In East Cleveland, Acts of Kindness During Crisis Emerge from Neighborhood Organizing

click to enlarge (L-R): Patricia Patrick-White, Myrtle Patton and Chester Tucker. - Courtesy NOAH
Courtesy NOAH
(L-R): Patricia Patrick-White, Myrtle Patton and Chester Tucker.

In East Cleveland, Northeast Ohio's poorest community, a participatory governance model has allowed residents to determine how the city's limited resources are spent in their neighborhoods.

Thirteen neighborhood groups meet regularly with Mayor Brandon King and his administration to voice their concerns and to create lists of spending priorities: things like filling potholes, repairing streetlights, demolishing blighted properties and exterminating rodents.

Organized in large part by Trevelle Harp at the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope (NOAH), the participatory model has facilitated at least $3 million in resident-directed spending since its inception in 2018. That might not sound like much, but in a city with an annual general fund of only $10-$11 million, 60 percent of which immediately goes to public safety costs, it's substantial. 

"Someone called it returning democracy to the people," Mayor King said in a long Plain Dealer piece on East Cleveland last year.

But with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, neighborhood groups have been adjusting to a new normal. They're trying to find ways to organize their neighbors and give back to those most in need.

Neighborhood #9 is led by Patricia Patrick-White and Myrtle Patton. It is East Cleveland's northeasternmost neighborhood and covers an area surrounding Nela Park.

Patrick-White told Scene that the group had been looking for a way to support the community's seniors, many of whom live in elder care facilities and who are already isolated by their mobility issues, to say nothing of recent state orders which have forbidden visitors. 

On Saturday, Patrick-White, Patton, Trevelle Harp and East Cleveland restaurateur Chester Tucker distributed more than 100 corned beef sandwiches to seniors at Mildred L. Brewer Place and the Forest Hill Terrace complex. Additional meals were provided to needy neighbors in Neighborhood #9. 

White said that they adhered to social distancing requirements—they dropped off the meals to "point people" at the facilities and did not interact with the seniors directly—but that they heard later the recipients were grateful for the prepared food.

Harp told Scene that people and communities in East Cleveland are doing amazing things, and that neighborhood organizing had hardwired this cooperative thinking into the city's residents, leading people who already don't have much to give back in ways that they can.

Chester Tucker, for example, who with his brothers owns and operates Tucker's Casino and the Columbo Room, (celebrating its 40th anniversary this year), donated the food and supplies despite his restaurant being closed during the pandemic. 

"These people just wanted to do something positive," Harp said. "This was a gesture of good citizenship in the community, and a nice treat for some of those who have been hit hardest."

Harp said that for him, it will be important for neighborhood groups and others to now organize around the census and voting, vital civic processes that aren't necessarily top of mind during the pandemic. (The Ohio primary election has been extended to 4/28, and ballots must be submitted by mail, You can request an application in Cuyagahoga County here.)

"In East Cleveland, resources are not found within our municipal boundaries," he said. "We've got to seek them out elsewhere. But a really good motivator for that is having good voter participation, to show officials that East Cleveland turns out."

This year, primary turnout will be spectacularly low in East Cleveland and across Ohio due to the state's cumbersome vote-by-mail process. But officials should take note that even if East Clevelanders don't turn out in large numbers to vote, they are certainly turning out for each other. 

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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