When there are overwhelming needs in a community, its residents can do a few things: They can abandon hope and move somewhere else. If they don’t have the mobility, they can ditch hope while staying put, wishing things were better. Or they can circumvent the systems that have failed them and organize, rising up together for change.
The volunteers of East Cleveland RISE, a community-led city revitalization effort, have chosen the latter — and for good reason.
“Although the poorest city in the state and one of the poorest in the entire country, East Cleveland is so much more than those stats or the pictures showing an ‘abandoned’ city,” says Allyson Carpenter of East Cleveland RISE. “It has a very rich history, one marked by the pride and resiliency of its residents.”
She explains her organization, saying, “We are working to empower residents to get involved and take an active role in shaping the future of this great city. It is our aim to encourage equitable growth that doesn’t come at the expense of longtime residents.”
A few months ago, East Cleveland RISE teamed up with Birthing Beautiful Communities, a nonprofit doula program promoting holistic birth equity, to renovate East Cleveland’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center, which was falling into disrepair. Gym floorboards were bowed or missing in places. There were lighting issues. The HVAC system didn’t work properly. The equipment was outdated and broken. Some said the site looked like a perpetual construction zone, with orange cones and yellow tape littered throughout. The city simply couldn’t afford to renovate the site by itself.
Community members decided to take things in their own hands. On MLK Day of Service, nearly 100 volunteers tore up floorboards and started the construction effort, saving the cash-strapped city money on renovation efforts.
Much progress has been made — but the job isn’t done. The organization is putting out a call to action on April 14th to finish the job:
“On April 14th, we are having our second major day of service in support of the Martin Luther King Civic Center Renovation Project,” says Allyson. “‘The Civ,’ as we call it, is the only public recreation center in the city, and it is in dire need of repair. We’ve already saved the city about $75,000, and we are looking to finish what we started on Global Youth Service Day. While this event is targeting area youth, we are inviting the whole community to come out! We will be planting a community garden, painting the walls, laying new tile in meeting rooms, and more.” The event takes place from 11am to 3pm.
Of course, East Cleveland RISE isn’t stopping with the renovation of “The Civ.” When asked what top three things they’d like to see happen in the city, Allyson has many ideas.
“We need to bring the community together to deliver a comprehensive urban plan. We look forward to engage our neighbors to learn about their ideas for the long-term future of East Cleveland,” says Allyson. She continues, “We want to encourage direct investments in East Cleveland residents. We can’t just talk about community revitalization in terms of brick and mortar development. East Cleveland RISE plans to work with public officials and community partners to offer programs that center around professional development, literacy, health, and more.”
And lastly, “We would also like to do our part to tackle vacancy and blight in the city. We plan to get involved in rehabilitation projects that both restore the city’s vibrancy and trains employs local residents in trademark.”
East Cleveland may be strapped for cash, but they have no shortage of passionate residents. Allyson remains optimistic.
“It’s a new day in East Cleveland! We believe our best days are ahead of us. We are committed to working to build a city with a strong and inclusive economy that first empowers its own residents while also attracting the growth needed to sustain.”
East Cleveland RISE welcomes donations of time, resources, and money. All efforts will help make “The Civ” the beautiful, safe space it deserves to be.
Have plants to donate? Contact Wyndi Moore at Wyndi@ecrise.org, or call her at 216-392-4365. Interested in donating? Visit https://ecrise.org. Want to join the work team on April 14? Sign up on their Facebook page or at https://forms.gle/B6k4AshrzkJgtNft9.