as I brought my visitors through the front gate. Once inside one of my visitors, two years older than me with his coveted Ivy League education, goes on to tell me how lazy those men are and complains that he has to work while they get a free ride off of his tax money. I was shocked at his words. How could he say those things about people he knows nothing about? They were my friends, my neighbors. He was so quick to judge these men that I had come to know and he was wrong. Then I realized that had it not been for this program I probably would have thought the same thing.

It is hard to see the changes that have taken place in myself, but when I talk to my friends and family about my time here I can tell that I think differently now. I struggled with my political views halfway through the program, and when I finally changed my Facebook profile from conservative to liberal I remember thinking to myself, “well now it’s official.” This seems like such a small thing to change but it is difficult coming to terms with such a realization. Becoming aware and accepting the fact that you were wrong is no easy task and it is not just about a way of thinking, it is about a change in lifestyle. I don’t think many people are capable of making that kind of change that will lead them into the unknown. Maybe that is why social justice is so painfully slow to make progress.

Going into this program I wasn’t expecting to come out a changed person but that is exactly what happened. I saw myself go from confused to depressed to impassioned. Figuring out what to do next will be the biggest challenge. When I go home and then back to Oxford I know I will be surrounded by people who might not understand me. I hope I will be able to bring some of what I learned to them. I also hope I will not lose sight of what I learned in Over-the-Rhine and can continue to look for answers and fight for change.

Ke’Anna Daniels

The Over-the-Rhine Residency Program has by far been the most significant learning experience that I have participated in. I first heard about this program my sophomore year in my Introduction to Family Studies class, when Tom Dutton spoke to us. The fact that he was so passionate about the program is what first caught my interest. Secondly, the information that he shared with us really touched my heart and encouraged me to apply for the program. I was extremely excited about being able to experience something totally different than what I was used to, but I was also very nervous at the same time. Nervous because when I turned on the news they had nothing but negative and disturbing things to say about Over-the-Rhine. But Over-the-Rhine has so much to offer than just violence. This is what I have learned after living down here for almost four months now.

Over-the-Rhine is a wonderful place to live. I have fallen in love with this neighborhood and its residents. Shockingly, people down here are so much friendlier and positive than anywhere else I have been. Even though the residents here are in worse situations and have many obstacles that keep them from succeeding, they keep a smile on their faces and continually speak words of kindness and wisdom. Southern hospitality is a great way to describe Over-the-Rhine. Being down here has also allowed me to totally step out of my comfort zone and accept people the way they are and for whom they are; all judgments truly go out the window. Living here has allowed us to truly understand how people live below or at the poverty line. My roommates and I experienced what it is like not to have water, and what it’s like to have exterminators come to our house every other day. This program has allowed us to empathize with those who are less fortunate, and moreover, it allowed us to build sincere and lifelong friendships with them as well. I believe this is the most important factor of being a participant in the program.

Bonnie’s Wednesday night journaling sessions have been a great help too. They started off as a chance for us to vent and express ourselves, however, as time went on and work piled up the sessions became difficulty to make time for. But the fact that all sixteen of us were able to come together and hear each other’s thoughts about our experience proved invaluable and a great coping mechanism. I am grateful for this program and its ups and downs, because these factors have made me stronger and have helped me further mature into the woman I am today. I have nothing but love for the students, staff, and volunteers that I have spent time with these past four months.

I am confident in knowing that once I leave here I will be taking with me a great deal of knowledge, friendship, and a one-of-a-kind experience that will not only benefit me now but in the future as well. I could never truly express my gratitude for being able to experience the Over-the-Rhine Residency Program.

Carrie Sutton

Over-the-Rhine may only be fifty minutes away from Oxford, but it seems like it is worlds away. Living next to Washington Park, I see homeless people everyday. On my way to school every morning, I see people lined up at Canticle Café to warm up inside and sip a cup of coffee. I pass my students walking to school, some of them in coats three sizes too small, others not wearing coats at all on a cold winter day.

Once I get to school, I never know what to expect. No two days are the same; that’s one of the reasons why I love teaching, especially here. Rothenberg, a K-8 school, has been one of the lowest achieving schools in the state for a number of years. This year Rothenberg is undergoing its first year of academic redesign, which means that the entire staff is new.

From what the students have told us, the teachers who were here in the past spent their day on the computer, instead of teaching. Because of the challenges here, the teachers would rarely stay for an entire year, so the students had no consistency.

As a result of these outrageous circumstances, five out of our sixty-five 7th and 8th grade students are non-readers. Yes, we have students who are 12 and 13 years old who cannot read!

Many of our other students are significantly below grade level in reading and math. It is truly a disgrace the disservice this school has provided for these young people, up until this year. These students are now receiving intensive reading intervention.

Despite these setbacks, students really are eager to learn and to work. They just need a lot of “hand-holding” and affirmation. It also helps when you pique their interest in some way. I created a Christmas tree graphing dot-to-dot assignment that the students colored and I hung them all in the classroom. Students who had been absent and saw forty colorful Christmas trees on the bulletin board eagerly asked me if they could make one too. It’s dozens of these little moments everyday that make me smile and at least for a moment I forget about all of the obstacles these students face.

Living in Over-the-Rhine while student-teaching completed this experience for me. A couple times a week, I would see one of my students on the street or at the public library. One time, a student called out to me across Liberty Street, “Hi, Ms. Sutton!” The next day at school, he came up to me and said with a smile, “I saw you yesterday, Ms. Sutton” as if I didn’t know.

Although there were plenty of challenges during my student teaching experience, I would not trade my time in Over- the-Rhine for anything. The lessons I learned, and will continue to learn as I process my semester, will stay with me the rest of my life. The reality of poverty. The injustices in our public education system. The value of stepping way out of your comfort zone. The joy of friendships. The satisfaction of a job well done. The importance of laughter. The difference that one adult can make in a child’s life.

Kelissa Hieber

I chose the Residency Program because I wanted to live in a different world, to step outside of myself. This experience has made me angrier at times than I ever thought possible. Opening up your mind to how things really are can be challenging and painful. I channeled this anger and guilt into reaffirming a call to activism. I thought before I came here I was informed on the issues of the world and I thought I knew how our country worked. I now realize that I was in the dark, and now that I see the light there is no going back.

As soon as I moved into the city I realized it was going to be more challenging than I thought. Over-the-Rhine was so different than anywhere I had lived before. It had a deep spirit, a close community, and a noise and feel that were truly unique. I felt out of place and didn’t want anyone to think I was one of the “bad” whites. I never wanted to come off like the white kid who wants to come in and help. I hate services that come into underprivileged areas and tell residents how they should fix their lives. At first I didn’t want to get involved because I needed to know more about the city before I could do anything. If I didn’t have the proper information then I was afraid I could do more harm than good. I wish I had the information in the beginning that I do now. Now I understand how to interact and make a difference in the community, and it is frustrating that I’m about to leave when things finally make sense.

Working with StreetVibes, I interviewed several inspiring individuals and started to understand issues such as addiction, the prison system, wage theft, and other issues affecting inner-city neighborhoods. I was greatly touched by individuals who were doing great things. I went to all corners of Over-the-Rhine and I am thankful for the opportunity to write for a newspaper, especially one that allowed me to cover such interesting human-interest stories.

The biggest thing that affected me here is how my life is vastly different from most of the people who live here. I have had struggles and turmoil in my life but nothing compared to what so many people deal with. I saw addicts tweaking and freaking out to get their next fix. They are desperate. I understand why so many turn to drugs. When there are no jobs, when you don’t have the education, when you can barely eat, when your house is falling apart and when you have a family to support, I probably would turn to drugs as well.

Recently it has gotten cooler outside, for me this merely means it is time to put on a warmer coat and get my hat and gloves out of the closet. For others this means the time of year where survival is not certain. My apartment abuts Washington Park, where a large number of homeless people sleep each night. Many homeless people where layers of clothes they probably have accumulated over time. Even with this I can’t imagine that it helps to cut through the wind or makes these frigid nights bearable. I’ve seen homeless people before, but it was easier to pass them by and not give much thought to their lives. But down here I got to know them, and then it became impossible to ignore the problems they face because they were my neighbors—people just like me but who had fallen on hard times. Now that I have befriended my homeless neighbors, I have a new desire to assist these people in articulating their voice. Too many people want to ignore these people but I want to try and make it harder for them to do that.

Overall this experience was difficult and challenging and I will never be the person I once was. This is a good thing, but it will be hard at times. It will be hard to go back to a place like Miami and not want to go ballistic on everyone. So many people at Miami are wrapped up in their own petty lives; a vivid contrast from those just struggling to survive. My friends can say some ignorant things sometimes and I feel a responsibility to try and correct that ignorance.

Michael Haddy

I chose the Residency Program because I felt living and designing in the city would be a change for me. Now here I am, sitting in the Center for Community Engagement. A new routine in a new place, writing about how I got here. But how different am I from the person I used to be? I have come to realize that I am the same person through and through, though I feel different.

In the Jim Tarbell mural project, I learned the process behind taking a concern in the community and formulating it into an unbiased response. I was able to make myself useful in the project by bringing it into the 21st century, generating the initial question page, taking the photo of the mural, photo-shopping the actual cartoon bubble into the picture, and documenting the responses. I was surprised to see how something that took me about 5 minutes could generate so much response. I was motivated by knowing I was part of something bigger than me, and I created something that questioned this false icon that looms over the neighborhood. I also learned about networking. Going out and getting responses, as well as working with other institutions in the neighborhood gave me the feeling that I can actually be a facilitator of change, and a leader in the neighborhood.

I really enjoyed our studio work. John Blake was really easy to work with, and I’ve learned more than I ever could from a traditional studio. Doing the drawings for the awning, meeting with the conservator and other officials gave me a taste of what real architectural practice is all about.

Reading about the city and the issues around race and poverty was a very important factor that inspired change in my ideals. But what made me see the light go on was experiencing some of the hardships of community first-hand. Drug offers, James Brown’s situation, gunshots, and witnessing and engaging in relationships with the people have made me truly recognize the major structural issues that are wrong with our system.

I’d have to say that my favorite readings were the first two books, especially “Between Fear and Hope.” It blew my mind. If people knew some of the ideology behind our corporate-run democracy, I feel things would be quite different.

I’ve learned there must be an all-inclusive line of communication for our democratic system to work. The market will not fix all of our problems. As Serj Tankian from System of a Down explains, “The bottom line is money, nobody gives a fuck. 4000 hungry children hungry leave us per hour from starvation, while billons are spent on bombs, creating death showers.” All at the expense of the American Dream, which is becoming more and more unattainable to an increasing amount of people. Is there solution to poverty? Something you said in class really got to me. If our system is producing such massive inequality, is it malfunctioning, or is it doing exactly what its supposed to be doing? I lose sleep over this question.

I was a product of middle-class individualism and it used to trouble me. But now knowing this, I feel more motivation to do good, and not to fall into this stereotype that I have learned to dislike. All that I can do is my best to think about the consequences of what I’m doing with my life. I need to appreciate the things in my life that are not mucked up by ulterior motives, and have faith in society. My responsibility now is to make sure that I’m well informed, and to question everything. I like to jump into things pretty quickly, and I always want to find solutions to problems. I have found that this residency experience has opened my eyes to many of the problems of our system, but finding solutions are beyond what a single person can do. I can offer my help, but it will take a global mindset change to solve these problems. If I had to sum up what I have gained from this experience in one word, it would be “Enlightenment.”

Peter Gray

This reflection seems slightly inadequate to fully reflect and discuss the experiences that I have been through. The sheer wealth of new information alone is astonishing, which has given me the opportunity to think much more critically about the problems and potential solutions concerning this area.

Learning through the experience of this culture, while studying the people and background of the area provides invaluable knowledge that would be virtually unattainable in a college classroom setting. To me, the most influential aspect of this program has been the first-hand interactions with the people and areas of the Residency Program.

On one of my first treks through Over-the-Rhine to learn more about my new home, several others and myself came across a man sleeping in an alley on a torn-apart mattress.

Glancing from afar, this scene shook me, as I could not admit to myself that I was actually witnessing this occurrence. It was not that I did not realize this happened, but because of my ignorance, I just believed it to be nonexistent in the perfect world that were my experiences. Walking on, we discussed the gravity of the scene we had just witnessed and I realized the real reasons we were here. It was not only to help those in need, but also to become more educated about the reality that too many face every day. We were not content to sit in Oxford, languishing in our ignorance; instead we decided that a different, more truthful glimpse of the real world was necessary.

I have grown more aware of the issues and dilemmas facing those who are living in the cycle of poverty.

Understanding the history of Over-the-Rhine was especially helpful, allowing me to see into the past and hopefully generate a greater understanding of the future. Pastor Cook of the First English Lutheran Church said to me that without first understanding the history of a problem, you will never be able to find an adequate solution. I understand that correcting problems which I see in the political and economic system is no small undertaking, but should be presented to a broader audience, which thus far has largely ignored the growing population of destitute in their country.

I have grown to respect the people living here, as inhabitants of a location as well as equals in society. Sir Francis Bacon said, “knowledge is power,” and most people who would be in the position to help others have been educated far beyond your average person in Over-the-Rhine. The facts show that the dropout rate in Over-the-Rhine high schools is over 45%. These astronomical numbers will never allow people in the community who are able to escape its grasp to return and assist those less fortunate. Educating the general masses to the basic problems of social systems and private practices as well as presenting them with a set of potential solutions would greatly aid those stricken with poverty.

As my time comes to a close in Cincinnati, reflecting on these thoughts greatly troubles me. I hope this experience will be enough to sustain the information and opinions I now hold, allowing me to move on in my own life with a greater understanding of the cultural and socioeconomic realities of our nation. If I am able to highlight one thing, it would be the humbleness that I have discovered regarding my future opportunities. Even though I leave for a world where societal expectations are substantially different, I hope to always remember those struggling to get by and to move forward with a greater purpose that individualistic self-servitude.

Taylor Cox

The experiences I had during my time with the Residency Program I’ll always treasure. I don’t plan to leave them easily or think of them as a novelty on my journey towards becoming a great teacher. There were so many sides to the program: my learning and teaching at Taft Information Technology High School, the community engagement and journaling in Over-the- Rhine, and the simple sharing of conversation with the other program residents.

There was much to experience, learn, and overcome at Taft. One of the most important lessons you learn from the program mentors is that maybe, just maybe, the community has something to teach us and not always the other way around, and to see the value of the community, not just the deficits. My students were amazingly resilient, creative, and every bit deserving as any other human. That for me is part of the equation. Brown vs. Board of Education was over 50 years ago, how is it that we continue to see wholly, segregated public schools that are under-resourced and under-served? How do we teach educational equity at the university level, and then not turn around and have every conversation centered on how to raise schools to whatever standard we set? How can we label a school either “good” or “bad” based on the challenges the teacher faces versus how much impact the teacher can have for the student? For me, I choose to think a good school is labeled as such based on how much change I can help facilitate. This is what I saw at Taft. As an urban school, they need more teachers that understand. It’s not all content knowledge and instructional pedagogy, it’s understanding your students on a deeper level, an empathetic level that facilitates your ability to motivate them to succeed and maximize their immense innate ability.

I started to realize some of the realities of their lives. When they come to school exhausted and unwilling to work, you understand they may not have had a bed due to a bed bug infestation, or displacement, or maybe the talking buses and bootleg taxi stands kept them up until 4 am. Their parents often don’t have cars to shuttle them to school if they miss the bus, so they have to wait for the next metro bus and be sure to hit all transfers they need to make it to school. Corner-store food offers a unhealthy staple of their diet. Not a day went by that I wasn’t offered some Flamin’ Hots from one of my students. If I left them extra time on a computer and they weren’t checking their missing assignments, many would be on the Sheriff’s website looking up imprisoned acquaintances. Many struggled mightily with attendance. Students would suddenly stop showing up, only to return weeks later from some sort of legal issue or no known issue at all. While I refuse to say I had students that were lost to the streets, some were so mired in illicit activity that I didn’t have a roadmap to help get them out. I had one student who lacked hygiene so much so that it affected how I instructed. Some students were homeless. I even had the diversity of ESL political refugees from Asia.

What these students could hopefully rely on was a smile and a greeting in the morning. I did my best to keep caring and expecting them to do their best, never giving up on them, even when they’d plainly ask you to. They could count on meals, safety, warmth, and friends. Eventually, they learned to count on other things, namely, that I could be available to them in and after school, and if they needed another chance, they need only ask. They also taught me the immensity of their dreams. Most were no different than any other child privileged enough to be told they could do anything. Doctors, fashion designers, athletes, soldier, and scientists were just a few of their aspirations. For those who had sadly never heard what they were capable of, or had only been told what they couldn’t do, I was able to let them know that while they may feel like they’ve been given up on, only they determine their future.

With all the time spent on school between lesson preparations, developing materials, and grading, it was demanding to fit everything else in. I had hoped to do more community service during my stay. It was spotty at best. I always tried to make time for Bonnie’s journaling session. It allowed me to decompress publicly. We’d spend Monday learning or experiencing the issues of poverty, homelessness, and equity in the neighborhood. These issues just added to the overall ebb and flow of emotion. Even with journaling, pictures, the week’s lesson plans, Facebook, and everything else that would seem to preserve memory, the four-month overall experience feels like a blur. That’s not too say it hasn’t tremendously impacted me for the better. It showed all the complexity of the issues that faced our newfound neighbors. It made what I felt real.

It can be a great deal of stress to go from the suburbanite I was, to a city dweller. Put simply, you can touch it. I wanted to spend my time building relationships instead of driving, to talk and walk with my homeless neighbors rather than only know them as a collective group of faces, and to reckon with what my students do. I was surrounded by human-oriented Miami students and thereafter friends who helped challenge me to do more, to make the impact I said I wanted to make.

Matt Scott

My first couple days in Over-the-Rhine were not quite what I had imagined. The shower had almost no pressure, the kitchens were dirty, strange sounds crept through the large open windows, and homeless people were scattered throughout the park and parking lot. I thought it would get better after the first night, but on the third day I was attacked by a ninja rat on our front stoop. As I cleaned the blood off my leg, I was seriously questioning my reasons for being here. It didn’t take long, however, to gain my ‘sea legs’ and fall in love with the neighborhood.

Over-the-Rhine has a great sense of community. Here, the people are not jamming to their iPods or buried in their cell phones; instead people walk with a smile fearless of conversation. I have not gone out of the house once this year without someone on the street asking me how I was doing.

Through endless conversations, I have made many friends. Miss Liz, who has declared herself as my ‘street grandma,’ is probably the closest to me; I try to visit her at work whenever I am downtown. There is also James, Tony, Andrew, and ‘Moms’ who all live at buddy’s Place. I am still shocked that James held a cookout for all of us when he doesn’t have much money for his own groceries. Then there is Tony, a regular at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen. Tony is the reason I keep returning to that kitchen. Talking and playing cards with him was a lot of fun and is definitely someone I would like to come back to see.

All of these people make me feel grateful for participating in this program. I will admit that before this semester, I would have instantly stereotyped and probably not give them a second look. Now, I actually think that most of the people down here are a hell of a lot kinder than the people of the suburbs. I wish everyone could have the opportunity I had down here—getting to know inner city people while living their lifestyle. If this could happen, I know without a doubt that inner city people would have a much different reputation. I am surprised how kindly I have been treated by the people in the “most dangerous city in the United States.”

Living down here has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have learned more this semester than I have in all of my semesters at Miami combined. Living in the neighborhood, especially in an ‘affordable’ house, forced me to open my eyes to the reality of the very poor.

I am proud of my service projects. The first being the replacement of James Brown’s floor with Ryan. During the week-and-a-half of demolition and construction, we were afforded an up close and personal view of an individual who lives in poverty. Since society views people in poverty as lazy, this was not the case with James, as he gets up every day at 6 am to sell his newspapers. After his morning outing he would go back to his apartment, setting aside the money that he needed for bills.

I thought our Fountain Square demonstration about the criminalization of homelessness was instructive. I could not believe the number of business-persons who did not show any sense of care towards our demonstration. I do not know how these people can turn a blind eye towards problems happening right outside of their corner offices. The only people I could get to talk to me were those who actually lived in the city.

This semester has been a life-changing one for me. I’ve had too many life lessons to even count. I feel I am seeing everything through another pair of eyes. I am noticing much more about our flawed government and societal way of thinking. I am beginning to question the very issues that I was raised to believe were true.

I would without a doubt participate in the Residency Program again; living in Over-the-Rhine has been the time of my life. I have gained an understanding and a love for Over-the- Rhine that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Amanda Richards

I came into Over-the-Rhine highly suspect of the changes that students at our opening orientation talked about. I grew up knowing that people struggle to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their head, and to keep themselves and their families safe. I know there is always a balance between personal troubles and public issues. Some of my peers were more interested in the personal side of things. I found more interest in the structural issues. I am interested in the politics. I am disgusted with the welfare system and it’s lack of service while the military is causing massive national debt and sold to the public as necessary. I find it crazy that we lack the ability as a developed nation to provide healthcare for the whole population.

Being down here has given me ammunition and a purpose to speak up against the “lazy homeless” stereotype. To be honest, when out with friends downtown it was easy to feel uncomfortable when they would walk past a homeless person and then hear them whisper “get a job” or “lazy ass.” When a friend came to visit from London for a few days, I remember him being shocked at all the people without jobs, just hanging around and “being lazy” instead of getting jobs. And while I could have passed with an awkward roll of the eyes, I chose to explain how the city had changed and there aren’t many entry level jobs because there is no economy at the neighborhood scale, or how a white kid from the suburbs would not get busted for spitting or jay-walking, or how people with records can’t get jobs when so many of them are looking for employment now.

The issues of district versus at-large council representation and what that means for underrepresented populations in city government, the criminalization of homelessness, and the how the pace of gentrification seems so perfectly calibrated to prevent backlash are all things I will take away from Over-the-Rhine. I have become much more aware of the “language” of things, and how words and propaganda can be skewed in a manner to make some people feel less welcome or to present an issue in a way that is not really true.

I saw this magnified when we met with the students from the School for Creative and Performing Arts in our studio space. When we broke off into smaller groups to discuss their projects and their engagement with the men of Recovery Program at the Drop Inn Center, I was surprised at how angry these high school students were over the recent TV news report that suggested that the Drop Inn Center needed to move for the sake of the new SCPA. It wasn’t just a “the news report wasn’t true” or “we don’t feel that way” sentiment. The feeling was how dare these newscasters, who don’t understand us or our school, come in here and tell us how to deal with our school’s location. It was good to see that the local media weren’t making them ashamed of their school and it’s future location.

I may not have been the most receptive student to the things that were being taught down here, but I will also say that through thinking about the issues and questioning our learning, I think I am convinced of the problems that are being faced here, because for me it is no longer regurgitation. I was questioned in my papers, and in class and journaling, and I can say now that I understand the subtleties that I may have missed before being challenged. It was an awesome semester.

Ryan Wellinghoff

Over-the-Rhine afforded me experiences that I will carry with me through the rest of my life. My reasons to come to Over-the- Rhine were to spend a semester in the ‘hood, work in the design build studio, and get a change of scenery from Oxford. I now know something deeper in me wanted to experience what I couldn’t get in Oxford. Over the course of the semester I engaged in the community through numerous activities that ranged from raising awareness to just spending time with residents.

I can’t begin to count all the people and faces I met over my stay, and everyone I did meet welcomed me with a kind heart, and, interestingly enough, didn’t view me as one might think. I came to know many people, and one person in particular taught me quite a few things that can’t necessarily be put into words or described academically, but rather only experienced through life. I gained a better grasp on many topics such as poverty, racism, and politics that prior to coming down I had only known cursorily.

Activities I participated in were those focused on community engagement. The first was the Jim Tarbell mural. This was interesting because of the process we undertook. We worked together with different organizations, setting up goals and an agenda. I gained incredible understanding on controversial issues that directly affected the community.

I also dedicated much time to the design of Washington Park. We raised public awareness about 3CDC [Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation] and the Park Board’s plan for the park, which consists of removing 56 trees, the only outdoor deep-water pool in Over-the-Rhine, and the basketball court. Walking around and getting to know how people felt about the future of the Park was by far the most rewarding part of this project. We raised awareness through a petition, got almost 300 signatures, and held a demonstration. We were able to open a great dialogue and gain insight.

Matt, my roommate, and I also had a chance to contribute our blood, sweat, and tears to the community through some good-old physical labor. We did this by replacing the floor in the apartment of James Brown, a local tenant at buddy’s Place. The floor had been saturated over a few years with urine thus leaving a very potent odor. Poor James had been living in that apartment since February with the stench. By redoing the floor we served Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and gave James a better place to live. I spent much time with James Brown; probably more than my academic schedule allowed me, however, it was the most substantial experience I got out of the semester. James is a unique individual that possesses much wisdom about life and its hardships. He is not one to lecture.

His strengths come through the building of friendships, and I have come to trust him more than many of my close friends. He taught me many things, one of which was the idea of hope and to never give up on it. Without having the experiences and time I shared with James, I feel as though my Over-the-Rhine experience wouldn’t have been as great and impacting as it has.

I only wish I can remain in Over-the-Rhine.

Amy Danielsons

I came into Over-the-Rhine feeling inexperienced, but also excited, eager, and oh so naive. I had never lived in an urban atmosphere before and here I found myself in the heart of the recently rated “most dangerous city in the United States.”

But me, surprised? Caught off guard? Rarely. Shocked? Never let it show. Challenged? Never let it happen. Before coming down here I could say with confidence that: I knew who I was; I knew what I wanted; and I knew why I was doing it.

I had a vision for my future, smooth and unblemished, beautiful and angelically glorious. Yet this vision I had fabricated for my future was just that, a vision and not reality. I could never have seen just how much the waters underneath my tiny boat would be rocked. And yep, you guessed it, I forgot my life jacket.

All of a sudden, I saw people from the inside out. Such a strange but rewarding sensation. I spoke to people whom I was taught not to acknowledge. I shimmied out onto a fragile limb, getting to really know people, letting go of information that defined me, all the while hoping I would not be misunderstood or pre-judged, and see my heart, splintered. Then I realized that these people had done the same for me. A m a z i n g.

The onslaught of foreign everything sent my mind into a muddle. I wasn’t sure what to think anymore. Questions flooded my mind: What was true, what value does truth hold anymore? The only truth I knew was to question what was true.

Doubt drowned me from the inside out. My mind was a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts. It wasn’t until about three quarters of the way through the semester that I found myself caught in an uncomfortable situation, in the middle of two extreme perspectives. Suddenly, my reality became like that of a young child’s doll formed out of play dough. Though lovingly made, pressed and carefully rolled between warm palms, I’d inadvertently been stretched too far. I felt pulled in opposite directions. The tension among both sides was building explosively and I was the middle man, the one who pulled the short straw, the messenger in the midst of a mine field.

I was able to step outside of myself and watch for a while, as weird as it sounds. As a distant observer, I saw the coming and going of people as they interacted with me and I with them. I saw how easily I morphed to the likeness of whoever I happened to be around; soaking up their mannerisms as my former self became a diminished blip in the back of my mind. I talked to everyone I could, about everything that was on my mind. I slowly realized how little I really knew and how much stronger I needed to be as a person. I had to become resolute in what I said and did, my beliefs firmly grounded in logic stemming from experience.

What tormented me the most was that I could not clearly say who I was anymore. How could I make sense of myself if I couldn’t even manage to make sense of my situation? I grappled with this unnerving thought for some time. It greedily sapped up my stray thoughts whenever my mind started to wander. It wormed its way into my sleep and I tossed about mumbling incoherent grievances. I was a prisoner to the unknown answers angrily thrashing around in my mind, demanding to be satisfied.

I listened to what people were saying. I took it as it came to me, simply understanding it as subjective and never factual. Whatever I heard or saw, my mind learned to chew upon slowly, with critical, picky taste buds, digesting the information as someone’s personal outlook on a particular piece of life. Yes, the taste of the world became sharper, more bitter, but at least I now knew what was being shoved down my throat.

Through the course of four months, despite increasing chaos and confusion of mind, I have developed a more well- rounded understanding and appreciation of the community. I came expecting many things and finding hardly any of them. Yet, I think it would be slapdash and perhaps devaluing to hastily summarize my experiences, overall, as an epiphany. However, it is undeniable that my mind was truly stretched, challenged, and exposed in ways I had hoped for as well as never considered nor anticipated.

Kaitlin Beckham

I began writing this essay fifty times over the course of the past two weeks. Every attempt I make to quantify my past four months here results in my mind wandering through my collection of images, words, thoughts, encounters. I have put off writing this essay because I know once I complete this essay, this semester will be complete and my time here will end. I know that nothing can rival the experience, growth, and wealth of knowledge I have gained through this semester both in and out of the classroom.

Until this semester, I was largely oblivious to the politics of architecture, the politics of building, of providing housing to those without a home. The Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement formed to fight these injustices, and at the time of its founding, most in Over-the-Rhine were low-income. Now, gentrification is engulfing Vine Street and percolating to Washington Park and Main Street. These actions result in neighborhood voices being repressed as its people are being forced out.

Problems I was never aware of have become daily thoughts. How can we trust our government? How can we trust that 3CDC is aiming for a mixed-income neighborhood? We want to see development, but people are being pushed out. Am I making a difference here? Am I the only one being changed?

How can I transform these thoughts into meaningful actions? If all we have is our voice, how can I make myself heard?

Through this semester, I have realized that change cannot result if our voice is not heard. We must rival the stigmas and ignorance. 3CDC claims that no one is being kicked out, but I can rival that and tell him how Audranay and Shaila no longer come to art class. Through the rally on Fountain Square we were able to inform people about the criminalization of people without a home. Many probably brushed it off, but it challenged some to think twice. 3CDC claims that 56 trees need to be removed for renovations in Washington Park, but upon further assessment we found that 40 of those trees could remain in a more inclusive plan. Through our petition we have been able to educate the residents on the current plan underway.

Over-the-Rhine is real and raw. It is uncensored, unbridled life. When we leave Over-the-Rhine at the end of this week, life will continue. There will still be men sleeping in Washington Park. There will still be students at Rothenberg who did not finish their homework because they had to move in with their grandparents or into a shelter last night. There will still be the woman at the gas station, strung out asking for change or a cig. There will still be Calvin at Recovery Hotel, studying for his next exam to detract his mind from the addiction that is still very much part of him. There will still be Bonnie, strong and passionate, unrelenting in her pursuit of equality, always voicing the opinions of the community. I admire her strength, her willingness to fight for this community.

I have fallen in love with this community. In Over-the- Rhine, the word community possesses an unparalleled weight, heavier than any dumbbell at the Lord’s Gym. Over-the-Rhine has a history of strong grassroots organizing efforts that percolates into the organizations that we see today. When walking around this neighborhood, people look out for you. I have come to realize that the strong woven community here is rare and unique. Over-the-Rhine has a special place in my heart. The beauty of this place lies not in its architecture, but in the people and their stories. Thank you for opening my eyes to this city and educating me of its history, it has enabled me to understand its current state, and given me the voice to fight for its future. I end with a poem I’ve written that expresses my sentiments:

Our country was founded on freedom,
Freedom for all they proclaimed,
But tell me, what kind of freedom
Leaves low-income people in pain?

We questioned your governmental rules
That keeps the low-down on their knees.
Redlining, Profiling, Incarceration,
Your falsified equality is merely a tease.

So how can we break your stigmas
With a system set up to make us fail?
White privilege gives you the upper hand
While criminalization of the poor puts our people in jail.

You criticize our ghetto,
Claiming concentrated poverty is the root cause.
Yet you do nothing to help our people
Unless you get some money or applause.

What about concentrated race?
You say that’s an issue too.
What about your beloved suburbs?
There’s no diversity with you.

Downtown is getting too crowded
With urban revival gaining popularity.
So you put on your mask of helping us out
And you head north into our city.

Tarbell says lets gentrify OTR,
Flower boxes for everyone!
Crime & drugs will consequently decrease
Once all the poor people are gone

We do not oppose your redevelopment,
We think it could be good.
But you disregard our opinions and people
Just because we come from the “hood.”

But there is more to our city than pretty buildings
It’s our people’s cry for what is right.
Equal opportunity, jobs, and housing for all,
Our people’s resilience to continue buddy’s fight.

But you criticize the People’s Movement
And say we want to remain forever poor.
You fail to understand our cause,
Your false stereotypes just kick us to the floor.

So stop patronizing us,
Stop telling Bonnie that it’s okay.
‘Cause all this “good” you’re doing
Leaves our people in decay.

Your brilliant solution to homelessness
Is for ‘lazy people to get workin’
But with only temp labor and service-sector jobs,
Poverty is the inevitable state we are in.

And when you kick us out
We’re displaced to the DIC.
But this isn’t what you wanted
So you have the cops come and arrest me.

But still you ain’t happy
And won’t be til we’re gone.
But our people have been here longer
And we’ll continue fighting’ until our cause is won.

So excuse us for voicing our concerns
That our people will be left behind
We just hope you remember
It was you who left our people
to fail in Over-the-Rhine.