Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Glenville Yesterday! Glenville Tomorrow?

Tomorrow I'm getting together for lunch with some of the guys I grew up with. There will be somewhere between three and five of us, depending. Only one of us is fully retired, the rest work out of some composite of necessity, habit, or affection. All of us are in our eighth decade of life, and in remarkably blessed health.

The Glenville community of the 1950s was the shared crucible of our youth. Our neighborhood was a fantabulous mix of life and possibilities, of energy and danger, charm and security, predictability and wonder.

Three of us lived on the two-block long Parmelee Avenue; two others lived back-to-back just a few blocks away, off Parkgate Ave., which ran from the Cultural Gardens near our beloved Miles Standish Elementary all the way to East 105 Street, our main commercial thoroughfare.

We all came from solid two-parent, middle-class homes of strivers and strainers. All the fathers had fulltime employment, and all of our mothers worked outside the home as well, mostly in some capacity with Cleveland’s public schools.

To us the neighborhood was sprawling, but we all knew how to navigate the bus system to get around. Life wasn’t perfect but it seemed idyllic.

What we didn’t know was how the larger society was actively working overtime to circumscribe our existence and the lives of those around us. Most of our parents were daily facing discrimination to varying degrees in their workplaces. And the same was happening to us at school, though we were totally oblivious.

Cleveland’s black population had begun to expand rapidly soon after World Ward II, as the city’s industrial might and [undeserved] liberal reputation held promise for southern black families living in places where segregation had the full force of law. As pioneers, uncles, aunts, cousins began to pour into Cleveland, finding work in factories and shops, a hidden consensus among civic leaders actively funneled new arrivals into just a few city neighborhoods: Central, Hough, Fairfax, Mount Pleasant and Glenville. Ethnic enclaves, comprised generally of Eastern or Middle European immigrants who had in their turn also been more or less quarantined, circumscribed each of these areas.

Our confinement was more intentional. Thousands of people were forced to live in areas designed for only hundreds. The strains upon infrastructure — especially housing and public services — were unsustainable.

The Cleveland school board dealt with burgeoning enrollment by building new schools in ways that reinforced segregated housing patterns. Those housing patterns were largely the result of handshakes, winks and nods between federal and local governments and profit-hungry realtors and bankers.

As a kid, I took pride in the fact that the enrollment at Miles Standish grew to exceed 1,000 students during my student tenure; I did not understand that the temporary metal barracks-style classrooms erected on our playground and the adjusted class hours were part of a system-wide plan to segregate us from the white kids, of whom only a diminishing few were still attending my school.

The pattern repeated itself when I got to Empire Junior High, where our enrollment soon shattered pre-existing records, not to mention fire marshal standards. Educational tracking was in full force, and soon the majority of my classmates were being steered onto lower class paths.

At another time, I will write about the circumstances that shifted me out of Glenville into one of the nation’s top prep schools, and exposed me at the precarious age of 14 to an entirely different vantage from a virtually all white world 800 miles away. For today, I will say that my annual academic sojourn east helped me to understand that my beloved Glenville was considered a ghetto by the wider world.

Market Imperatives: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
Over time I have come to appreciate how the larger societal forces impact regional, municipal, neighborhood, family, and individual systems. Local politicians are often blamed for circumstances mostly out of their control, when they should more accurately be held to account for how they respond to those circumstances.

It’s actually a response to changing times that served as the prompt to this piece. I remember when East 105th Street [“One Hundred and Fifth Street”] and St. Clair Avenue was a vital bustling intersection. We shopped at the grocery there near Marlowe Ave. Nearby was a busy branch post office. And I recently learned, courtesy of Lou Stokes’ memoir, that he and his brother Carl opened their first law office just a hop and a skip from that corner.

It goes without saying that any efforts to modernize Glenville must involve the restoration of that intersection as a central commercial anchor. To that end, a community engagement forum is being held this Thursday from 5:00pm to 6:45pm at the Glenville Branch of Cleveland Public Library, 11900 St. Clair Ave.

The forum is the first and perhaps the most important in a series of such sessions concerning the New Eastside Market that will open next spring. Construction of the Market begins next month. The forum is designed to answer questions about the project, which will include a café, a demonstration kitchen, community room, and wellness programming.

The forum will also be an early opportunity for those seeking employment opportunities once the facilities open. Anyone seeking advance information or unable to attend the forum may contact 4k Programs at 216.881.0070 or info@4kprograms.org.

The Glenville I knew and loved is gone forever, except in the memories of contemporaries and the stories we share. A new 21st century Glenville is waiting to be built. Thursday’s forum is a good time and place for its architects to gather.

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