Thursday, March 22, 2007

Neal: On living in Cleveland

"Truthfully, there aren't too many great things about Cleveland."

Neal's response was immediate, without a moment's consideration.

"It's not the city, it's the people who make the city bad. People run around shooting each other."

Like so many kids living in Cleveland's neighborhoods, Neal is very aware of the criminal presence that is a daily fact of life in the city. Night after night, local television newscasters will report on a west side drug bust, a south side shooting, or an east side robbery. It doesn't go unnoticed that a suburban murder makes the Cleveland Plain Dealer headlines, while inner city shootings only rate a two inch column on page B-3. Drugs and poverty have made the neighborhoods dangerous; people get killed. It's not really big news anymore.

"My neighborhood, for the most part, is good. I live in West Park, so my street is full of firefighters and cops. All of my neighbors, including me, get along. We all get together during the summer, hang out and talk. There is one house on the street though that is a rental. Some white-trash meth addicts moved in and have overstayed their welcome." Neal rolls his eyes in disgust. "You know what the problem with Cleveland's neighborhoods is? You have these people who own these houses, but they want to get out of the city. They move away and don't care about the neighborhood anymore so they rent to anyone, they rent to trash who destroy the neighborhood. Like, the guy across the street from us moved, and now the house is rented by drug dealers. Cars are pulling in and out of the driveway day and night. Strange people, crackheads, come and go. The worst part is, the guy who owns the house was a Cleveland cop. He moved away, so he has no idea what is going on over there."

I asked Neal what he would say to Mayor Frank Jackson if he had the opportunity.

" I would tell him to stop trying to make himself look good to the people in the suburbs, and work on the schools. They want to put kids in uniforms so they look like nice private school students, but who cares if they learn anything. We have substitutes in our classes for months, never enough supplies for the classes or materials for the shops,and the buildings are falling apart."

We look up at the ceiling of my classroom where there are thirty six tiles missing leaving gaping holes from water damage that happened more than a dozen years ago. Several more tiles are barely hanging on. Cracked asbestos floor tiles were finally replaced a couple of years ago in the hallways, but not the classrooms. Of the one hundred panes of glass in the windows on the north side of the room, twenty seven are cracked, and have been that way since I came to this building nearly a decade ago. At that time, (Neal was in second grade) Clevelanders voted to raise their taxes to repair the schools. A few new buildings have opened, yet tens of thousands of Cleveland students continue to attend classes in environments that can only be described as disgraceful.

My next questions for Neal concerned his plans after graduation.

"The thing I look forward to is getting a good job so I can support myself and leave the nest. I don't plan on staying in Cleveland, because there are no jobs here."

Neal studied the machine trades in the vocational program at Max Hayes, but doesn't feel he would be very happy with a manufacturing job. Neal likes to spend time in Pennsylvania with relatives at a family farm, and prefers the rural lifestyle. He enjoys the outdoors, and dreams of running a small dairy farm some day.

"Is there anything that could make you stay in Cleveland?" I asked.

" No, " he said " absolutely not."


Douglas said...

Keep up this great series. My finance has 3 kids in Cleveland schools and their stories need to be told. This is the only way things have a chance of improving.

George Nemeth said...

Not exactly a dairy farmer, but I think Neal needs to know about Maurice Small and CityFresh. We just did a Meet.The.Bloggers* interview with him:

Anonymous said...

I live in Cleveland UK, a county in the North East. We also have issues with drigs and low uneemployment, but only in a small area. the most of the county is full of good working class people. It is a real shame when I read posts like this, especially within the USA, which in theory is the ichest and most powerful county in the world. It should be better.

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