Hough Huff

God instructed that Redell Avenue be renamed Prevo Avenue. The neighbors say God -- and the Prevos -- can take a hike

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A tributary in the Hough neighborhood, trickling four blocks between East 79th Street and Addison, Redell Avenue is peacefully residential. It has postage-stamp lawns, geriatric rose bushes that smell like talcum powder, and a new mailman who makes his rounds later than the residents' liking. You can see from one end to the other without having to squint, all the way down the unbroken line of porches.

It's not a street that puts on airs or flashes as you go by. The 40 wood-frame homes are modest and the people guarded but kind. Or, as lifelong Redell resident Jacqueline Prevo puts it, "This ain't no Hollywood strip. It ain't no California Gold Coast Avenue."

On Redell, a summer afternoon might find Houston King, a retired "chef-cook," making his secret-recipe chili or running errands in his pickup truck. Or the sweet-voiced Basiyma Muwwakkil, dressed in traditional African robes, a tattoo that says "Larry" scratched on her arm. She's unfolding chairs and card tables in a vacant lot full of junk cars, in preparation for the monthly street club meeting.

"This street has a good heart," remarks 43-year-old Terri Griffin, a home health aide who's lived here since childhood and taken care of a lot of sick people on the street. "We have respect for one another. We feel we is a family."

Like family, they help each other out in a pinch and scold each other's misbehaving children. If somebody on the street does something wrong, "People don't call the police," says Elizabeth Adams, who moved to Redell 56 years ago. "We have an understanding," she says. "A system. We can settle all that stuff ourselves, and we don't have to go to court."

Not that Adams especially likes Redell. No, it'll go down in her memory book only as an address.

"When I moved on this street, I was 22," she declares, looking regal in a straw sunbonnet and gold-trimmed house slippers. "I was a young woman then. Now I'm just an old, broke-down lady. I was here two weeks, and I hated the street. From two weeks on."

The people of Redell might be family, but they're not friends, she says. They look out for each other because they coexist, but they don't particularly enjoy each other's company.

"I watch everything on the street, peeking through my curtains," Adams says. "Old people is nosy. When you're young, you don't have the time."

Outsiders bring them together. One thing's for sure: If somebody not from Redell bullies somebody from Redell, not-from-Redell gets his face rearranged.

"Everybody here got their differences," says Griffin. "But when push comes to shove, Redell can beat up on Redell, but somebody on another street can't beat up on Redell."

Except for the infrequent shooting, firebombing, or young man getting his throat slit and being left to die on the church steps -- all of which have happened here -- Redell is relatively sedate. Even Adams, one of the more outspoken residents, says she's satisfied with it. At least she was satisfied, until "the mob moved in."

It wasn't exactly a mob, but rather a piece of premature legislation that got the people of Redell in a froth. Kenneth Phillips, who's 41 and has lived on Redell all his life, heard the news from his neighbors. Redell wasn't going to be called Redell anymore. It was going to be called Prevo Avenue, after a family who lives on the street.

"We was sitting around, talking, and somebody said they changing the street name," he says. "We said, "You gotta be crazy. Somebody gotta call [Ward 7 Councilwoman] Fannie Lewis.'"

Days later, they opened the Hough Community News, a newspaper run out of Lewis's office, to an item that read "Legislation Approved. Redell Ave. Becomes Prevo Ave."

They craned their necks to the corner to see if the street sign had been swapped in the middle of the night. Nope. It was still named after the grandfather of Caroline Heckers, a white woman who lived on the street when white people actually lived on the street. Eastern European families had settled on Redell in the early 1900s, only to leave en masse in the 1960s.

Through Lewis, they learned that City Council had unanimously passed a resolution to change the name. A church outside the Hough neighborhood had proposed the idea, and Lewis supported it. Feeling like they'd been played for fools, Phillips and other Redell residents decided to take action.

What lit the fires of indignation was not that they'd have to go to the trouble of changing their address, nor even the elderly residents' understandable hand-wringing over whether their Social Security checks would come to the right place. No, what stirred revolt in the people of Redell was the fact that Nobody Asked Them. Not the councilwoman, not the Prevos, not some minister who lives half a city away. And that goes beyond discourtesy to outright dishonor, disrespect, or worse.

"My father was born a slave in 1862," says Adams. "He was freed in '65. He said, "Always hold your head up. Don't let people push things on you.' Those people went through quite a bit, and they tell you things. If you don't have but a slice of bread in your house, hold your head up."

It's rare to find such a direct connection to slavery anymore, but the symbolism runs deep, especially in terms of fighting to keep what little you have.

Maybe if lay minister Sidney Cargle hadn't had a vision from God in the choir pit of Lane Metropolitan Church, the residents on the east half of Redell would still be talking to their neighbors on the west half.

But that's wishful thinking. "This is where I got the message!" the gray-haired church elder enthuses under the stained-glass dome and gilt Corinthian capitals of what was originally a Christian Scientist Temple.

He had never received a message from God before, so when God told him that the name of Redell Avenue should be changed to Prevo Avenue, he was floored and announced the revelation to the entire congregation. That was at the funeral of Catherine Prevo, a matriarch and lifelong member of the Lane Metropolitan Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on East 46th Street, who ran the church kitchen like a marine sergeant. She was married for 56 years to Pedro Prevo; Pedro's brother, Ollie, was married to her sister, Mary. Together, the two families had 12 children -- 6 each -- and the children called themselves "double first cousins." They had lived on Redell Avenue since 1955, and they were among the first black families on the street.

"God gave me a sign," Cargle recalls. "He told me it was what I was supposed to do, and to go ahead and do it. The next day, the pastor said, "It's a good idea, and I support you.'" They took the message to Lewis, who agreed to do God's will. She presented an emergency resolution to change the street name on April 3, five days after Catherine Prevo died.

Catherine had been preceded in death a month before by her husband and a year earlier, her sister Mary, so the resolution was a welcome gift to a grieving family.

"The families of Pedro and Ollie Prevo and their descendants have resided in Ward 7 for over fifty-five years," read the resolution, mistakenly putting the Prevos on Redell a decade before they moved there. "In honor of the Prevo families' outstanding service for the betterment of the community, the residents of Redell Avenue, Lane Metropolitan Church, the Masons, and other residents of Ward 7 have requested that Redell Avenue be renamed "Prevo Avenue.'"

God-fearing and devoted to their family, the Prevos were, perhaps, fine people to name a street after. Mary was a school crossing guard who knew all the kids in the neighborhood, and she worked in rehab housing during the Carl Stokes administration. Catherine was active in her lodge, volunteered as a lunchroom assistant at Wade Park Elementary School, and supervised the laundry room of the Juvenile Detention Center for 19 years. The youth minister at Lane Metropolitan Church, Ollie, who died on Christmas Day 1975, was known to get the neighborhood children together for pickup baseball games or drive them in his station wagon to the natural history museum. And Pedro, an army airplane mechanic in World War II, helped the neighbors fix their cars.

"A lot of people weren't taught the same values as we were," says Jacqueline Prevo, daughter of Catherine and Pedro.

"There were a lot of unwed mothers and a lot of fathers not being in the home," adds her sister Deborah.

Plus, most of the Prevo children, all of them working blue-collar jobs, decided to live and raise their children in Hough. Jacqueline had even bought a house next to her parents' house, so no riffraff would move next door.

Alice Ealey, a retired schoolteacher at Wade Park Elementary who taught all 12 Prevo children, calls the Prevos "the epitome of stability, family values, and the evidence of five generations coming to the same home place."

Not that the other residents of Redell are transients who've left their parents to die alone.

The day the Hough Community News arrives, the neighbors have a street club meeting, setting out a potluck dinner of fried chicken and blueberry muffins in the vacant lot. Houston King brings everyone little bags filled with pecans, and Kenneth Phillips announces he's called the cops about the abandoned cars.

"What are you going to do about our Noah's Ark?" Adams impishly asks Phillips. A smashed-up mini-boat had been dumped in the dirt, along with the Chevys. She doesn't get an answer.

Talk turns to changing the street name. Adams keeps calling the Prevos "the mob."

"I didn't know anything about it," she says. "The mob moved in. We didn't know anything."

Why, she wonders, would a church that's way on the other side of town have anything to say about a street name? Or any church?

Gloria Brooks, a middle-aged woman who's lived on the street three years, pipes up. "He's looking at the Prevos as new members," she says. "They pay tithes."

Maybe it was the best way they knew to mourn their loss, somebody suggests.

"People mourn different ways," replies Adams. "Ever since my mother passed -- she died in '67 -- my leg hurt. My mother died here on this street. My sister, brother, brother-in-law. I don't tell anybody to mourn for me."

Adams's nephew, George Scott, who sang with the doo-wop group the Hesitations, was fatally shot on Redell. Two of Wanda Griffin's brothers were murdered on Redell. One was shot, and one was found with his throat slit on the steps of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

"Everybody's lost somebody they love," says Wanda. "My mother died, my son died of leukemia, and my brother got killed in that field."

If you're going to name a street after somebody, he better have been somebody pretty special, the neighbors agree. Somebody like Martin Luther King or Louis Stokes.

After word spread, 50 people signed a petition saying that Redell it is, so Redell it should stay. Granted, a lot of the names were those of Redell residents emeritus, people who lived on neighboring streets. So it was hard to get an official count, especially since Councilwoman Lewis kept the petition under lock and key, so the neighbors wouldn't point fingers.

"I don't see what their parents have done for this street," gripes Phillips, who doesn't want to go to the trouble of changing his address. "They ain't done nothing special."

It's just like the Prevos to think they can name a whole street after themselves, says Adams. "We never try to push things off on people, try to make it better than it's been. But that's what they know."

Jacqueline Prevo doesn't attend the street club meeting, which convenes on the other end of Redell. Instead, she sits on her stoop, dressed neatly in blue jeans and a white blouse, staring daggers.

"Street club meeting?" she says. "It's a family club meeting. The Kings, the Phillipses, and they friends. The people who signed the petition." The Kings and Phillipses are related to each other, she says. Terri Griffin, who grew up on the street and married one of her neighbors, is related to the Brookses and the Austins, two other families who live on Redell.

"I'm not going to speak to them," Jacqueline says, hands placed primly in lap. "Not a one. They just jealous."

Adams is just a cranky old lady whose husband never took her anywhere, says Jacqueline, a Cleveland police detective who works in the Fifth District and was the personal bodyguard for Mayor Michael White's ex-wife, Tamara.

And the mother of another Redell resident was really smart: "She went to college, but she was an alcoholic. You gonna name a street after an alcoholic?" She shakes her head.

Yes, there have been murders, but the victims aren't always innocent, says Jacqueline. One resident was killed while he was trying to steal a TV from a neighbor's house. Another neighbor's adult children beat up their elderly father, and one family who signed the petition firebombed a neighbor's house some 30 years ago.

"My mother, she worked 19 years for juvenile court," says Jacqueline. "She was given an award by the Citizens Advisory Board for her work."

Robert Prevo, nicknamed Cliff, joins his cousin on the porch. His mother, Mary, worked for a prominent surgeon.

"Dr. Larsen. He was such a nice man. He was always giving us pool tables, ping-pong tables, Bongo Boards," he booms. "He gave us a beautiful billiard pool table, and we all learned how to shoot pool."

Mary Prevo cooked or cleaned house for several well-known people, he elaborates. She used to cater Forest City Enterprises developer Sam Miller's parties, and her coconut cake and German chocolate cake were to die for.

Despite that pedigree, though, Robert, who's lived on Redell most of his life, admits he's sullied the Prevo name. A convicted felon, he pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property (motor vehicle) and possession of criminal tools in 1991, and was sentenced to six months in prison. In 1994 he was convicted of grand theft and received probation.

"Out of all my brothers and sisters, I'm the only one who's swayed away," he says. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of. Down the line, if I could just get a toe in my mother, father, uncle, and aunt's footsteps, I'd be a man. And I'm trying, for the first time in a long time."

A week later, dressed in his best Sunday suit, he sits in the carved wooden pews at Lane Metropolitan. Ushers in white gloves and jackets decorated with medallions pass the collection plate. As Pastor John W. Walker delivers a sermon about pulling yourself up with rags and ropes when you don't have bootstraps, Robert, head bowed, expresses remorse for what he's done.

His troubles started when he was 19, he says. A star defensive tackle for the East High football team, he received an athletic scholarship to Central State University. One week into college, he was sent packing after getting caught up in what he calls "organized crime."

"I knew right from wrong. I just did it my way. I was always hardheaded."

Pastor Walker's voice bellows through the church. "Your fate and my fate hasn't been sealed until we've spent time in the mud," the minister intones, as the elderly missionary ladies in the front pews, garbed in snowy white berets and suits, listen intently. "A street sweeper is what you do to earn a living -- it's not what you are."

Robert started attending church after his Uncle Pedro died. "My parents, they always came to church. When they died, the reverend challenged us to do what they had instilled in us."

He examines his hands, the diamond rings he has on several fingers. For the past year, he says, he's been working in a warehouse, driving a tow motor and trying to turn his life around.

"Before that, I never had no job, but I always had a brand-new Mercedes. I got kids -- all my kids are by different women. I always was a ladies' man."

He has two children, he says, "and about 100 maybes. I took the easy way out. My father and mother didn't teach me that. So I gotta start now, at 44. I'm not gonna let my kids sway. I keep a tight grip on them. "Either you gonna do it this way, or you're not gonna do it.'"

Though Robert's making a concerted effort, Ollie Jr. is now the only Prevo who's a "faithful regular member" of Lane, says Pastor Walker. The others are working on Sundays or just not that interested. One daughter, Deborah, attends another church. A quick glance around Lane Metropolitan reveals that they're not the only family who's lost touch. The pews, more than half empty, are sprinkled with sharp-dressed ancient people. A papery-skinned woman in a pink boater hat and matching suit. A spry but frail matron in a silver sequined tam and hot pink jacket.

"There's three figures I'm going to quote you," Pastor Walker says of the church membership. "On paper, we have 1,595. We could put our hands on about 400. And about 200 really support the church."

So when God, through Mr. Cargle, envisioned the street name change, Pastor Walker was receptive.

"I agreed it was a good idea," he says. "[The Prevos] had been coming sporadically, and since Pedro's funeral, they have been coming more regularly. It might have something to do with [the street name proposal].

"Granted, it would be good to have the section filled up with Prevos -- I'm not gonna lie about that. They're one of the bigger families in the church."

In the lexicon of city legislation, changing a street name ranks somewhere between minor annoyance and major inconvenience. The city has to formally notify all the residents, purchase and install new signs, and change its maps and computer databases. The residents must get new driver's licenses, inform their friends, and change their billing addresses and printed stationery.

"People were most upset because they felt they hadn't been consulted," says Brother Quan Muwwakkil, who helped circulate a petition against the name change. "That they weren't part of a democracy. The issue wasn't so much that the family was getting the street named after them, because the parents were beloved.

"These things happen when we're not part of a process. They were not necessarily opposing the change."

Redell's dimensions may be minuscule, but according to its residents, its distinctions are biblical. Long ago, somebody drew an invisible line across the street, calling the east half "the Heights" and the west half "the Ghetto."

Depending on who you talk to, that was a line drawn between homeowners and renters; old people who kept up their lawns and young people who let their kids run over them; people who graduated from high school and people who didn't; uppity people and down-to-earth people; people raised right and people raised wrong; and high-ranking blue-collar workers and low-ranking blue-collar workers.

"Shaker Heights and the slums," recalls Adams. "People separate themselves that way. They're ignorant to the fact that they live in a small world. It's silly. How you gonna have one street this and one street that?"

Technically, Adams lives on the Shaker half of the street, but to that she has no loyalty.

"We all have the same amount of education. We all work. We all have the same amount of money."

Anna Spain, a 67-year-old nursing home worker who raised nine children on and near Redell, agrees that it's all in the attitude.

"Them Prevo, I know the one that just passed, the mother and the father," she says. "They turned they head when you passed."

Her neighbor, 79-year-old Jessie Or, chimes in. "Let the street stay just like it is. 'Cause they ain't all that."

Pastor Walker and Mr. Cargle say they did go door to door, distributing a flier with their godly intention to name the street after the Prevos.

"They passed out a petition," declares a visibly rattled Jacqueline Prevo, after a volatile meeting with neighbors and Fannie Lewis at nearby New Jerusalem Baptist Church. Lewis called the meeting when angry Redell residents started ringing her office, complaining of the name change. "But most of 'em didn't read it, because most of 'em can't read."

New Jerusalem, near the corner of Redell and Addison, has a rich red interior, with beatific photos of church elders beaming down at the altar. Its intense decor and the heat of late afternoon matches the sentiment of the people sitting, and sometimes standing and shaking fists, in the pews.

"Now, this is a meeting I called," Councilwoman Lewis announces, her attention turning to a woman in the front pew who is looking at her sideways.

"You is out of order," Lewis scolds. "I don't want to hear what you've got to say."

A shout rises from the crowd. "You was wrong, so why are we here?"

"Who said that?" Lewis demands. "Don't throw a rock and hold your hands behind your back! I've been beaten on by the folks downtown, I been beaten on by everybody, and you all been at home sleeping."

Gloria Brooks is about to burst. "Just like they love their mother, we love our mother," she yells.

The Prevo children attend the meeting, sitting tight-lipped and silent during the uproar. Robert Prevo jumps up, intending to speak, but his relatives persuade him to hold his peace.

After chastising the all-black crowd for not knowing the Negro national anthem and the colors in the Black Power flag, Lewis defers to the group.

"If I had any indication that it would have created this kind of problem, I would have never put it through," she asserts of the name change. "I'm through with it. It will go no further."

As the crowd files out, Lewis quietly assures a shaken Deborah Prevo -- her 18-year-old son run over by a drunken driver near Redell in 1992 -- not to worry, the name change will go through.

Most of the signatures on the petition aren't from people who live on the street, Lewis consoles. She's gonna conduct her own poll, mailing one ballot to each house on the street, and she's confident they'll vote for it.

No ballots are mailed. A week later, the phone rings at Jacqueline's house and Deborah answers. After a short chat in the kitchen, she skips back to the living room.

"That was Fannie on the phone," she squeals, doing a little dance. "It's gonna go through!"

The next day, residents at the street club meeting are dumbfounded by the news. Lillian Holley, the street club leader, says she was just on the phone with Fannie Lewis that morning, and Lewis assured her it wouldn't go through.

"It's not going to go down," she asserts.

Gloria Brooks isn't convinced. "They're lying to us. It's not resolved."

Adams clicks her teeth. "If your councilwoman is not with you, it's very hard," she muses. "It's a mob scene. The mob moves in."

"We gonna let 'em name half the street, down to my house," jokes Terri Griffin.

People start uncovering their covered dishes. But Adams isn't finished.

"The Prevos have not done anything for Redell," she says. "We don't need anyone to do anything. We take care of our own. But they attitude is "I'm better than you.' Everybody's lower than them."

Maybe the Prevos think they're better because they all graduated from high school, speculates Adams. Or because some of them have police jobs.

Martha Or, Jessie's daughter, brings up the Heights and the Ghetto, and the difference between regular people and the Prevos.

"They are real educated," she says. "Real educated. They're all smart. But they don't speak to us."

The Prevos hold no college degrees, and they live in $20,000 homes, not mansions.

A month passes, the street name doesn't change, and the Prevos' anger turns to disappointment. For Redell to become Prevo, says Cleveland Public Service Director Mark Ricchiuto, the resolution would have to be passed by the full council as an ordinance, and he doesn't see that happening.

"We don't just start changing the name around," he says. "I'm guessing maybe we get 10 requests a year, and only a couple go through."

Their parents' graves still fresh, the Prevo children spend a lot of time reminiscing. They've grown apart in recent years, they say, and now they realize how important family really is. So this summer, they're all going to a family reunion in Pensacola, Florida.

"We've raised the funds to get a Greyhound bus," Deborah chatters. "But it occurred to me: What if we all get on the bus and everybody gets killed! Who's gonna bury us? Hee hee!"

A recent Friday evening finds the 11 living children in Ollie Jr.'s backyard, eating a picnic dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and scampi. Neighbors drop in and fill a plate with food. They're playing their favorite CDs, and Deborah and her sister, Wanda Prevo-Burns, are dancing with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A quick wit, Deborah remembers some of the more comical times she had with her family. The time her mom, all 240 pounds of her, ran around the house with her father close at her heels, trying to get a look at the receipt from her latest trip to the mall. When they got to the upstairs bedroom -- little Deborah tagging along -- Catherine, seeing she was cornered, stuffed the paper in her mouth and ate it. Then they all collapsed on the bed laughing.

Or the time Deborah, 17 and sassy, was trying to play her clarinet in the bathroom.

"It had the best acoustics, you know," she says. "And my sister said, "I gotta use the bathroom.' Do, do, do, do, do," Deborah says, making a clarinet mime. "Daddy says, "Deborah, you have five minutes to get out of that bathroom.' Do do do do do do do. And I heard him coming up the stairs. I tried to grab the sheet music and get my clarinet and my stand and everything."

For that, she earned a whupping with the razor strop.

Her cousin, Sam Prevo, 47, got his share of whuppings, too. A school security guard, Sam was shot in the leg when he was 14, during the Hough riots. He was several streets down, coming home from his job as a dishwasher, when he was shot. Though the National Guard was called in and fires were burning all around, Redell remained serene, he says.

Unfortunately for his butt, he was on the East High School football team, which played on Sunday, during church.

"I got a whupping if I didn't go to church, so [Ollie Sr.] figured if I wanted to play that bad, I'd take a whupping. So I got a whupping every Sunday for about a month. It was worth it."

What he didn't know until years later was that, after church let out, his family came to the games, sitting in the stands and cheering him on. "They were nervous about me getting hurt," he reminisces.

Jacqueline says she's still smarting -- not from any whuppings, but from the attitude of the people on her street.

"I don't like these people," she says. "I saw 'em when they came, and I'll see 'em when they go. I wouldn't go to a street club meeting if they rolled out the red carpet and sent an embossed invitation.

"We are better than them. We proved that at the meeting. They can take a flying leap off a West Side bridge. I wouldn't want my name up on this raggedy avenue with these -- wait, let me think of the right word -- barbaric savages."

Brother Quan says he hopes the street can heal.

"There's been a lot of pain," he observes. "But I believe that the Prevo children are decent people like the rest of the people on the street."

And then, once again, Redell Avenue can quietly mourn its losses and tend to its roses.

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