Charles Ramsey: Someone Every Community Could Learn From

May 7, 2013 § 1 Comment

May 7th, will be a day that lives on fondly in Cleveland for years to come. Families can breathe a united sigh of relief as a community trauma comes to a bittersweet end. Yesterday, three women; Amanda Berry (27), Gina DeJesus (23), and Michelle Knight (30) were found on Cleveland’s near west side after having been missing anywhere from nine to eleven years.

Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus

Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus

The women were locked in a house owned by Ariel Castro, who along with his two brothers were arrested yesterday. We don’t know much, as details on the kidnapping are emerging as the investigation continues.

There are, however, a number of things that we do know. What we can take away speaks less to the central issues of child/ human trafficking, and more to the issue of a community and what it means to belong to one.

What yesterday revealed is that, despite being told repeatedly that we are a nation that lives in the glow of our portable computers, iPods, and our Facebook-warped-reality, there are still pockets of this world where people engage, and interface with, their community and one another. It is, admittedly, something that I often wonder about myself. What will communities look like as we increasingly identify more with non-physical communities (twitter followers/ facebook ‘friends’ / instragram ‘likes’) than with one another? People increasingly don’t know who their neighbors are and it goes without saying, but this is a very bad thing.


What this disturbing story tells us is that, despite the trends, there is hope. There is hope that in communities people can look out for one another, take care of one another, and become unified in the most unexpected moments. The man who answered the call for help, Charles Ramsey, is a hero, and we all could learn a thing or two from him. He heard a call for help and responded.  Without Charles Ramsey the fate of these young women would still be unknown.

Charles Ramsey

Charles Ramsey – Scott Shaw – Cleveland Plain Dealer

In an interview with Cleveland’s Channel 5 News,  Ramsey stated that he had lived in the neighborhood for just a year. This seemingly moot point resonated with me. I cannot help but wonder and reflect on my own experience and role as a neighbor. In the past two years I have moved twice, living in two distinctly different communities throughout Cleveland. Last year, I lived in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood at E. 61st and St. Clair. This year, I live in Gordon Square at W. 61st and Detroit. The actions of Mr. Ramsey make me question the degree to which I really know my neighbors and the lengths I would go to protect them. In both communities that I lived in, leaders emerge, and familiar faces began to make themselves known – the Charles Ramseys of the neighborhood, if you will. Recognizable patterns develop and you can, slowly, begin to catch on to when things are off, it’s a gut feeling or spidey sense that we all carry with us. Some of us have this sense for feeling more finely tuned than others. Certain people can notice when the smallest thing is different and respond without thinking twice. That is what Mr. Ramsey possesses, and what Mr. Ramsey did. What he carries with him is an acknowledgement that we are each other’s support system; we are nothing without our neighbors, our community, our family.

Felix DeJesus, father of Gina DeJesus - Tony Dejak - AP Photo

Felix DeJesus, father of Gina DeJesus – Tony Dejak – AP Photo

Each of our communities would benefit from a Charles Ramsey living in it, we all would be better off to take a note from him, and begin to act accordingly. Take this opportunity to hug a little tighter the women and  men in your life that you love and care for. Introduce yourself to that neighbor you have seen walk past your front door a couple of times, but have never acknowledged. Shoot the shit with people at your corner and make yourself vulnerable, because it is only in these situations that you can grow closer to becoming the Ramsey of your neighborhood.

Take this opportunity to realize that Charles Ramsey is a hero, not a meme. He is a man, not a viral sensation. He speaks to the aspirations of every community and while his interviews will be, and already are, remixed and autotuned let us not forget the heroics this man displayed yesterday and ask yourself what you would have done.

After hearing the news, I went to my neighborhood’s ‘commons’ the Convenient Food Mart, and spoke with the owners and long-time residents of the neighborhood. In our conversation something profound and reassuring took place. “I know if there is an extra cat in somebody’s house! That shit wouldn’t ever happen on our block – we look out for each other here!”  It was a statement that, while it might not be entirely true, has started a conversation between neighbors. It was out of this conversation that I realized I have a Charles Ramsey on my block – and it’s a great feeling that is at once empowering and comforting, but we could always use more! Who is your Charles Ramsey, is it you, an elder, or just a loquacious little guy constantly riding his scooter up and down the block keeping tabs on everybody?  Know your support system and actively contribute to its growth.


Scott Shaw – Cleveland Plain Dealer

So look out for each other! It starts with a hand shake, a wave, a passing comment or any number of things! Learn your neighbors names, learn their hobbies their passions, their interests, and no this doesn’t make you a stalker or a creep, it makes you human! Make your neighborhood better, more resilient and better off just by having a conversation and having each other’s backs.

Below is the aforementioned interview. Listen to the way he speaks about his community, his neighbors, domestic violence, and how despite being a fully engaged resident of his community, some things can still slip through the cracks. In a three minute interview Charles Ramsey is able to articulate the diverse issues at hand from domestic violence, to activities that make a neighborhood a neighborhood. “We see this guy every day!”  Even in a community where you have barbecues,  music playing, and conversations taking place things like this can still happen, which only underscores the need to know, on a personal level, your neighbors. People can be pretty awful, but Charles Ramsey reminds us that they can be utterly amazing too.


The Protagonists of Utopia

January 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

Last night, on January 15th, I had the privilege of seeing Italian ethnographer, and Rust-Belt lover, Allessandro Coppola, speak at Cleveland State University as part of the Levin College of Urban Affairs Public Forum program.


Allessandro Coppola

Dr. Coppola was revealing his findings from his most recent work, ‘Apocalypse Town: Tales from the End of Urban Civilization’, a title he fiercely detested but, in the end, was forced to accept. His book, yet to be translated from Italian to English, tells the story that readers of this blog are familiar with; shrinking cities wrought by de-industrialization, failed urban renewal programs, and governmental policies that favor sprawl over a robust urban core.

The perspective of his lecture bore greater significance than its content. This is not a jab or backhanded compliment to Dr. Coppola, but rather a recognition of the fact that most of the audience last night knew on a personal level the very phenomena he had been trying to convey to his Italian audience. He knew this, the crowd knew this, and it was through this mutual understanding that gave us, Cleveland natives and in a very clear sense the subjects of his book, a space to step back and really take in the magnitude of our work, our struggle, and our vision.

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How Modern-Day Eugenics Spreads Dumb Ideas like a Virus

January 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last week, the folks over at Richard Florida’s The Atlantic Cities wrote a real think piece. The article, entitled ‘How Economic Segregation Spreads Crime like a Virus’, is built upon a fairly simple and understandable premise; when varying economic groups are living within isolation, rather than integration, crime rates rise. Mind blowing, right?!

So why am I wasting my time telling you about a real whoop-dee-doo article that came out of intensive research from the cats over at the Brookings Institute and the D.C. Crime Policy Institute? Because in no uncertain terms is this article littered with unadulterated classism and ambiguous flashes of racism, and that’s a real problem. Not to mention that I think we can all agree with the idea that eugenics is a bad thing.

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“Slum Beautiful”: St. Louis Is Only Part of the Story

July 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

This past week The Daily Mail featured a photo essay by St. Louis photographer Demond Meek entitled “Slum Beautiful” in which the artist chronicled some of the city’s abandoned buildings and crumbling lots. In the article, “City of Ghosts,” Meek told the Daily Mail, “I wanted to focus on the buildings that were once considered beautiful or treasures- a few that could be fixed up with a little bit of love.”

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Community Gardening on a Budget

June 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

Do you plant some of your own food? Do you fancy yourself a wielder of not one, but two green thumbs? Have you ever wanted to work on a (community/ for profit) garden? What about starting one?

I am here to tell you that, despite some reservations that many might naturally have before jumping into the world of food production, almost anyone can get into gardening.  Additionally, the fruits of your labor don’t need to cost you an arm and a leg, though they both will inevitably become sore in the process.

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Take Back the Block with Chicago Neighborhood Clean-up

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you’re in Chicago this summer, we’ve gotten wind of an opportunity you don’t want to miss.  It’s called Take Back the Block, and it’s coming to you this June.

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How One High School in Cleveland Is Changing Education

May 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

Photo by Molly Vaughan

Today, something remarkable happened. The lives of 83 of the most awe-inspiring Clevelanders realized a promise made to them four years ago.

It is, seemingly, a simply promise but is, at the same time, one that is made complicated due to thousands upon thousands of extraneous circumstances totally beyond their control.

Today, 83 seventeen and eighteen year-olds, were accepted into college. That’s one-hundred percent of the senior class at Saint Martin de Porres High School.

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