The completion of our Fall 2015 Miami University Over-the- Rhine Residency Program marks its tenth year of this special community-university collaboration. Offered through the University’s Center for Community Engagement in Over-the- Rhine, students from many walks of life moved to Over-the- Rhine for a full semester, living together, taking courses, engaging in reflection, and serving deep community need with neighborhood organizations, residents, and organizers. Like the prior nine iterations of this Program, a primary goal is for students and community members, through the relationships and trust they build, to come to see the humanity beneath the narratives that circulate about Over-the-Rhine. Too often these narratives dehumanize; we come together to develop empathy.
This year was our largest cohort with seventeen.
Students came from Teacher Education, Family Studies and Social Work, Anthropology, and Architecture and Interior Design.
Meili Price, now in her second year as our Resident Coordinator, continued with the Residency Program’s Facebook page, keeping students informed of weekly community meetings and events. Meili also helped students to organize weekly community dinners with residents, thereby complementing academic work through building community relationships in neighborly ways.
Jennifer Summers, Executive Director of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, continued to teach her course Service- Learning. Bonnie Neumeier, Community Liaison to the Residency Program and long-term resident, and I taught ARC 427 The American City Since 1940. Our third course, ARC 405Z/ENG 338 Designing and Writing for Social Change, brought together a teaching team of myself, Christopher Wilkey, professor of English at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), and Dr. Alice Skirtz, long-time social worker and author of the important book Econocide: Elimination of the Urban Poor, a required text of the course.
Bonnie Neumeier, co-founder of many of the organizations that students serve in, oversaw all aspects of the Program. She ran the students’ initial orientation, took them on long, historical neighborhood walks, and supervised the service- learning experiences. Most importantly, however, Bonnie met weekly with the students in organized sessions for reflection and journal writing, which was especially challenging this year with the large cohort. Meili Price helped out with these reflection meetings too.
The Residency Program engaged all four social practices of the Center’s mission—Design/Build, Community Assistance, Agit-Prop, and Community Advocacy.
Led by John Blake, the Center’s Community Projects Coordinator and instructor of the Design-Build Studio, Spring 2015 brought the completion of two of the Center’s major design-build/community design initiatives with partner Over- the-Rhine Community Housing: 1400 Republic Street opened as the Picnic and Pantry carryout grocery, and 1405-07 Republic was inaugurated as Beasley Place with thirteen units of affordable housing. The latter was the Ohio Community Development Corporation Association’s Project of the Year, and was also recognized by the Cincinnati Preservation Association.
In the wake of these successes, architecture and interior design students in the design build studio shifted their attention to Peaslee Neighborhood Center. The summer workshop removed old partitions in Peaslee’s lobby, making a spacious reception area for recitals, exhibits, and meetings. Students coordinated replacement of the room’s dated lighting with new LED fixtures and high-efficiency ceiling fans, and replaced worn flooring with new carpet tiles.
In the fall, the cohort developed proposals for exterior signage and interior way-finding for Peaslee. An aluminum exterior sign near the entry transitions into an undulating, interior gallery presentation wall of perforated metal. This magnetic surface can display a variety of writings, photos, and artistic installations generated by Peaslee program participants and tenant organizations. Students mounted the gallery to the exposed brick walls, installed a soffit with Uni-strut, threaded rod and curved, colorful acrylic panels, and designed and built an oak veneer kiosk and reception desk and credenza. On the outside, water-jetted panels will replace chain link fencing, lining the Sycamore Street sidewalk with large cut-outs of Peaslee’s floral logo. Similar to this theme, prototypes of metal signs with floral cut-outs were made for interior signage, and eventually they will designate each room entry.
The newly-renovated lobby was used for the Residency Program’s End of Semester Show in December. Quickly thereafter, the space was used for Peaslee’s 31st birthday party.
In our Community Assistance practice, the four student teachers worked at two different schools: Rothenberg Preparatory Academy and Oyler Community School. All did their student-teaching as part of the Urban Teacher Cohort Program at Miami University, directed by Tammy Schwartz of College of Education, Health, and Society (EHS). Kim Wachenheim, also of EHS was the students’ teaching supervisor.
Our four Social Work majors worked with licensed social workers at three different sites: Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, the Drop Inn Center (now Shelterhouse), and the Inter-Community Justice and Peace Center.
Our one Anthropology major, wanting an experience based in the realities of community healthcare, worked at the Crossroads Medical Center.
In our Community Advocacy and Agit-Prop work, students from Miami and NKU again worked collaboratively on community campaigns with the neighborhood’s leadership.
Jenn Arens, now in her second year as Peaslee’s Community Education and Volunteer Coordinator, met with the students many times to think through Peaslee’s project to sign and poster the neighborhood with positive messages of community. All also wrote editorials for Streetvibes, the newspaper of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Beyond these common experiences, many students worked on writing projects with those most marginalized in Over-the-Rhine.
Others sought to understand the effects of gentrification from the point of view of children. Another group, through the making of short videos, set up scenarios where class differences would become immediately obvious to the viewer through skits where, through the reversal of roles, people of privilege might come to recognize that privilege. These skits were in the manner of satirical news source The Onion.
Like last year, several events happened at the Center for Community Engagement that overlapped with the Residency Program. In September students and I hosted “The Peoples Tour: A Story Seldom Heard” with the Washington University Club of Cincinnati.
In October, in an event titled “Women, Education, and Liberation,” the Center hosted filmmaker Catherine Murphy and her award-winning film Maestra, a documentary about the Cuban literacy campaign in 1961 that changed the country from illiteracy to literacy—nearly 800,000 people became literate in one year.
In November, John Blake of the Center and Bill and Pat Kern of the Cincinnati Alumni Chapter of Miami University coordinated the Alumni Service Day in Over-the-Rhine. About forty alumni volunteered with the students to tend to some nearby community-owned gardens and vacant lots.
And lastly in December, Over-the-Rhine organizers and others had the opportunity—through our Preparing the Future campaign sponsored by the Fetzer Institute—to conduct our third “Weekend Residency Program,” which gathered together both Cincinnati Public Schools teachers and Miami faculty to participate in a two-day, structured immersion experience with neighborhood leaders and residents. The community-based organizations that participated this time around were the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, and the Children’s Creative Corner. Academics from the Center for Community Engagement, the Urban Teaching Cohort program, and NKU also participated. Again the weekend was successful. Through panels, presentations, conversations, videos, and a tour of the neighborhood, participants connected their stories as teachers to the systemic conditions in urban neighborhoods that too often ravage their pupils. The theme of the Weekend was “Community As Curriculum.” And the action was to strengthen relationships of trust and to dive deep into neighborhood conditions such that schoolteachers can come to integrate community life directly into the curriculum and pedagogy of their classrooms.
Beyond these Miami Center-based experiences, we were able to present our collective work to a wider audience in three other forums. On August 28, Tammy Schwartz, John Blake, and I aired on the Cincinnati Edition public radio program of stations WVXU, Cincinnati and WMUB, Oxford. The title of the program was “The Miami University Center for Community Engagement Builds Collaborations in Over-the-Rhine.”
Then in mid-October Bonnie Neumeier, Alice Skirtz, Christopher Wilkey, and I were panelists at the Conference on Community Writing: Building an Engaged Infrastructure at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Our panel title was, “A Student Residency Program in the Urban Core: Building a Place-Based Approach.” And lastly, on November 17 the same four participated on a panel titled, “Political Literacies for Social Justice: Narrating Activism in Over-the-Rhine” in the Department of English Lecture Series at the University of Northern Kentucky.
Over-the-Rhine is undergoing rapid change—often referred to as the “urban renaissance”—where it seems new upscale condos, businesses, bars, and eating establishments are opening every day. It is the new urban playground, when on warm nights music pumping at full volume disgorges into the streets and keeps residents awake well into the wee hours of the morning. Though changing, Over-the-Rhine is still mostly Black, and poor. The median income in the neighborhood just a few years ago was roughly $10,000/year. Amid these changes, long-term residents lament feeling like strangers in their own neighborhood.
Immersed in this cauldron, students see the disparity right off the bat. And as the Residency Program unfolds, the questions that rise to the surface, become clear: Have we confused the proximity of class and ethnic populations with true community? In a neighborhood where ethnic and class differences now occupy the same geographic space, to what extent do the different groupings actually engage one another? In the spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Beloved Community, do differing groups actually learn from one another and become their neighbor’s keeper nurtured by a radical empathy?
A related question that Bonnie and I put to the students is: What is your theory of social change? It’s a trick question actually, because inherent in the question is the prejudice that only something large and grandiose (national policy or a new social movement or a new political party) can stand up to the overwhelming, systemic issues of poverty, gentrification, segregation, unemployment, inequality, violence, racism, etc. Grandiose actions will be necessary, but what the students come to find through their experiences is that it may well be the “small things” that equally matter too—the new relationships formed and the new perspectives gained that come out of conversations across difference, however defined. Notice what’s happening here: As students interact with people across difference, the abstract issues of poverty, etc., become less so— they become real and personal—and once that happens students have difficulty casting community people as abstractions. Here is how the personal and political become linked, related, seen as mutually constitutive. The intention here is to open up new horizons that allow future practitioners to merge the personal and political in new ways that can lead to more socially just directions.
In the reflections that follow, Residency students grapple with these challenging questions. They have become keenly aware that engagement across boundaries of ethnicity, culture, class, and gender remains quite rare. But as you’ll read, many students took this challenge straight up, and have come through with a social skill set through which others can learn. The world needs people like the students of this cohort, who have learned to navigate socio-economic and racial borders. And who are now able to take their experiences and see how they are absolutely vital to understand and usher forth new kinds of professional and social practices the world desperately needs.
Student reflections from past cohorts can be seen at: http://arts.miamioh.edu/cce/residency_program.html.
Valeria Degutis (ARC)
Over-the-Rhine and all its glory, it was all a misunderstanding. The once impressive place I thought was all about the people and redevelopment, I found out it was not. You might say, “well look at how great it is”, but I say “what defines greatness?” Is it the businesses and bars? Or is it the little neighborhood centers and services? So maybe I’m biased, but after living here for a semester and experiencing Over-the-Rhine as a resident every day, I think I’m allowed to go against the popular vote.
I’ve done a lot of reflection this semester and one of my first reflections stemmed out of someone asking me how my soul felt. At this point my eyes had been opened to another Over-the-Rhine and here’s what I said three days into this Residency Program:
All this is, is writing in a journal, but this night of journaling is too hard. Why can’t I just write my thoughts today? I think the answer to that is that there are too many. There are so many things to wrap my head around today and everyday, but more so now. I feel the beginning of a difficult semester ahead.
How does my soul feel? My soul feels shattered. I am shattered and torn. My values, beliefs, preconceptions along with my passion and attitude lies before me like a shattered mirror. I can see myself, but I’m distorted. The pieces of me and everything that makes me are up in a mess of unknown and discomfort, of desire and passive attitude.
The shattered pieces of my soul lie scattered before me, waiting for me to pick them up and glue them back together.
Even if my soul isn’t shattered, I want to break it so that I can put it back together and feel whole and fixed again.
The uncertainty leaves me feeling desperate for answers and change. Change. The good kind. The kind that makes us relate and love one another, bringing us all to be one.
This is how I felt about Over-the-Rhine before classes had even started and before I had the chance to sit and talk about it in our talking circles and journaling circles at buddy’s Place or the Senior Center. There’s been hope since that initial entry, but I’m struggling to find myself outside of Over-the- Rhine, forgetting about the people here and their unjust issues and things that I’ve witnessed. I’m not sure what I’ll feel about life after this. I’ve seen a sign and it reads, “How can I go back to living the way I did, knowing what I know now?” That is one of the truest statements to describe my feelings at the end of this semester. I am dreading going back to Oxford and dealing with the ignorance, especially the ignorance of those who do not wish to see outside of the life they know. Why does the world that I once knew have to be the world I now dread?
I’ve found myself so enraged by this semester, festering over the injustices and inequality that exists. The way that I’ve felt has inhibited me from seeing things in other ways and subduing this anger is still something that I am working on.
There have been countless debacles with friends and family members over my safety and my being here. They act as though they have a right to be dissatisfied with what we’re doing or where I’m living. And then there have been silent four-hour car rides home because my traveling companions just could not handle what I had to say. I think they just haven’t seen the beautiful side of Over-the-Rhine. The side that provides endless love and support to their community members, even temporary ones like me. The side that is so kind and friendly it could startle you based on the world we live in today. The side that sustains one another with service and justice. The side that lends itself freely to your service and benefit, and the side that allowed themselves to be vulnerable with me.
This experience and these feelings and emotions have led me through such an impactful journey of growth throughout my time here. Over-the-Rhine is such a beautiful place, and not because of its architecture. It is beautiful because of the people that live here and the way that they are. They’ve provided me with an endless comfort and support and made me feel like their own family. I’ve grown to love Over-the-Rhine for the sense of community amongst long-time residents and the members of various organizations. This beautiful place has a heartbeat, and I am glad to have been a part of that even if just for a few short months. Unfortunately, my time here went by too quickly, but I am forever impacted by my experiences here.
David Burns (ARC)
Throughout my life I’ve heard people compare their personal experiences to a new set of polarized lenses. Peers return from their study-abroad trips and announce that their time across the pond has appended a different color to their perspective. It’s an additive process that keeps what you have already learned and gives you something extra to keep in your pocket when it’s needed. However, when I think of my time here in Over-the- Rhine, the comparison is just the opposite. I feel a polarized lens has actually been removed from my vision and a new level of clarity and truth has been added to my perspective instead.
At my last journaling session, I was given a prompt that asked me to choose three things to take with me when I leave. I chose “big words, conversations, and empathy.” The first thing I saw when I removed my polarized lens was a world of racism. Through the courses, I learned that the civil rights movement never ended, and racism has been at the forefront of this country from the beginning. But let’s be real, it took more than reading from a book to understand the concepts of neo-colonialism. It took more than a film to understand that oppression lays beneath the facades of the newly developed downtown. Most that I learned came from interactions with people, who have been at the spearhead of activism since the days of buddy gray.
The daily conversations with Over-the-Rhine residents have provided my life with clarity. In a conversation with a man who spent fourteen years in prison for shoplifting, I discovered truth. I found closure when my peers and I helped a traumatized woman home with the assistance of two men, who were experiencing homelessness. Then, above all, I discovered empathy when I realized that every person in this city is a beloved human being, that deserves more than they are given.
I’ve always thought I could be there to help someone when they needed it. But this experience has made me understand that there is no level of help that is greater than walking side by side with the people in your neighborhood.
On the last day of our studio, while our architecture group was boring holes in the walls of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, a woman with wisdom beyond her years told me something that stuck. She said that college students, above the rest, have the most power to make change in the community. If college students didn’t fight for the freedom of African Americans, she said that she would still be sitting at the back of the bus. She made it clear that my role as an individual with resources and knowledge is to “stand up for the people who can’t stand anymore.”
As architects, we have the choice to design within our own heads or with respect and empathy towards others. The beauty of getting out of a studio and into the real world is that my stance will affect the daily routines of human life. The work we did at Peaslee is about people. It’s about the need to open up a room to welcome all members of the neighborhood and to provide yet another space for people to sit and have a meaningful conversation.
So much of my clearer lens calls for change that it is overwhelming at times. As I finally reflect on my time here, I realize that I don’t feel wiser, nor smarter, and it doesn’t seem like I’m going to walk away from this experience and say, “ah, well that was nice.” My back has been broken and my bones have been rattled; yet it feels amazing. I was given so many tools this semester, and yes, when I first picked them up, I hurt myself, and maybe even bled a little bit. But now I know how to use those tools, and I’m excited to teach others how to use them as well. When I took off the polarized lens, I realized that the truth is permanent. I don’t intend on ever putting the lens back on my perspective, because that would be choosing to live a lie, utterly ignoring the fact that this year I grew in Over-the-Rhine.
Sarah Busemeyer (FSW)
Being in school for five years now, I was over-the-moon excited to have an opportunity to live and study in Over-the- Rhine, work with other majors, while completing courses that would work towards graduation. I happily applied, and after acceptance, started to get acquainted with a city that I soon found out that I truly knew nothing about.
I have been well-acquainted with various suburbs throughout my life, but nothing compares to the ever bustling life of the city. Professionals in suits and ties in the bars or hustling down the sidewalk, individuals homeless on the stoops, and vendors on the corners. Once it hit me that this place was my new home for four months, the comfort of familiarity was nowhere to be found. With the exception of some welcome greenery in the trees and lawn of Washington Park as our front yard, nothing familiar welcomed me here in my beginning days. This feeling of discomfort is one that we all came to know, not only in our unfamiliarity with the city itself but what lessons and experiences it had to offer. Soon enough, we would begin to know them well.
Early on in the Program we discussed subconscious biases and past personal experiences, as all good social justice focused efforts should do. Thanks to my psychology and social work background, I was already fairly aware of perceptual misconceptions that can stem from growing up as a child of white, middle-class parents. I began to realize in these discussions that certain things I considered to be a personal preference may instead be a cultural difference. This has become more important to me than any other lesson about race or class. A person shouting ‘Hey baby!’ from the corner does not always mean you’re being hit on, nor do people gathering and talking on sidewalks mean they’re doing a drug deal. It could mean that you’re used to a different way of life, and a different way of communicating. I soon started catching myself subconsciously treating this unfamiliar behavior as confusing, wrong, or something to be wary of, instead of using what I know to make a conscious decision to change how I react to it. As you may have noticed, though, that is a common theme with things unfamiliar; treating it as dangerous is much easier than trying to understand and engage with it.
Fortunately for me, I entered a Program that encourages engagement, so much so that the learning environment here is actually called the “Center for Community Engagement.” Our hours were spent reading and discussing articles that explain and argue disparity, and using the remaining hours to explore the disparity for ourselves in our service-learning environments. Our engagement faces the disparity that still exists in a neighborhood that claims there is none. We would learn a lot about systemic reasons of disparity, who it is coming from, and why it is here. Many questions posed in those articles poked at areas I had never considered before, and made me squirm a little. When we would hear the same ideas posed in a different fashion from people who have experienced the disparity first-hand, everything started to become real.
Originally, I pulled myself away from my ignorance too quickly and walked through the neighborhood with a nose held high and a fiery glare towards everyone white and middle-class. It took me a while outside of the classroom to come to terms with the idea that not everyone who looked the part may have alternative intentions for those lower class. In fact, thanks to deeper reflection in my social work processing, I realized that most of the actions, reactions, or lack of actions from the ‘new’ people of the neighborhood has resulted from my same ignorance, rather than stemming from a brooding seed of malice. This world is not full of fairytale good guys versus bad guys, like we often discuss as a picture of the ‘OTRCH vs. 3CDC’ struggle, but instead, brimming with people who believe their way is the best way to achieve their priorities. We all have different views of what is truly right.
I’m personally still wrestling with a lot of ideas and a good number of questions. Many were too against the flow to feel safe to discuss in the classroom, but many more also wrung my heart out for the people that continue to experience the thrash of “progress.” My relationships with the people that experience the anguish of disparity have opened my conscience a little broader than I came in with, a conscience that will continue to question the consequences of action. I cannot argue that what has happened in this city has been a certain type of progress, even success, for some. After hours in the classroom with Tom and Bonnie, I can also argue that it has created regress and distress for others, and that the city is not unique in its struggles. Some people may choose to push it out, tear it down, repaint it, cover it up, or simply keep focused on their own goals, but the problems people face here are real.
As I gear up to leave this place, at least I can say I am confident that the city and people have made their mark on my life. The weeks have flown by, I have come to enjoy the energy that it gives me and the warmth that I feel from familiar faces and voices, in place of the unfamiliarity I felt before. Yet, there are not only more places to explore, relationships to build, but lessons to learn and questions to be answered. Not having the perfect answer may be the most difficult realization while I’ve been here. I can say that I enjoy Over-the-Rhine, and everything that it incorporates, and also admit that my time has been too short to fully appreciate all that it is. I leave more thankful now to have learned so many important lessons in this short period, and am happy to have called this place home for a time.
Danielle Linowes (EDT)
Or should I call you friends? Calling you students does not feel right. It creates an unequal power relationship that I hope I did not possess in my time with you. Although my official title is “student teacher,” I believe you have taught me much more than I have taught you. You have opened up to me and told me your stories of struggle, of frustration, of silly moments, and of sadness. You have taught me that listening is the most effective way to show empathy and build relationships—something that is completely disregarded in the way the school system is designed. Someone told me that I should “stop asking you about your lives, that you are my students and my only role is to feed you information.” Despite being told that, I will not stop asking you about your weekends and your afternoons outside of school. I will not stop listening to your hopes and obstacles. I will continue, as I have, to listen and ask questions.
There are many stories you have told me that stick out in my mind. One story comes from a smiley and sweet girl. As we were transitioning from one activity to the next, you stood up and proudly proclaimed, “Ms. Linowes, I am so excited for today. We’re getting a table at home and we will actually have four chairs!” I was confused and a little surprised at that comment. I have been so blinded by my own upper-class privilege that I never thought about how expensive furniture is. I never thought about how many of you all probably do not have it. It shook me into the reality of your lives. It’s not that I feel sorry for you—you may go through struggles but overall you are still happy children— but it put my life into perspective. It taught me to be grateful. If you can be so grateful for a table and chairs, I need to look around and realize how much I have. But it also makes me angry—angry that I have never had to think twice about furniture. It makes me want to fight even more for justice, so that shelter does not just mean a literal roof, but also a table. Some of you do not even have any sort of consistent shelter. Yet you continue to come to school everyday. You are told to come “ready to learn” but sometimes I wonder how you are ready to learn if you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep or didn’t eat dinner last night. You have given me the understanding that I must be even more aware of my privilege, that I cannot base assumptions about others off of my privilege. Not all of your stories are upsetting. You have eagerly told me stories of seeing other students at the Kroger down the street and going out to eat at Frisch’s. I hope that I will get to hear these kinds of stories more often.
While your grades may not reflect it, you are all very wise. You notice difference but you do not possess the prejudices that adults hold. I have a fond memory of playing with you at recess. Some of the girls came over to me and started playing with my hair. I let you glide your fingers through my straightened, smooth hair and demonstrate how to make braids like the ones in your naturally voluminous hair. One girl in particular noted that I was “too white to get box braids.” I laughed, realizing that an eight year old understood cultural appropriation better than most adults I know. You accept me for who I am as a white woman, but you also realize that I am different, and while I can stand with you, I cannot take on your culture as my own.
Many times a day, you get angry. You do not yet know how to control your anger or utilize it in a nonviolent way and you may never learn how to. I do not want you to become a statistic. To become one of the 204 unarmed individuals who were killed by police this year. Or one of the nearly 1 million incarcerated Black individuals. Or one of the 35% of Black children to be suspended or expelled. I don’t know how to tell you that no matter how hard you try, the color of your skin and your socio-economic status will make it very difficult for you to succeed (with success being narrowly defined as achieving the American Dream according to our society).
While you are told that if you just keep trying, you will get a job and make money, I know that multiple institutional as well as personal factors will provide a multitude of barriers. However, I don’t define success in the way that mainstream society does. I define success as achieving your own personal goals, separate from the external goals that many find important. I know that each and every one of you possess a good and gentle kindness that will allow you to do what makes you happy.
Much love, Ms. Linowes
Katelin Morgan (ARC)
For this reflection I have seen and heard most people choose one story from their time here that stood out to them; one moment that changed the way they thought and made them realize about what they were doing here and how it had impacted them and how this place will stay with them forever. However, for me this is not the case. I don’t have one moment or one person who made a huge change in my life during my time here. For me, my time here has been about all the little moments adding up. There is a long list of all the situations, conversations, and people I met during my time in Over-the-Rhine that have helped me grow and change. I could never pick just one and I don’t think that one stands out more than the other. This experience was not about some big realization that I was thinking wrongly or living a way I shouldn’t be, it was about seeing and hearing people’s stories and gradually becoming more aware. Each day I would hear a new perspective and see someone living in the same place I was but they were in a totally different situation from me and came from a completely different background.
While I never came to some life-altering realization while I was in Over-the-Rhine, I did change. It wasn’t instantly or overnight and I didn’t even know it had happened. But one day when I was talking to someone about my time here and a topic we had learned about, I was aware I was thinking differently. My opinion was different than it would have been a few months ago and it had seemed completely natural for me to have that opinion in that moment. I have always had an open mind but now I was able to share and explain it to others. Reflecting on my time here, that is something I want to work on after I leave. Everyone says it is more of a transition after you leave Over-the-Rhine than it was coming in the first place, and I want to challenge myself to make the most of this transition. I have opinions and stories of hard issues like gentrification and discrimination I need to share with people who are unaware they exist so close to them. I was like them once, unaware and uninformed. While I may be going back into the bubble, my mind can never go back to that state of ignorance. I want to be able to share what I have learned and help others see that ignorance is not bliss. If more people were aware of what was occurring in their own backyard, maybe they would want to do something about it. I want other people to see that it doesn’t take some big grand gesture or experience to change minds. It just takes a lot of little things, a lot of small interactions and personalization of these issues they think they are so far removed from. Once you put a face and a name to issues such as poverty, discrimination, homelessness, and gentrification it becomes hard to ignore. I talked to and befriended people experiencing all of these issues and it makes them more than just issues you read about in a textbook or an article. It makes you connected and once you are connected you can do something about it, whether it is as small as simply acknowledging someone who is homeless on the street or leading an organization that helps house those homeless. Making eye contact or having a genuine conversation shows that you acknowledge there is a problem but the person experiencing this problem is still a person and deserves to be treated that way. Maybe it takes this small step of acknowledgement for you to see that there needs to be a larger, systematic change. There are organizations out there combating the symptoms of these problems but there also needs to be people out there working at the root of the problem, trying to solve it before it grows even more.
I saw all different levels of people working to make a change in Over-the-Rhine and it has made me want to explore what level of change I will place myself at when I graduate and join the real world. I already know these problems exist and want to make more of a difference at a higher level so I will continue to seek out organizations and people that are working towards these goals of change. For now though, I have the power to share my experience with others and have hard conversations about the issues I saw and heard about. I want to try to create an awareness in others like this experience created in me. Maybe it will make them want to initiate change too and maybe they will develop the power to make a difference.
Douglas Gallucci (ARC)
The biggest thing I got from the Residency Program experience was education about what goes on in poor urban areas. I’ve had many experiences through my church where I got to know people for a short time and their way of life at soup kitchens and mission trips. The poor I’ve met had many similarities to the people in Over-the-Rhine. I understood that people sometimes had bad luck in situations, but this Program explained some of the many ways people can get in a bad position and how hard it is to get out of that situation. I got to know people on a stronger basis and heard more of their stories in this Program than in my other service activities. I got deeper than just a glimpse into peoples’ lives because I’ve lived with them. This Program has reinforced many of my beliefs and has even helped me think of some long-term solutions instead of just quick fixes. It opened my eyes and strengthened my desire to assist people.
I now have a basic understanding of the struggles, injustices, and wrongs done to people in urban communities. Their lack of facilities, isolation, and mistreatment by others has hit me harder than I expected. This experience will stay with me and shape how I live the rest of my life. I’ve done projects before on the importance of after-school programs and never found a good way to get those programs to people who needed them. This Program has given me understanding and empathy and pushed me to come up with a solution on how we can help. People in urban communities need more information on their options through schools, community centers, and religious organizations. Kids need to be taught about their opportunities of going to trade school and other pathways to careers. People also need to invest in the community, not just the buildings and businesses. People need to hire locals, buy locally, and serve the people residing in the community. The public needs to get to know the diversity of their neighbors and learn how they can assist them in their goals and in what they want. As a result of getting to know the people around you, and understanding them, you can shape the community and the activities in it together and serve everyone. Journaling, writing responses, and discussions helped me sort through my feelings and pushed me to think about the things I read in the literature we read this semester.
Many of the stereotypical things I’ve learned over the years were challenged while being in Over-the-Rhine. The two most impactful things that happened to me in Over-the-Rhine was when I was cornered outside and asked for money and also during ARC405Z when a man came in asking for money.
Within the first few weeks living here, a man cornered Royce and me in the doorway of the Center. He told us he just got out of jail because he knocked a guy unconscious and said he didn’t want to hear that we couldn’t give him any money. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t have any money on me and he started yelling at us and crying. I didn’t know what to do. Then a police officer came by and called the man away from us, allowing Royce and me to escape. I was scared but I later realized so was he. He was lost and needed help. I still wonder what I would do in his situation. Would I be able to stay calm and ask nicely for money or would I have scared people too.
The other incident that affected me was when a man came into our class asking for money for bus fare. It wasn’t the action of him coming in, but the reaction of some visiting, non-Residency students that made me realize just how much I’ve changed and grown. I also hope that I wouldn’t have reacted the same way they did before I did this Program. I know the Residency Program will continue to shape me for the rest of my life for the better. I am glad I got to be a part of it and experience life in this community.
Stella Norris (FSW)
As the semester comes to an end and I look back on my time here in Over-the-Rhine I have a mix of emotions. This semester was a roller-coaster and full of experiences that have forever changed me. There will be parts of the semester that I will miss immensely and parts that I am happy to leave behind.
I think back to the first day, I was like a deer in the headlights and completely unsure of myself to become successful and integrated into the community of Over-the- Rhine. I walked into buddy’s Place for the first time and looked out to Vine Street. I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t start to imagine what was in store for me over the next sixteen weeks. The first week was hard. I recalled an interaction with myself and my journal, questioning everything. I couldn’t decide if this Program was right for me. I felt like an outsider and I was worried I would spend sixteen weeks in a place where I felt out of place and uncomfortable. Would I ever feel at ease? Then uneasy feelings became frustration. I told family and friends about my experiences and my truths but all I felt was judgment and lack of empathy. When would these horrible feelings end? The first month was hard to say the least. I had more days than not going to bed frustrated and unsure of the days ahead. I would tell myself it’s just a semester and it will be over before I can even realize it started. Little did I know that is exactly what happened.
Now I have days that brings tears to my eyes because of the joy and beauty of this world. I struggle to understand how the semester went by so quickly. Over-the-Rhine has etched a spot in my heart. It’s not the location or the new buildings but the people in Over-the-Rhine and the experiences that have taken my heart. I will never forget. My journal entries went from questioning my decision to be in Over-the-Rhine to enjoying my days and experiences in it. I would be lying if I said all my days are good now; I still have bad days from time to time but they are few and I know how to handle them. The injustice still breaks my heart and it forever will. But I know that my experiences in Over-the-Rhine have helped solidify my abilities in social work. I am a better social worker because of those good and bad days.
My favorite, most impactful memory had to have been when I saw my first client sign his lease. This moment brought more happy emotions to me than Christmas morning. As I watched as my client was explained the rules and regulations of his apartment the gratitude and excitement that was radiating around him were incredible. I was honored to be a part of his journey to housing. He had never had a place of his own and now he just signed his first lease. The pride he felt was something unexplainable and so intense it created butterflies in my stomach. I walked away from that experience over-joyed. That will be a day I will never forget.
I am forever thankful for my experiences and the people I have met being a part of the Residency Program. I will look back on the good and bad days and know that I have been forever impacted. I also know that I will be a better social worker because of my internship through the Program. My hope is that one day I will be able to come back to the community and continue fighting the injustices.
Lauren Gould (FSW)
My time here in Over-the-Rhine has been by far the most meaningful and influential experience I have ever been a part of. Through this experience I was not only able to gain knowledge about the neighborhood through classes, or gain skills through social work practice in my field placement, I was able to gain a sense of community and a better understanding of different individuals and their backgrounds and experiences. I was able to walk in another’s shoes, not just in my placement with my clients at the Drop Inn Center, but in community member’s shoes such as Mr. Earl or Miss Dorothy, in my professor’s shoes like Bonnie, Tom, and Alice, in my classmate’s shoes like the architects and the teachers as well as the many others I encountered throughout this semester.
Allowing and willing myself to walk in others’ shoes and alongside their journeys with a spirit of humility and a genuine desire to meet and talk with others helped me expand my view of the world and gave me a new framework of thinking about the world.
This lived experience and new way of thinking reminded me of two different quotes from two of our journaling sessions. The first is a quote from our first journaling session, by Richard Rohr: “we don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into new way of thinking.” The second quote is from our journaling session with Steve Elliott, who I am a very big fan of and respect very much. The quote reads, “I learned that my instincts are not always right, my first impressions are not always true, and my way of doing things and of living is not the only way to live.” These quotes are both very powerful to me because there were several times throughout the semester that I seriously questioned my thoughts, beliefs, and values and how I viewed the world. Discovering the enrichment that comes from seeing other ways of life allowed me to let go of some of my toxic ways of thinking and let these new ways of thinking wash over me like a wave, each and every time.
A journal entry I did on November 11, 2015 is a great example of the ways in which my thoughts, values, beliefs, and views of the world were challenged. The prompt asked how we have been stretched throughout this experience. My response was: “I have been stretched in every sense of the word. I have been stretched physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have been stretched physically by taking on too much. A thirty-hour work week, three classes, volunteer work, and my work with NAMI have taken a toll on my body. I have been stretched mentally because I am constantly in a mental conflict about how to think and feel and act. Why do I feel like I’m being forced to change the way I think? If I don’t think a certain way, am I still a good social worker? Am I doing everything I can to help and advocate for my clients and their needs? Am I doing everything I can to be the best version of myself? I have been stretched emotionally through the Program, but especially through my placement at the Drop Inn Center. Working with clients who have nothing, who are stereotyped and discriminated against, who have so many challenges and obstacles to face, and knowing I can only do so much, which is usually not enough, has been very hard on me.”
This entry was difficult for me to write, but was also very helpful because it made me take a step back and look at what was really challenging me and allowed me to rethink my stressors. My life could be so much worse or I could have real problems and real challenges I have to face like so many of the people I’ve encountered during this experience. Knowing this helped me open up my mind, body, and spirit and helped me rid myself of those negative thoughts and feelings I felt rolling in like a freight train with no breaks.
My time in Over-the-Rhine has been by far the best experience of my life thus far. I grew so much as an individual, as a community member, as a student, as a social worker, as a family member, and as a leader. I learned to appreciate the little things like a funny conversation with a homeless man or a meaningful group discussion with my classmates. I learned to not take anything for granted because I saw first-hand with my clients that nothing is guaranteed and you can lose so much so quickly, regardless of your race, class, ethnicity, etc. Finally, I learned to be more understanding and empathetic of others and their situations because you truly never know what they have been through or are going through. I am so thankful for this experience and for my time here because it not only opened my eyes to a new world, it made me a better person, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Jill Elfers (ATH)
I start my reflection with a draft of my final presentation speech:
“I am a senior anthropology student and during my time in Over-the-Rhine I have interned at Crossroads Health Center. Crossroads is a federally qualified health center, based here in the community, with the mission to provide quality healthcare despite an individual’s ability to pay. As an intern at the clinic I was part of a newly formed care coordination team committed to closing the gap between traditional clinical care and patient self-management of chronic conditions.
I was involved in coordinating care for the patients diagnosed with hypertension or high blood pressure. Through mainly outreach calling I collaborated with patients, families, community partners, and insurance companies to ensure that these individuals had improved care experience, better health outcomes, and decreased health expenditures.
Over a two-month period, I called over 130 patients and spoke to almost 60. I helped these individuals schedule follow- up appointments, request refills for their medication, and obtain blood pressure cuffs. Additionally, our team connected many of our patients to community resources to aid their attempts to eat healthy and exercising regularly.
While making these calls I realized the numerous barriers this patient population faces. In the beginning, this made my task seem incredibly daunting and I questioned what difference could one girl from the suburbs make in their lives. Over the course of a semester I have realized that I was wrong to think that it takes grandiose interventions to make a difference. Every person I spoke to I affected and in turn they affected me. That has been my take away from this program: everything matters; every detail from history, every active policy, every seemingly mundane interaction. I have many plans for my future but I know I will always carry these experiences with me as a reminder of the power of the individual in their community.”
During my time in Over-the-Rhine I have learned to never underestimate the ability of one person to effect change. From the story of Peaslee and the mothers that saved a piece of their community to the struggles shared by individuals who have experienced homelessness or addiction. I have been raised in a society that has taught me that “bigger is better.” I have been trained to think interventions must have endless amounts of money and resources to succeed. This experience has taught me that the opposite is true. All that is necessary for real change is the investment of the individual. This is my largest “takeaway” from my time in the community. I had one interaction, in particular, that facilitated this conclusion. While calling patients at Crossroads, I interacted with a woman who was struggling with mental health issues. After talking to her on the phone, listening to her struggles, and scheduling an appointment for her with the counselor I realized the effect one person can have. She asked if she could meet me and I agreed to introduce myself to her at her next office visit. During that encounter I realized that it was not only me affecting others, but that they were affecting me. This interaction allowed me to foster relationships and empathy with community members.
I believe that living in Over-the-Rhine was integral to my growth in this program. Without the residency aspect of this Program it would be impossible to have the same encounters with community members and therefore experiences in the community. As I prepare to go back to Miami, I struggle with how I will interact with others who do not share my experiences. However, this is not a new struggle for me; between family and friends I have a history of trying to persuade others to see things from a different perspective. After careful consideration I have decided that patience is what I want those unfamiliar with Over-the-Rhine to have. It takes patience to learn the burdens of history, to listen to the stories of the oppressed, and to care for the underserved. It will take patience to counteract the oppressive systems built over centuries and to fix the mistakes of our forefathers.
What I will miss the most about my time in this community is the way it challenged me. Never before have I been forced to think about how to aid a population of people who are chronically homeless. Never before have I needed to contemplate where mental health issues stop and substance abuse starts. Never before have I struggled to talk to someone whose every thought and feeling differs from my own. I have relished these challenges and I will miss them immensely. I am incredibly grateful for these experiences and will carry these lessons with me throughout my life.
Maggie Botts (FSW)
My internship at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) was by far the biggest learning experience from this Residency Program. I went into the Program with a preconceived notion that I should do my internship with kids; my minor was in child studies after all. Day one of orientation brought a change in the entire program for me and this was a pretty good indicator of how fast-paced and full of “newness” the rest of my time in Over-the-Rhine would be. I wouldn’t have thought that my internship would change/influence my career path, but it sincerely has. Recognizing the passion that I have in me for the lives of those treated unjustly was something I think was always in me, but the support and guidance from people like Allison and the community have shown me the best way to fight these injustices that I can’t bare to sit with. I am proud of myself for further developing my opinions on those topics that are hard to talk about. I formed an opinion that was completely different than most everyone in my family. I formed an opinion that most students in the cohort hadn’t thought about either. I’m thankful that I was given the knowledge I needed to take a stance on difficult, yet important topics. These important topics included peace and nonviolence issues, immigration reform, human trafficking, and efforts to abolish the death penalty. I was able to spend one week fighting for a cause that felt right to me. I walked eighty-three miles from the Lucasville prison to the Columbus, OH State House to show Ohio and the rest of the United States of the need to abolish the death penalty. I was one of three who trekked the entire distance, which on some days had upwards of one hundred people, representing groups such as Footprints for Peace, IJPC, and Ohioans to Stop Execution. Because of this, I feel that even though I’m only twenty-three years old, I’m able to start working hard on tackling the social justice issues that I don’t want to be fighting by the time I’m eighty.
The geographical location of IJPC at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center played a part in my experience as well. I was able to see and feel the sense of community that people in the building have together. I remember one day when I made too much soup, I brought the leftovers into work and invited Bonnie over to our office. She made me feel so welcomed that it was just a natural gesture to share with her in order to transfer that same feeling. In addition to Bonnie, I was able to develop a bond and feeling of closeness with most people in the building. These same people are a true representation of the neighborhood itself. They are warm, caring, special, and involved. The people at Peaslee were always there to listen to me and help guide me through the obstacles I faced this semester. I know I could always go stop by someone else’s office and they would take time out of their day to talk to me about whatever was on my mind. Peaslee is a big part of my experience in Over-the-Rhine.
My biggest take away form Over-the-Rhine is that I need to continue to go into every experience as a learner. There is always something to learn. I can go into my next phase of life and tell people about what I know now but I need to learn from others as well. My career will be spent learning as much as I can from people. The learning I encounter will be different depending on the day, the person, and the experience. One thing they teach in social work is “start where the client is.” Sometimes the learning may come in the form of personal stories shared from vulnerable people willing to share and teach me. Other times it might mean that I need to learn about laws and policies to make the changes I want to see in our community. Even though my college career is ending, I intend to continue learning in my career because I feel that the moment we stop learning, we stop listening, which means we will be ineffective in fighting for those basic human rights that we have learned to stand up for in this Program. This Program was the best experience on my four years of college at Miami and if asked, I would direct all students into the program at some point in their four years.
Royce Gates (ARC)
My time in Over-the-Rhine had its ups and downs, but somehow I managed to fight through it. I feel my current situation differed from other students, which is what made things more difficult. I expected my personal life to be different from the personal lives of my fellow classmates due to age differences. Having to live in another city from my girlfriend and her children was actually more difficult to me than I thought it would be. Most weeks my mind was in Oxford when I was supposed to focus on major issues that happen in Over- the-Rhine. All of my time was not difficult though. I truly enjoyed designing for the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, and writing about issues on racism and gentrification. I enjoyed all of the readings, articles, and movies we watched during Thursday’s class. The Designing/Writing for Social Change course got really exciting after we split into teams to join an issue for Peaslee. Not only did I enjoy helping to promote the “Keep Our Courts” campaign, I enjoyed meeting new people and the NKU students. I have definitely gained new friends by being part of that group. I got the opportunity to work with students who genuinely care. I also enjoyed the five required city meetings I had to attend. I have never been to any kind of city meeting or neighborhood meeting. I think that is actually an awesome idea for communities to have. It is very important for voices in communities to be heard and at these meetings I got the chance to hear community members speak up and have their voices heard by the boards and attendees.
Gentrification is a term I heard a lot during my time in Over-the-Rhine. Gentrification is a term that sticks with me now. The term actually frightens me in a way. It does so because I fear that this could very easily happen in the town where I am from. Talking about gentrification in classes made me realize that it is a 15+ year process. It’s not something that just happens overnight, and after learning more about this term I’ve come to realize that my home community is in the process of gentrification. I want to do everything in my power to stop it. I want to go back into my community and preach the importance of ownership and how gentrification works.
One person in the neighborhood is James Brown. James sells Streetvibes, and he stopped by our studio often. James is a really nice guy, I rarely remember him coming in to sell his papers, and he’d actually look forward to seeing us to have a conversation. I learned a lot about James. I learned that he suffered two heart attacks and was even stabbed. James has had a really rough life, and seemed to want to get things on track. I know James loves cats, and he misses playing football when he was younger.
I truly think design could shape empathy amongst people with different backgrounds. Understanding also comes into play too. All parties have to be willing and open to experiencing different cultures. Of course we all pre-judge, but you have to be willing to set that aside and open up to something new. If a Caucasian person went off of what they see on the news every day, then of course they wouldn’t want to live amongst African Americans. If African Americans thought that all Caucasians were racist and thought less of them then of course they are not going to want to live amongst them either. We all should open up and experience things for ourselves instead of what we are told by others.
The thing that I will miss the most about Over-the-Rhine is the realness and authenticity of some of the people we encountered. Someone like Miss June. I love the honesty and realness she possesses. She seems fearless. I will miss walking past Race Street at 8:50am waving at Mr. Earl and him yelling out “What’s up Royce!” He is really a nice guy. I remember talking to him and his buddy about football, and they couldn’t believe that I didn’t play for Miami University. Mr. Earl’s friend said to me, “Royce I will be your manager, and we go right down to the Bengals, and I will get you on that team.” I thought that was so funny, and I will always remember that conversation.
Jess Sherlock (ARC)
On August 21st, I wrote:
Today, the first day, was eleven hours long and longer because everyone cushioned each word with, “I know you must be overwhelmed.” Truth is, overwhelmed is not what I’m feeling. I’m excited and raring to go.
I readied myself for design-build. Real-world training. Power tools. I don’t recall being told ahead of time about all this social injustice talk. I no longer remember who I was before Over-the-Rhine. Lessons learned this semester seem now so obvious and so true, as the sun in the sky, rising above the Kroger building through my window each morning. And why shouldn’t they be? Overall, it seems that these are simple enough words to live by: treat others with the respect they deserve, but know that you are not the one who determines what is deserved.
Yet they’re difficult to remember when so many thoughts balance on your shoulders and you feel your knees twisting under the weight of prejudice and privilege.
By September 30th, I wrote:
Everyone is tired. This whole thing is tiring…Always being on the lookout for lessons hidden in the crowd.
I felt that I had a lot of looking to do, that I couldn’t waste these three months of time. The searching, many times, felt hollow. I wanted something to happen, so that I could experience ‘The Experience’ and learn something. Of course, I overlooked all that which had happened already. People came into the Center where the architecture majors worked all day, every day. They were all sorts and asked all things. Frequently, there were two sorts of men who asked for money for food and to both we usually offered food instead of coins: the men who took the food and the men who didn’t and shambled out. Also frequenting, the Streetvibes vendors, who we’ve come to expect most days and who like to sit down and have a chat. They’ll drink the coffee, whether it’s hot or cold. These are the people I know and they’re the sort that always have something interesting to say.
On October 21st, I wrote:
I felt as if he saw me as one of the outsiders who frolic around Over-the-Rhine on the weekends and don’t understand.
I was accused of ignoring someone by a Streetvibes vendor. I was lectured on how that woman who had said something to me was a person same as I and I should respect them. I tried so hard to avoid being a tourist in this neighborhood. This incident was a misunderstanding, but being told that I had done no better than the rest cut me deeply in the middle of a confusing time. Whether I had or hadn’t, someone else felt I didn’t live up to the simple lesson I said I’d learned.
On October 27th, I wrote:
The Pedal Wagon always seems to drive past when you’re considering what is wrong with Over-the-Rhine and the world as a whole.
Sweet Caroline, Don’t Stop Believin,’ and occasionally Party in the USA. These songs were quite ruined for me, hearing them screamed from the street below when the Pedal Wagon ran. This is a neighborhood, I would think, people are trying to go about their lives here. Yet, the Wagon riders are only having a good time. So why do I get so angry at the sight of it? Is that not also prejudice?
On November 11th, I wrote:
I don’t have any answers, only more questions.
On December 2nd, I wrote:
And I suppose I’m trying to figure out now how I am supposed to have transformed.
I still felt as though I didn’t know who I was anymore. I recognize that the people I met know so much more than I about the System and I thought that meant I couldn’t have an opinion, because what if my opinion was wrong because of a lack of knowledge? I can handle disagreement, but only if I know my foundations are solid enough to take the tremors.
On December 8th, I wrote:
I don’t know…I’m at the end of my rope here. Two days left.
My knuckles scraped raw against the brick at Peaslee where we’ve been working. My fingers are carved by slashed metal, sticking up from our project. The futility of a deadline. My face has been burned, cut, bruised and tired most of all. Can’t say I didn’t put my back into it. To be an architect, I will need bigger biceps. To be the architect I want to be, I will need better eyes to see – not the parti, but the point. For whom are we building? I think if anything, this semester has taught me that if there is no one using the space, the building doesn’t matter. All those standing abandoned in Over-the-Rhine, I don’t remember. Their architecture is useless, beautiful though it may be.
Lastly, I wrote:
I believe in love and a love that extends to anyone you want to stick around in life
I’ve met many people this semester and most of them taught me something I didn’t know before. All of them surprised me. I’m grateful for those who were willing to share a part of themselves with me. I’ve learned a quality of life and living which cannot be taught, only experienced.
Jessie Davidson (EDT)
What will I miss most about Over-the-Rhine and the Residency Program? Bonnie always talks about getting the rug ripped out from underneath you and you begin to question things you had never thought about. The rug was first ripped out from underneath me my freshman year when I came for an urban plunge and through the Urban Teaching Cohort it continued to be ripped out from underneath me. I did the Residency Program thinking I knew what to expect because I had done two plunges, the Cincinnati Summer Internship Program (CSIP) as well as many visits to Over-the-Rhine with the UTC. I thought enough rugs had been ripped and I was now ready to be a part of the community and be there for my future students. But I learned there is always one more that can be ripped from you and lead you to question the world around you. That there is always something new to learn, a story or anything that can change the way you think if you keep your mind open. That is what I will miss most about Over-the-Rhine and the Residency Program: having the rug ripped out from underneath me on a daily basis.
I learned through working with my students and their parents that relationships are most important above all. That getting to know your students, their family, and their stories is vital to education. Students all have a different story and it is important your student know you are always there to listen and be there for them. Learn why they only come to school six days out of a whole month, learn why they always yell in the classroom and are quick to swing at other students, and listen to them and together figure out a solution to help them become the best version of themselves. I spent approximately twelve hours at my school on a daily basis. I came early, I ate lunch with my students, I worked with them after school, and I tutored, I drove my students home, I sat on their sofas and listened to their parent’s stories, I texted parents, and I walked to the convenient store with my students after school. I talked to them about their hopes and dreams, I listened to them cry, and then cried for them in the privacy of my own car. I experienced more joy and more sorrow than I could possibly imagine.
Living in the community affected my worldview in understanding everyday life and what a true community is. The friendly faces, and people who talk to each other not just to be polite but because they care about one another, will stay with me. Learning that getting somewhere is not as important as the conversation and journey to get there.
I can’t even put into words how much I will miss my placement and how much the teachers, students, and school mean to me. This has been by far the greatest challenge in my life, and I didn’t even realize how far I came until our final reflection tonight when I talked in front of everyone about lack of feminine hygiene products for young girls. When I first got here I could have never done that. I knew of the injustices, and learned empathy, but this semester I found my voice and the ability to know that some things need to be said even if it might make people feel uncomfortable. We talk about what it means to be an ally and for the first time in my life I feel that I was able to take the knowledge from Mr. Earl, Mr. Alan, Bonnie, Tom, Dr. Tammy, Kim, and the students in my school, and spread awareness of the injustices, shine a light on one tiny part of so many things that are wrong and unjust within our society.
I want others to know that Over-the-Rhine is not a “high crime area.” Over-The-Rhine is filled with more community and love, hardworking people, children, mothers, fathers, human beings. I think in our society people forget we are all human beings. People can’t be defined in one stereotype or one phrase, everyone has a story that you won’t know unless you stop and talk to them. And Over-the-Rhine is a place filled with beautiful people who do just that—they take the time to get to know the stories of those living in their neighborhood.
Emily Dones (ARC)
“Over-the-Rhine is a beautiful place with a heartbeat. And the heartbeat doesn’t come from the stores or the shops. The heartbeat comes from the people that live here and I love those people.”
Melissa, Streetvibes Vender, November 12th
“Why don’t you do this stuff in Chicago, we have the same problems back home,” said my parents. “Yeah,” I answered, “but this is different. It’s way more immersive and compelling. It pushes me into it, which is what I need. I wouldn’t know how to begin anywhere else.” I said these words in August before the journey began. When I moved in during the summer for the summer design-build, I came with an ego, thinking I knew what urban looked and felt like, I knew the issues America was dealing with because I’d seen it for myself in a different and bigger city. How could Over-the-Rhine be any different? It was a rude awakening during the summer, immediately proving myself wrong, but I was not fully awake yet after the six weeks. It took until the end of this semester for myself to fully transform into a better individual.
I met a myriad of people throughout my time here, talking to them in small, sporadic amounts of time, eventually leading to full conversations. When I first met James Brown, I was a little timid with his funny remarks and jokes, and I’ll admit I had my assumptions. After getting to know him, I now call him my friend. His loyalty is something I’ve never encountered before with anyone. The loyalty of every community member is shocking and comforting. The staff of Peaslee has become my family; I know I can trust and count on them for anything. Besides keeping me fed all semester, they genuinely care for my well being, as I do theirs. I’ve made it a habit to walk through Ziegler Park every once in awhile, and I encounter the same people who make the day a little brighter. Jokes, laughter, and games radiate inside the park, an element no one would know without actually walking in and conversing. My empathy towards human beings as a whole has been strengthened; causing myself to interact with people I don’t know more often. I’ve grown into a person who wants to make every person I meet on the street a little bit happier than they were before. Before, I read the gruesome news, knew about the corrupt government, seen friends from high school mistreated because of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and I think I built an invisible box around myself to shut anyone out I didn’t know. I thought the world was bad and I didn’t want to get hurt like everyone else. Now that box is broken, and I want to help anyone and everyone, selflessly. I want to deeply know my community on a personal level, sharing knowledge and growing together.
As a designer, I knew I wanted to build to improve the quality of life of people, on a more local scale. The design-build experience has shown me how close you can get to a client and how meaningful design is. From the summer program, the joy on the faces of the Peaslee staff was unimaginable. Knowing that they can live comfortably and happier is an outcome I saw, an outcome I now will strive for with my career. Getting to know the client on a more personal level also strengthens the design as a whole, because you know and feel their frustrations and needs. Changing the environment greatly influences the people who see it the most. I now feel that in order to make the best design decisions, I have to immerse myself into their daily lives. I don’t want to work in an office somewhere far away from the design; I want to live where it lives. This is a strong lesson I’ll hold with me forever from Over-the-Rhine.
Besides missing delicious Holtman’s donuts, I will miss the people the most. The people who I’ve known for such a short time that have took me under their wing. Their loyalty and compassion are something you rarely encounter and get to know. The raw emotions of community members are something I will really miss when going back into the mysterious, held- back world. You don’t get true honesty anywhere else like you get it in Over-the-Rhine. The people are what make it special. I’ll miss the relationships I’ve made the most, and the dedication I see in them to make the world a better place.
Megan Krach (EDP)
For the Residency Program I was a student teacher in a fifth and sixth grade intervention setting. Coming into the Program, I had some expectations of how my student-teaching and time in Over-the-Rhine would be like. To my surprise, my experience in this Program was somewhat different than I expected—in good and not-so-good ways. I was challenged more than I ever thought I could be challenged. My mind and body were more tired than I thought they could ever be. But as I learned, this experience was not just about how much I was challenged and how tired I was—it is about the people who I met who have changed my life forever.
At the beginning of my journey, I was overwhelmed.
Typically, I am an introverted person, especially in new places with new people. Here, I was thrown together with sixteen other Miami students, numerous students and teachers from school, and people in general just living so close by. Despite the chaos of it all, I have found to love the sense of community I feel down here. Whether it is from daily talks with Mr. Earl, seeing the various Streetvibes vendors throughout the week, or deep talks with strangers passing by, I have never felt such a strong sense of community. Speaking of Mr. Earl, he has to be one of the best neighbors I have ever had. He is always willing to engage in a conversation and I know that he is always looking out for the Miami students and all the other community members that live nearby. He has taught me that it is worth it to take time from our busy days and engage in meaningful conversations with other people. We are all busy and we all have things to do, but it is necessary to take time to talk to people because you never know what you may learn from a
five-minute conversation with your neighbor or somebody walking by.
My placement at the school had the biggest impact on me this semester. Through student-teaching and tutoring after school, I spent an average of over 40 hours a week at school. My time working with students has definitely fostered the most learning. Through the Urban Teaching Cohort, I have been preparing to work in an urban school setting for two years by taking classes and through various service experiences. Despite all the preparation, I quickly figured out that I had much more to learn. At the school I taught at, virtually all the students are considered economically disadvantaged, which definitely has a large impact on learning. To fully express this point, I am going to share an experience from the beginning of the semester.
For the first quarter, the theme of English Language Arts was adversity. For one of the lessons I taught, I had the students start off with a quick write. The prompt was, “Describe a time you had to overcome something in your life.” The students quickly became reluctant to write. I gave personal examples and tried helping students generate ideas. The more time we spent on this, the more I realized that my students have had to overcome so much more than I have ever had to overcome in my own life. For example, one of the students shared with me that her cousin got shot last year and she found out by seeing a picture of her cousin on the news. The five minute quick-write, turned into a whole class lesson, with me learning the most of anyone. At that moment, all the preparation for this semester had come together. I realized that it is much different to talk about poverty, homelessness, violence, and inequality in a classroom than to see it personally. Once I was able to put faces to the social injustices I have been learning about in my classes, it had a must larger impact than I could have ever imagined. I have never experienced moments like I have this semester that have shaken me down to my core and I know it has changed me for the better.
As the semester comes to an end, I am reluctant to leave.
I had my ups and downs, but overall, I experienced the most learning this semester than any other time in my life. I am going to miss seeing my students every day. They have taught me more than they will ever know and I have never loved and cared for a group of students as much as my students this semester.
Although I was the teacher and my students are supposed to be learning from me, I know that I have learned so much more from my students than they could have ever learned from me. I have discovered who I am and who I want to become as a person and a teacher. I am going to miss the strong sense of community here. I know it is going to be hard to find a place that compares to Over-the-Rhine.
Kinsey Harman (ARC)
This semester has been a rollercoaster. Just when I thought I’d gotten comfortable here, something else was there to knock me off my feet. I laughed, I cried, I learned. But I think more than anything else, I found myself. I found who I am in the walks to Peaslee Neighborhood Center, in the stoop conversations with Mr. Earl, and in the silences filled with loud thoughts and introspection.
I didn’t really know why I came to Over-the-Rhine in the first place. People had asked me and oftentimes, I just made up an answer about wanting to work in the non-profit world or experience city life, but really I had no idea. If you had asked me five years ago if I thought I’d spend a semester in an impoverished neighborhood with a less than perfect track record for safety, I would have called you crazy. But somehow I just felt that I was called to live down here this fall, to embrace the culture and love these people.
I came into this semester thinking I was going to help the people here through the design/build studio and serving in the community. I quickly learned that I wasn’t here to help these people at all. In fact, I couldn’t. I found out that it was more about them helping me, and it took me a very long time to be okay with that. These community members have served me in countless ways, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough. They have been vulnerable with me, allowing me to see glimpses into their lives without the sugarcoated façade most of society likes to show. My experiences with one woman in particular have inspired me to always look deeper. Melissa shared her story openly and honestly while speaking so much truth into my life. Regarding her personal experience living in the neighborhood, she said: “Over-the-Rhine is a beautiful place with a heartbeat. And the heartbeat doesn’t come from the stores or the shops. The heartbeat comes from the people that live here and I love those people.” People like her have allowed me to see that heartbeat and to sync myself with it as if it were my own.
While there have been many joys, I’ve also felt my fair share of anger this semester. Frustrations emerged regarding the poor treatment of long-time residents and people experiencing homelessness—people who are treated like they’re invisible simply because they don’t fit this standard that visitors coming to Over-the-Rhine created. I’ve gotten even angrier because of the way community members stereotyped me: a white college student from Miami. They assumed so many things about me that weren’t true. It was amazing to have them see that I wasn’t living up to my stereotypes, but even more amazing was that I saw that they didn’t live up to theirs either. Society paints a very inaccurate picture of people, but before this experience, I had never gotten to see those stereotypes shattered so fully.
Realizing the immense amount of privilege I carry was the hardest part about these last few months, and I’m pretty sure it’s the source of frustration I will hold with me the most when I leave. The weight of the privilege I hold because of the family I was born into and the opportunities I have will never seem fair to me. Somehow, I have all of this power to make change, yet I have no idea how to start and the more we’ve talked about these issues, the further I feel from any solutions. It’s not because I don’t think they’re possible, but rather because I have realized just how difficult they will be to execute. In order to solve all of the social inequalities and injustices in the world, we have to meet people where they’re at and help them see truth on their own terms. That takes time and a lifetime of hard work, which makes it difficult to remind myself that it will be worth the fight. I have to learn how to use this power and knowledge I’ve gained to better the world we live in without letting the struggle overcome me. I can’t let the frustrations of not being heard exhaust me to the point of defeat. I owe it to these people to speak out for them when the world won’t listen to their voices.
Thinking back on my time here makes me realize just how much of a home it has become. These neighborhood people have opened their arms to me and let me into their lives. They’ve shown me hope like I’ve never seen it before, and they’ve humbled me to appreciate the little things in life like saying hello to strangers on the sidewalk and getting to see multiple perspectives of any particular story. As I pack up my creaky old apartment and say goodbye to this place I’ve had a love-hate relationship with, I can feel the amount of growth I’ve endured over the past sixteen weeks: the heartache, the joy, the rage, the peace. My heart is cracked but so very full. All I can say is thank you, Over-the-Rhine, for being the home I never though