Sitting in the home bleachers of last Friday night’s football game felt like second nature. Football players lining the field and cheerleaders cohesively twisting out incantations. The band reverberated its cadences as the points for Heights Tigers ticked onward. Friday night football brought back memories of my school days in Louisiana where a rural, racially divided town gathered together under insect-covered spotlights to do the only thing on a Friday night there was to do. For a while we did it so well, state championship rings became as common as wedding bands.
A game night scuffle, parades of students being seen and seeing, it was a replay of junior year in high school, when there were no concerns about home equity or the vitality of the economy. On the climb to adulthood, ignorance is bliss. On the backside of adulthood, it is completely understandable to be concerned about this nation, this state, this community. Natural catastrophes, market instability, job loss – the opportunity to worry presents itself no less than 1, 282 times a day. I try my best to push it away and focus on the present. Sitting on football bleachers on a Friday night reinforces the biting reality of how fleeting time and opportunity can be.
Which is why I suck in my breath and smile whenever I’m weaving through South Taylor Road construction or bouncing down the resurfacing project on Dellwood. Inconvenience or not, these examples of orchestrated chaos indicate that investment still resides in inner ring suburbs.
Some of us have lived long enough to recognize when the deceptive process of stagnation has set in. Far too often, it is assumed that lack of progress hibernates benignly until when comes – when the economy gets better, when incomes are up, when it looks like things will turn around – but stagnation is malignant. It reproduces and expands to break down the spirit of a neighborhood. Pretty soon a Great Place to Live becomes a decent place to reside. Good grows into fair and fair erodes into unsustainable. The negative PR campaign begins as soon as the first patch of blight begins and the way we reference our own community is lauded about as corrosively as acid. Just as the first down-tick is measured, the white flag is raised and the latest Great Place to Live is surrendered to a campaign of neglect, self-fulfilling prophesy and divestment. We lay down our once Great Place to Live at the feet of those who don’t deserve it, then turn tail and whine about how all the Great Places to Live are falling away, when the truth of the matter is, it is us who have fallen away.
Where will we go next? Lately I hear it should be Solon or Orange, or better yet, Chagrin Falls. Surely what happened to the cities of old can’t replicate itself in those communities. In those communities, upper class whites won’t begin to feel discomfort around the growing number of middle class blacks. Middle class blacks won’t begin to feel discomfort about the growing number of working class* blacks. Working class blacks won’t opt to seek out better opportunities for their children. In those communities, diverse neighborhoods won’t be penalized for also being inclusive neighborhoods. Surely inconveniences, irritations and background differences won’t play a factor. There will never be pants that sag, kids that curse or lackadaisical parenting in the next city over. Better move there quickly, before your city turns into the ghetto.
But there is another option to keeping stagnation away. We could all decide that we’re tired of putting our houses up for sale every spring. We could choose to stay and fight for progress. Those whose insights have been made clear and palpable through repeated gripes and complaints can inject much needed energy into just one project or just one individual who is already utilizing sweat equity to offset what threatens to be eroded away. Since it is more reasonable to believe that frustration, especially justified frustration, stands a better chance of dissipating when change is near, maybe a new sort of change should be employed. Just this month, we learned that CH-UH Schools have changed, boasting an improvement in ranking and announcing adjusted schedules in order to address performance issues. Whether you’re a believer in the standardized testing system or not, it’s commonplace for individuals to use these rankings as statistical proof of affluence. Good schools are in affluent neighborhoods. Failing schools are in poor ones. So whether we admit it, it serves us all that Cleveland Heights be touted as having good schools.
Maybe there is something you can change to keep the momentum going in this city. It could be something as simple as changing the thought from “Somebody should tell the neighbors to shovel the sidewalks for the kids” to “I will shovel my sidewalk and ask my neighbors to do the same.”
Or “I will volunteer for one hour to tutor math at an elementary school.”
“I’ll ask my neighbor if we can work out a pickup/drop off car pool.”
“I will make a donation to cover equipment fees for a high school athlete.”
Sometimes, positive change boils down to a numbers game. Participation by more of Us who care equals progress. If we could only recognize that Us has just as much power – if not more – to affect change, a host of possibilities could exist right here in the Heights, an area that is stated to have involved citizens and abounding creativity.
How about a 100 parent flashmob at a middle school? How creative would that be?
Or asking police officers to adopt a school and insure students know his/her name, face and contact information?
Join the PTA and send in a $5 donation for every month you cannot participate.
Volunteer to send in arts supplies, extra school supplies. Offer to treat a classroom to a pizza if students reach a common goal.
None of these are back breaking or wallet draining.
While rhetoric is an ineffective tool when unaccompanied by action, the start of any corrective process includes verbalization of what is wrong. Seems like we’ve been there, done that on the verbalization thing. I’ve already lived in Solon and chose to move to Cleveland Heights anyway so essentially, I have no place to run – except maybe to try my luck in Las Vegas or to my tiny hometown in Louisiana, where less than 4,000 citizens learned a long time ago that differences could be set aside long enough to support Friday night football.
*I use working class as a misnomer because heck, we all work. However the phrase is preferable to the use of the phrase lower class, for which only a being higher than me can discern.