Introducing the My Neighbor, Myself Series: Profiles in courage and action from Cleveland changemakers
“I’m just going to go there for the opening keynote,” I told my husband as I left the house for the Cleveland CommUNITY Builders Conference on a busy, rainy Saturday morning. Thinking to myself: “I’m not sure I belong there. It’s not my event, really. Technically, I don’t even live in Cleveland. I’ll just take a few photos and write a quick article about how everyone is working together from different neighborhoods.”
That’s so cute. Funny even.
I thought I could “just drop by” on a group of grassroots networkers and community organizers. Five hours later, here I am, trying to find words to capture the magic of an inclusive, diverse, loving community.
Yes, I am talking about Cleveland, Ohio.
From the police chief and the mayor, to block club presidents, community organizations and countless volunteers, the heart of Cleveland came together at this second annual event to empower and support resident leaders from every neighborhood in the city …
Community members like Brenda Metzger, who has spent the last 15 years making friends with drug dealers and offering condoms to “women of the night” while she browsed the want ads for employment opportunities on their behalf. Metzger is an enthusiastic supporter of the Cleveland police, an outspoken advocate for seniors and children, and she is eager to make the acquaintance of a new generation of dealers who don’t yet know who she is.
Two weeks from now, Brenda, who is 58 years young and doesn’t like to have her picture taken, will receive her degree in Nonprofit Administration and Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, though she could probably have taught some of the classes herself. Working with the Burten, Bell, Carr Development corporation as the Vice President of the East 73rd Street Community Club, she and her neighbors have developed a philosophy of radical inclusion in their Cleveland Central neighborhood. Stepping out of their homes and into the streets, they have spent over a decade building human bridges across what divides their community.
When Cleveland residents take action, abandoned houses get torn down, replacing drug deals and prostitution with gardens and playgrounds. Closed doors are opened through community events and two-way conversations. Brenda’s story is a powerful reminder of the greatest asset in any Cleveland neighborhood – its people.
If she can welcome both me and the drug dealers without passing judgement, what can I do to practice such radical inclusivity in my own corner of the world?My Neighbor, Myself: What can I do to practice radical inclusivity in my neighborhood? Click To Tweet
I can reach out in kindness to my cranky neighbor. I can pay attention to who isn’t at the table when we’re planning our annual block party. I can be aware of my own biases and unspoken obstacles – pushing past them, like Brenda – to create a safe space for personal growth and meaningful connections. I can make and accept invitations, seeking out authentic engagement that challenges my comfort zone. And I can keep sharing stories about the inspiring people I meet along the way.
Thank you, Cleveland changemakers, for the warm welcome. I promise to return the favor. Stay tuned for more of our My Neighbor, Myself series, profiles in courage and action from Cleveland’s neighborhood changemakers.