Op-Ed: "Cleveland - We Can Do Better"

Like many, I believe that we live in the finest city in the country. We have long been acclaimed as “the best location in the nation” and more recently have earned the title of “Believeland.” But as Senator Robert F. Kennedy declared in his short-lived run for the presidency in 1968, “We can do better.”

Granted, our long-beleaguered Cleveland has spunk and resiliency. There’s a belief out there that, as a city, we will continue to repair ourselves. We are resolved: we will no longer be looked down upon and feel inferior to other cities. We simply reject that status.

We boast world-class museums, restaurants and theater. We cheer our winning sports franchises. The Cleveland Orchestra remains globally renowned. We have dedicated teachers working every day to educate and inspire our future leaders. We have stellar institutions of higher learning from Tri-C to Case Western Reserve University to Cleveland State. Most importantly, we are—to borrow a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a “world house.”

This churning city is a melting pot of all ethnicities, nationalities and religions. We all live and work amongst one another, even if we don’t always get to know one another. But I believe in Cleveland’s human raw materials and share Robert Kennedy’s vision of American possibility: “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."
And yet: I remain pained how we tend to be fragmented in Cleveland. We are broken up into adversarial factions: east side, west side, downtown, this neighborhood, that neighborhood. In spite of any renaissance, ours is a city of divided demographics.

We can do better.

The fact is that we are plagued by crime, violence, and fear. The statistics are ominous even as people retreat even further into the confines of their own neighborhoods—further detaching ourselves from one another. Our city leadership, rather than being bold and imaginative, and motivating us to be better, continue to depend upon our isolation in order to retain their power bases. A city permanently divided will simply never rebuild itself.

We can do better.

We need to be more than just a collection of disconnected communities. In Cleveland, one could easily call them enclaves, compartments or boxes. Metropolitan Cleveland is an unhappy series of fragments. Our current leadership rarely encourages us to strive harder to become one unified city. Our local officials wallow in their respective and cozy districts. Their complacency has become our despondency.

We can do better.

It’s ironic that when most people talk about bridges, they are imagined as unifying structures. Sadly, in Cleveland, we have a bridge that still stands as a symbol of separation. So there is little social progress in the city and the bridge may as well be a blockade.

The issue is not just a black and white matter anymore. It’s even more nuanced and dangerous and disconnecting. We are a city of many labels. We remain affixed with the brands of “east-sider” or “west-sider” while carrying all of the convoluted baggage that comes with this bias. And the gap between the inner city and the suburbs is so pronounced that the two regions might as well be in different nations.

While it’s fine to celebrate our neighborhoods enthusiastically, we forget that virtually all of our religious traditions call us to be responsible for one another.
The result of this divided loyalty is that we don’t hold our leaders accountable for their continued mismanagement. So they are not leaders; they are bosses. Make no mistake: these bosses expect you to be separated, divided, and disconnected. So Cleveland remains a weak mosaic rather than a strong melting pot.

We can do better.

Let this be the year we stop our acquiescence. This could certainly be the year in which we do what is required and that is to come together and declare: “We will do better!” Let those words be the catalyst for us finally completing the comeback. The bridge that sits between our dreams and our destiny is action. This city is brimming with the energy it takes to determine its own direction. It’s long past time to unleash the will. It is our time!

We remain here because in our hearts we all understand that Cleveland is not a city you give up on. It’s a city you fight for. But to win, we must do it together.

Brandon E. Chrostowski
Mayoral Candidate 2017
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