Weinland Park is doing great in that that there has been an intentionally built community that respects everybody’s gifts. A core principle that has led a lot of the resident engagement in a neighborhood which has seen crime and violence and disinvestment and vacant, abandoned properties and arsons, and all kinds of negative things that would make many people not want to trust the people living next door to them. As the neighborhood has physically improved, there has also been an intentionality about building the capacity of people’s individual ability to be successful in life, whatever that means for them.
What has been different in that neighborhood than in past efforts of neighborhood revitalization is this respect that everyone has a gift to give. Whether you're Ohio State or United Way or J.P. Morgan Chase or the Columbus Foundation or the City of Columbus that has been investing money in both services and improving real estate and fixing streets and dropping crime, there has been this respect and support for everybody’s gift. If your gift is you want to play football and start a football team, there is a moral obligation to give you the tools that you need, whether that’s literally equipment and supplies or it’s the financial tools, and you’re going to do a football team.
There are 37 residents of Weinland Park, almost all of which live in low-income or some kind of subsidized housing, who volunteer their time to make sure that the neighborhood has a football team and cheerleading program. I don’t believe that most people think that low-income people in subsidized housing are volunteering their time to give back to their community, and a football program and cheerleading program may not seem to be important in a neighborhood with vacant and abandoned housing and crime and gangs, but it’s what a group of people cared about, and therefore they’ve organized around that, and they’ve got 140 kids in the neighborhood that are participating in that program.
There’s an incredible level of participation. Ten years in, 60-70 people are still coming every month to a community meeting, not because they’re angry at what the city did or didn’t do, or because of an incidence of violence, people are coming out every month because they feel that there’s a way for them to contribute. That has been an incredibly supportive community.
Within the last 72 hours, I’ve had a Muslim traditional family that lives a block from me invite me to go with them to Egypt to visit family, me, an openly gay man, to go to with them. How often does that happen? I have ex-felons, people with sexual predator profiles attached to them on my block. I have people that are low-income, people that are college professors, and high-income people. All on my very block. Everybody speaks to one another with a smile, with a hello, and we have built community. It’s amazing to me – that diversity.
I believe the most important story of Weinland Park is not about the reduction in crime and the number of vacant houses that have been fixed, it’s about the supports that have gone into place that have allowed the neighborhood to address it’s collectively owned neighborhood trauma and allowed people the ability to heal with their personal trauma. Therefore, they are able to break bread and treat their neighbors who have different religions, cultures, incomes, everything – with a level of love and respect. That is a narrative that is incredibly hard to put down on paper. That, to me, is the story of Weinland Park.