Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cleveland's Garden Valley Neighborhood House - in recent years and recent months....

With this being the latest in a series of long walks - at least digitally - back to what I call the "bridge area", I wanted to recap that since August 2011, I have begun to explore parts of two neighborhoods on Cleveland's East Side - Kinsman and North Broadway, stemming from my desire to see the preservation and re-use of the historic and abandoned "Sidaway Avenue Suspension Bridge" between the two areas. While I have definitely fallen away from the flurry of activity I gave to the project 3-4 years ago, I do not want to let go of it, so here is another lighting of the flame.

In regards to this article, readers are referred to my "big blog" (as I call it) of Sept. 2011, and its references to the Garden Valley Neighborhood House, or "GVNH" (see "Notes" below)....
GVNH in 2012 

In returning to this subject - of a long-time community center just a two to three-minute walk from the Sidaway Avenue Bridge, I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz, because while I have at least some level of heart and brain, I would be glad to have more of the executive capabilities of GVNH director Jan Ridgeway...
and the persistence and outspokenness of her work and life partner Quinton Durham, the initiator of a construction education program at GVNH....
Thanks to them and my own brand of both sleeping at the wheel and continued persistence, I've gone from a rough idea, perhaps as suggested by this earlier sign at GVNH for the "Durham Construction Trade Institute (DCTI)"....
to something more finished, like this slightly later one....
Since the persistence dates from close to four years ago, my first finished product here is really a short record and recognition of slightly earlier days at the Garden Valley Neighborhood House, not exactly 1924 as sharp eyes may have seen to the left in the photo just above, OR the 1960's and the happy days recounted by Kinsman resident Greg Wallace, but April 6, 2012, when I briefly met with Mr. Durham.

While this first posting will emphasize that visit, Jan Ridgeway, Mr. Durham and others have updated me on GVNH since then, including very briefly in August of last year and on Fri., Jan. 8, earlier this month, and I will comment on the 1/8/16 "dose of positivity", as I have called it, along with challenges which Ms. Ridgeway notes as well, in an update to this blog.

Since this is not exactly cutting-edge journalism, you could say that what Mr. Durham and others at GVNH want is still much needed - and more so with the renewed activism of "Black Lives Matter" and related activities since 2014 - and, with over four years since I last said this - I fervently believe that the vision of improved working-class and low-income communities has to include preserving some meaningful level of past landmarks, knowing that the loss of so many has contributed to another kind of demeaning of such neighborhoods, even as it can easily be seen as less so than drugs, violence and sub-human housing.

And so, from a 1930 bridge to the 1924 Garden Valley Neighborhood House....

My meeting of April 2012 was primarily with Mr. Durham, and he was generous to share his story of a Georgia upbringing in the 40's and 50's, largely one of family pride, including a father who was "the greatest farmer to ever hit Georgia" (according to the son at least:)) and where - acknowledging the tragedy of a harsh racism - that seems to have often been transformed into positives, as in his determined and sometimes outspoken demeanor of recent years, and in at least one other case I noticed, with 2012's DCTI shirts saying "Future Builders of America" and those words being inspired by the slogan of a White South Georgia school touting its "future farmers of America" in the 50's.

Durham started coming up to Cleveland at the age of 15 and moved here full-time in 1960. He spoke with pride of his own record, including being part of home construction in suburbs including Wickliffe, Willowick and Mentor. He volunteered a resume of constructing churches as well, partly as an earlier form of social service, with his contributing a discount in the construction costs of ones which struggled financially such as the Everlasting Missionary Baptist Church at St. Clair and Eddy in the northeastern section of Cleveland [and cited further in "Notes" at the end of this article].

While working in Kinsman, he also emphasized a sense of holding off a possible demolition of GVNH by parties who would have preferred the expansion of the Heritage View residences which are on two sides of it. This became part of a defense of reusing old buildings on his part and a support for preservation articulated in a later discussion with Ms. Ridgeway. [With his strong emphasis on the physical threat to the GVNH structure, I welcome the responses of others to see their view of GVNH and its survival at the time in question.]

At 70 (in 2012), his drive, according to him, was encouraged largely by a sense of how great the economic needs of many Black communities have been in recent years, and he at one point offered a typical night of going to bed at midnight, and waking up at 5, adding at one point -- "with our people in the condition they are in, how can you sleep?"

His depiction of his hard work was echoed by his ringtone at the time - with the well-known pop music words "Ain't no stopping us now, we're moving up...."
and I heard it at least three times during our interview and three more afterwards as I annotated quickly written notes from him.

In the auditorium and chapel for GVNH - an unheated and quieter place filled as we met there with clothes for area residents....
he gave one of several critiques of the Black community both nationwide and locally, and I would say they came out of frustration but also out of "tough love". At this spot, he offered a strong approval of the appeal for Black economic empowerment which he had just heard on the previous day at the Cleveland City Club, a long-time community forum where a Ms. Anderson had spoken the day before, advocating for more spending at Black-owned businesses by Blacks. [This campaign sounded familiar to me, and readers are encouraged to see "Further Readings" at the end of this article for more insight into the Andersons' efforts.]

His critique was joined at times with a more  compassionate message, including his noting a lack of access to work in construction for Blacks, and the comment at one point in reference to the "young Black man" in the inner city that "[firms] don't take him", adding that "it was the biggest mistake when they took the trades out of [public school education]".

To fill the void, he started his trades institute in 2007, noting that he had graduated over 300 students, with 67 in the most recent class (as of our Spring 2012 talk) and 53 in the session before that.

He also told me about kids in 2nd through 6th grades in a "wee-builders" program, saying they were learning math and science through the field of construction and showing me one of the products they had worked on in a building lab....

Ending partly on this one-time work in progress, as with this article at the moment, and on a note of "our future" in a sense, I hope to move on shortly to a partial sense of 2015 and 2016 at GVNH.

Further views of the auditorium and chapel at GVNH, which I saw as a beautiful space in its colors, curves and pointed arches on my first look at it in 2012, notwithstanding and in part because of its use as a store room for clothes at that time....


...the Andersons - For more on Maggie and John Anderson, one source is a 2012 story on PBS's Newshour including an interview with them, in both transcript and video at the first site below:

Everlasting Missionary Baptist Church, 579 Eddy Road - A small picture of part of its facade can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Everlasting-Missionary-Baptist-Church/155158484520784?v=info&tab=overview.

Garden Valley Neighborhood House - In my initial "bridge blog" of 2011- with the caveat that I have not re-read it entirely for this note:) - I refer to GVNH at least four times....

...starting early on at the end of the "Geography" section, about 10-15% of the way down (as the cursor goes:));

...40-45% of the way down in connection with the picture of Greg Wallace on his front steps;

...shortly thereafter for its west-facing mural (near the end of the paragraph beginning "Very appreciative of assistance from Ms. Kilbury...")

...and with a view of that mural in the footnote (numbered "iii", at least for this section of the blog) which accompanies that paragraph.

A building plan for 11914 Forest Avenue in Cleveland at GVNH [April 6, 2012]


I have spoken of a meeting with Ms. Ridgeway on "Sat., Jan. 9" near the beginning of my first installment of this article, and our meeting was Friday, Jan. 8, 2016 as now noted. [JS, 1/25/16]

A brief update [posted Feb. 18, 2016]....

[I have removed this update to its own blog, posted tonight....Josh Silver, Feb. 22, 2016]

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