I hated it. I hated Columbus when I first got here. I spent a lot of time on the weekends at home. It was different, culturally. I was surprised how different it was at first. I didn’t really feel accepted at first. If you were from here, and you knew people, you were good, but it took a while for me to get acclimated to the culture. Columbus sharpened me, politically. It forces you to get to know people or learn the lay of the land. So for a long time I just felt like an outsider. It kinda grew on me, though.
The canvas hasn’t fully been drawn for Columbus yet. It’s still trying to figure out what it’s going to be, in terms of this big city. And I’m a part of that fabric and trying to help the city.
What I did notice, me and my partner, we still didn’t find – and don’t find – many people of color in those spaces. When we would go to design conferences and events, we would be one or two of very few at those events in these industries where we know some very dope, creative people of color. Why aren’t they here? And so it took me back to my freshman year where it was this issue of culture within the design community. And then, ten years later, when I was adjuncting at CCAD that same culture was on display as somebody’s thesis. You’ve got graffiti and hip-hop culture being featured as a thesis work. And we noticed that when we’d go to this great conference in Cleveland called Weapons of Mass Creation, and this stuff is like really fun and really inspiring and really great design, and we aren’t in the picture, but our culture is there. We were doing this stuff on club flyers back in the day and it wasn’t accepted in the design community, and now these people are making money with the NFL and things like that. But we’re still not looked at as influences within our own industry.
I live in the Long St./King-Lincoln/Bronzeville area. I really love the history and the culture of that area. I tell people, if you’re willing to deal with some riff-raff, it’s a great area to live in. And it’s weird because you have extreme affluence and abject poverty right next to each other. One street is historic homes, very affluent people live in them. And then the next street over you have people barely eating, barely making it.
I come from a very similar neighborhood in Cleveland. So that empathy is real. Yeah, I was a knucklehead when I was 15 and 16, and I did stuff I shouldn’t have done. I’ve experienced that. I know what it’s like to not have lights and to be on the verge of doing something you deplore just to get by.
There are some challenges that any inner-city neighborhood has to deal with. I tell people to invest. That’s the only way to see change and make change, invest in the community. And don’t push people out. Educate ‘em, empower ‘em, show ‘em how they can take pride. Even if they’re renting. It’s better to make the investment, not just in land and property, but in helping to build a community that’s accepting of all people in the area.
It’s very complex. It’s not just getting rid of the riff-raff. We need to really look at this introspectively. You’ve got three or four schools within that area. And you’ve got kids who are hungry, and by the time they hit eighth grade and they’ve been dealing with it for years, some of them are working to support their families. What looks like apathy is really just survival. I think the biggest thing we can do is provide exposure. Some of those kids have never left the neighborhood, never left the city. You’ve got the art museum right there, they’ve never been to the art museum, they’ve never been to the King Arts complex, which is right there. For me, it was exposure. I had great parents, they exposed us to things outside of my neighborhood. It showed me another path, another way.