Cleveland: A Tale of Two Cities


Disclaimer: I recognize that the topic I have chosen to write on is a touchy one. It’s a topic we tend to avoid in diverse circles because we don’t want to offend the person next to us. It’s a tough topic, but it’s a real topic and sometimes we need to set aside our fear of offending and just be raw. I write this with a heart for service and the very best of intentions. I welcome your feedback, your criticism, and most importantly your ideas for our community.

This Saturday morning, like every Saturday morning, I started my day with a mug of tea in hand, watching the local news. The weather, a wonderful exposé on the continued development in the Flats, the construction update for Public Square, fall fashion, the best tailgate recipes for the Browns game tomorrow, and dead children. Yes, you heard me. I’ll say it again. Dead children. Our children. Shot due to inexplicable violence in our great city in a neighborhood not far from the bright lights, farm to table food, and vibrancy of downtown.

Although I am a transplant to the area, I love Cleveland. I have completely fallen in love with its creativity, its vibe, its rustbelt grit, its hustle, and its indelible spirit. I have a wonderful life here. I sip cocktails at trendy new places in the Flats. My husband and I are blessed to have wonderful careers fueled by northeast Ohio’s economic engine. We eat that epic farm to table food. We go to the Flea and buy art. We hang out with our friends on great patios. We support Playhouse Square, we buy local, and we rock 216 t-shirts with pride. What I am really trying to say is that we have bought into this beautiful city. We are in; hook, line, and sinker. We are a part of the rising tide and we are damn proud of it.

All of that does not blend with what I saw on the news this morning. Another child killed. Another precious baby who will not have a chance to grow up. A mother crying her heart out to a news reporter. A GoFundMe page to bury an infant. A grandmother looking to God and asking why. Well, I am asking why today too.

I hear the comments made when people like me talk about this situation. “Well that community needs to make some changes.” “They are protesting about the police shooting them, but they are shooting each other.” “What a shame.” “Only that community can fix this.” “There is a cultural crisis in the black community.” I have heard these comments, you have heard these comments, maybe they are true, maybe they are opinions, but the one thing I know is that they do nothing to help the violent crisis that our city is facing and I believe they are indicative of the larger problem. Cleveland is a tale of two cities.One tale of incredible prosperity and growth. One tale of socio-economic depravity and violence. That separation is a problem for our city. Comments like “they have a problem” highlight the divide.

I don’t proclaim to have a solution. I won’t be so naïve to think that the shear recognition of the fact that our city has two distinct realities will quell one iota of the vast and complicated issue we face here. There is no magic pill, there is no “snap your fingers” solution, and there are no amounts of well-intentioned words on paper that can bring back a child to a mother with aching arms.

I went to the Cleveland Flea a few months back with my two step-children, Maddy and Liam. I took a selfie with Liam in front of a big sign that read “Cleveland, We are the Rising Tide.” I think that statement is true. I believe in Cleveland’s promise. However, I have to question this statement today because there is a quote about the tide and it reads, “The rising tide lifts ALL boats.” Are we truly rising together? I know in my heart of hearts that the answer to that question is no. The other thing I know in my heart is that my children cannot rise as high if a beautiful child in Central can’t come too.

So where do we go from here Cleveland? Please note the way the question was posed. It is a call to action. It is not a question that is asked to point a finger at someone else to fix our problems. It is an inward looking question. It is a question asked by a woman who doesn’t want to cry every time she watches the local news. It is a question asked with a mother’s heart. It is a question that we all have to ask ourselves.

Jimmy Carter once wrote, “The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens.” What will we do as a city, as a body of people, as a community when our most helpless citizens, our children, are shot on our streets? I’m asking myself the question too. I am calling myself out because I truly have to think about how I can be a part of the solution and not just another talking head. I’ll be transparent with all of you: I don’t know how to be part of the solution yet. Right now, I have a strong recognition of the divide and a huge pull in my soul to try and bridge the gap.

The truth is, tonight I will probably go have another sparkling cocktail in the Flats. I’ll buy local. I’ll feed the socioeconomic engine that is benefiting so much of our city while others are left behind. My heart will be different tonight, but my hands have not yet acted. My commitment is to find my way to be part of the solution. I pray that my next blog will be written about my own journey to be a part of our positive change. My only hope for my words shared with you here is that you will hear the call as well. I hope that you will use “we” instead of “they” the next time you talk about this. I send these words to all the “Shes in the Cle” with able hands and mother’s hearts. May we not have to bury another one of our children.

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Heidi Frisbie

Heidi Frisbie is a Cleveland transplant with an avid love for the 216. She spends her days as a Director of Aftermarket for a large manufacturing company. She spends her nights and weekends as a rock star wife and stepmom to two beautiful twins. Her passions are world travel, fashion, food, wine, and just enough exercise to keep the food and wine from becoming a problem. Her life’s motto is “Go big or go home,” and to her that means living life out loud every day.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thank you so much, Heidi! I am from Cleveland, hadn’t lived there for 30 yrs although most of my big family does so I never ‘left’, returned to live there for a few years, and now have moved away. I love Cleveland, for all the reasons you named, plus scrappy tough spirits and honesty. I just wanted to add that I believe there are a couple of keys to bridging the stunning disparity between these two sides of Cleveland. The public school system needs support and money. I hope Cleveland citizens will be the first in the nation to launch a non-profit foundation to bring in donations/pledges to help the schools get back on their feet. Also, there are hundreds of smart, committed programs building the leadership that is needed in the suffering neighborhoods. The Neighborhood Leadership Development Program (NLDP) from the Mandel Foundation is one. A co-blogger for SHE is involved, Erica Merrritt. There are so many more non-profits operating in the near and far east and near west that need volunteers, funds, champions, etc.. Encourage your audiences to get involved! Also, there is a third side (at least), the blue collar folks that fill the rest of the streets. CLE needs a new industry – what is it going to be?

    • Merle, Thanks for reading the article and for the comments. One of the things you brought up that I feel is so great about the city are the non-profits that are engaged. You are completely correct; those orgs need our help whether it is through donations or the giving of time. Thank you, you make a lot of great points.

  • Thank you Heidi, I will carry your words with me as I try to find my own place in the war against inequality that needs to be waged in our beautiful city. You couldn’t be more right, or well-spoken – and while we don’t have the answers, we can continue to be open-hearted, open-minded and seeking to be part of the solution. Thank you again – also, the work of Greater Cleveland Congregations might be one group you could seek to support and learn from if you do want to get involved. They are making powerful change across racial and religious barriers that will impact the safety and future of everyone in our community. Thank you again, I shared your post before I even finished reading it!

    • Pam,
      Thank you so much. Means a lot coming from you because you are quite a writer and have an incredible, courageous voice. Great suggestion on Greater Cleveland Congregations. Thank you!

  • Great post, Heidi — as a city, we are as strong as our people (all of our people). I do believe there are enough good ideas and thought leaders out there — we just all need to support them and focus on the common and collective good. Thanks for writing this piece. I, too, love this city with all my heart – yet am continuously heartbroken every day.

    • Thank you Amy! I could not agree more with what you said. There are so many leaders here with great ideas who need our support.

  • Heidi,
    Thanks for your courage. This is a topic we skirt around, especially in mixed company (socio-economic, racial, political differences.) We must all gather our courage if we want our children to stop dying in our streets. The truth is …. it’s complicated. We are trying to unravel systemic issues that have been in place for a very long time. The communities to which you are referring are struggling with disinvestment, structural racism, poverty and isolation. If we want change, we have to figure out how to create change. No one is coming to save us- that’s for sure. We have to create opportunities and we have to stop punishing people for past mistakes. Folks need access to jobs that pay a living wage so that they can support their families. I have never had to choose between food and rent or send a child to bed hungry — I pray that I never have too. Yet, that is the reality for lots of people in this city who are working their butts off and getting no where or can’t find a job at all. I’d love to see more programs that promote entrepreneurship and offer micro-loans, so that people can start their own businesses in their communities. I also want to see additional funding for “violence interruptors.” Those programs employ people and make communities safer.

    • Erica, Profound words. Thank you. You mentioned a lot of things that made me think, but one thing that really made a light bulb go off in my head was the jobs issue you bring forth. You mentioned living wages and entrepreneurship; I work in manufacturing and have spent most of my career there. I think there are so many ways for businesses to better partner with the community and it could serve a mutual need. Another reader mentioned your organization in a previous comment. I’d like to learn more. Maybe we could meet for lunch or coffee?

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