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DISTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT – MELISSA MOSBY

It may have started when Melissa Mosby was just a child as she watched her mother sexually abuse her older siblings, or when she was herself sexually abused by other family members. It could have started when she was 19 years old and gave birth to a daughter, Erin, with cerebral palsy. Or it could have started when Erin died six years later.

Mosby can’t pinpoint exactly which events in her life made her homeless today. What she can decide on, though, is that the death of Erin was when her life really “started spinning out of control.”

There was nothing easy for Mosby about raising a handicapped child. In addition to being completely blind, Erin was unable to sit up, eat or take in information.

“It’s different when you’re feeding your baby with a spoon and when you’re just putting it in a syringe and dumping milk in her stomach. But I tried to make it bonding time. I used to give her chocolate,” Mosby said with a smile and tears in her eyes. “My grandma would say ‘you shouldn’t give her that,’ but you could tell she was just trying to taste it… she liked it.”

Since Erin’s death, Mosby had two more children, a 23-year-old and a 21-year-old. She married and had one more child, a 14-year-old, and after separating from her husband had one more child, a 5-year-old.

Today, though, Mosby sleeps alone. Usually, she sleeps in a side entryway of a local theatre.

Mosby has been homeless on and off for 10 years. She keeps in contact with her eldest through Facebook. But aside from a weekly phone call, she hasn’t seen her 5-year-old, who resides in Columbus with family friends, in a year. She is no longer in a relationship with her husband, but an expensive divorce is the least of her worries. Her main concerns are making money for food to eat and finding a place to sleep. Although the Drop Inn Center, the largest homeless shelter in Greater Cincinnati, welcomes men and women 24 hours a day, Mosby prefers solitude.

“In the winter months, I stayed in the basement of an apartment building. The sheriff came down and the owner was upset I was in his place,” Mosby said. “It’s not right to enter somebody else’s property, but I’d rather face the anxiety of getting caught every morning than dealing with shelters where there’s no structure.”

It’s in this solitude where Mosby does what comforts her most—reading and writing.

Mosby’s desire to read at a young age helped her later on in life. One of her most-loved books, Tunnel Vision by Fran Arrick, is about a teenage boy who commits suicide without leaving behind a note.

“That’s what my brother Michael did,” Mosby said. “I read that years before my brother committed suicide when he was 18. But I feel like that book really helped prepare me, without me even knowing, what it would be like when my brother took his own life and didn’t leave behind any reason.”

Mosby attributes her passion for reading partly to her oldest sister Clara, who died in 1994.

“She’s my idol,” Mosby said. “She’s the one who threw me a book and said you’re going to be ignorant if you can’t read. So I read.”

One of Mosby’s most vivid memories of her sister was when she walked in on her lying on the floor being molested by her mother. As her sister moved her hand away from her eyes, she saw tears streaming from them and shouted for Mosby to please go away. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 92 percent of homeless women experienced severe physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lives.

“So I left,” Mosby remembers. “I didn’t want to make my older sister cry. My sister wrote me a letter one time that was prompted by when my mom asked me to do something and I said no. She said ‘you remind me of the song My Prerogative by Bobby Brown. Don’t lose that. I love you the way you are.’”

Receptionist at Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Roosevelt William agrees that Mosby certainly has her “prerogative.”

“She comes in here and she knows what she wants,” William said. “She’ll stand up for her rights.”

Mosby isn’t afraid to transfer this mindset into her writing either. Program Manager of StreetvibesAnna Worpenberg first noticed Mosby’s gift for writing at a writing workshop.

“One of Melissa’s articles was produced in like 15 minutes and was incredibly detailed,” Worpenberg said. “She writes really raw, vulnerable pieces and she’s not afraid to put herself out there.”

In one such piece, Invisible, Mosby speaks about how it feels as a person experiencing homelessness to be blatantly ignored on the streets. Mosby writes,

“We share the universe, the planet, the state and this city. We share 12th and Vine St., 13th and Main St., Court and Walnut St. We share Peaslee Park, the field at Sycamore and Woodward, and Washington Park. We share Final Fridays and Second Sundays and every day in between them in OTR… there is no discreet, polite way to pretend someone is invisible.”

Worpenberg describes Mosby’s writing as some of the best work she’s seen come in from distributors.

“She calls out the people who don’t see her and I think that’s part of the mission here at the homeless coalition,” Worpenberg said. “We try to wake them up and say ‘you need to see these people as people, not homeless.’”

Although Mosby has no problem standing up for herself, she said being ignored on the streets isn’t something that one can just get used to.

“This one guy told me, ‘I envy homeless people, they have no responsibility!’ I said, ‘are you kidding me?’” Mosby said. “What makes you think I didn’t go through the normal process of life and I just got turned around some kind of way, something happened to me or I made a choice that caused this? That doesn’t make me any different than you.”

Besides just selling Streetvibes, Mosby spends her time looking for employment while working once a week at Mannequin Boutique, a vintage store that donates proceeds to seven different charities.

“She’s an integral part of Mannequin and she’s a part of the Mannequin family,” said Ilene Ross, manager of Mannequin. “She’s timely and she does her job and it’s always with a smile on her face.”

Above all, Mosby wants people to know that she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for the help of other people.

“From my birth to right now, I can’t even imagine what a path to a healthy, whole life would look like,” Mosby said. “My life is what it is. I’ve done things that made it worst. But I’ve done things that made it better at times, too. For someone to say ‘this is your own fault, get out of it yourself’ is someone who doesn’t believe that as human beings, we need help. And it’s okay if I need help to get back on track.”

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Same-sex marriage legalized: moving towards equality for all

Cincinnati resident Sara Keebler was working at her job as a library services assistant when a regular patron scrolled to an article on Facebook and casually announced, “Hey, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states now.”

To the patron’s surprise, tears immediately came to Sara’s eyes, as she dialed her partner, Liz Hooper, to tell her the news.

Liz received the call while she was at work as a manager at T-mobile. A friend had already sent her a link to a Washington Post article about the law. Liz’s parents were excited, Sara was excited; even strangers were congratulating Liz simply because she was gay.

The ring Liz had picked out for Sara was ready, and although she had planned to propose next month in celebration of three years together, she decided June 26, 2015 was “as good of a day as any.”

It happened after their dinner at Django Western Taco. Liz had hidden the ring in the spare tire well of their 1994 pink Ford escort hatchback. She told Sara she needed to get into the trunk to retrieve something, and there, she pulled out the ring and asked Sara to marry her.

“It was really sweet, it was emotional,” Sara said.

The two have always wanted to get married in Liz’s parents’ backyard, where Liz’s parents got married 29 years ago.

Because the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution requires same-sex couples be allowed to marry in all 50 states, now they can.

“We would have done it whether it was legal or not,” said Liz with a laugh.

“But the fact that it was legalized does feel good,” added Sara. “I don’t know what it is exactly; I think just to have that recognition of marriage.”

Liz and Sara attended the Cincinnati Pride Parade Saturday, the day after their engagement, with Miller Lite and a warm spirit.

Cincinnati has celebrated Pride Week for 42 years, but in light of the Supreme Court decision, Saturday’s pride event was particularly festive.

“I never figured it would happen,” said Cincinnati resident Roger Eikenberry, who identifies as gay, as he watched the parade begin. “This is wonderful.”

Thousands of people, many dawning rainbow attire and waving pride flags, gathered to watch the parade on 7th St, Vine Street and past Fountain Square.

The parade began with the grand marshal of the event, a transgender woman and celebrity Erika Ervin. Ervin is well-known for her role as Amazon Eve in the television series American Horror Story.

The face of the Supreme Court decision, Jim Obergefell, also attended as a front-runner of the parade. The Cincinnati real estate agent is the named plaintiff in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the case that ruled the nationwide ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.

Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay city councilman, was among attendance at the event, which was particularly important to him because of efforts he has made for inclusivity in Cincinnati.

In 1993, voters approved Article XII, which stated “No special class status may be granted based upon sexual orientation, conduct or relationships.”

Although supporters of the article said it was put in place to prevent LGBT individuals from receiving “special rights” as opposed to “equal rights,” many found the consequences to be damaging. People identifying as LGBT feared losing their job or being denied basic rights by the city.

Because of Article XII, conventions that were already booked with the city pulled out, tens of millions of dollars were lost, and many people moved away. This added to a 50-year population loss.

“We lived under perhaps the most anti-gay local law our city, and our country, has ever seen,” Seelbach said publicly in November.

Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, said in November the city was a better place when Article XII was in place, citing that “homosexuals” had equal rights, not special rights, under it.

The article was repealed in 2004.

Last year, City Council passed regulations that require those who contract with Cincinnati to adapt a nondiscrimination policy. The hate crime laws were expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity along with race and gender, and in September, Cincinnati included transgender-inclusive procedures to the city’s health insurance policy.

Nearly ten years after Article XII’s repeal, Cincinnati received the highest possible score for inclusion by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.

Although inclusivity has recently expanded locally and nationally, advocates say there is still work to be done.

In 28 states including Ohio, it is still legal for an employer to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation, and to refuse to rent an apartment to someone simply because they are gay or transgender. That means same-sex couples who married on Sunday could lose their jobs because of it on Monday.

“Honestly, me getting married isn’t as important to me as having equal rights like everyone else,” Sara said. “That’s more important than anything to me.”

Liz said she hopes this Supreme Court decision paves the way for recognition of many types of relationships.

“I think the way we live is built for a partnered existence,” Liz said. “You should be able to pick whatever partner you want to live with and get those benefits. I think that’s why it’s s important that this passed; it allows for nontraditional relationships to be recognized in the eyes of the law.”

distributor spotlight - raeshawn gipson

Raeshawn Gipson will never forget the day his teammates picked him up above their heads after he hit at home run at age 7. He’ll never forget the time his peers gave him a standing ovation after a solo in gospel choir in junior high, or the ear-to-ear smile on his father’s face when he came to see Raeshawn play football.

As he sits in the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) office, every memorable event Raeshawn has experienced, along with its accompanied year, rolls right off his tongue. He dawns a wide-brimmed hat around the back of his neck and gold-rimmed glasses. He speaks softly, because he says it’s not good for his diabetes to stress and cause his blood pressure to go up.

Although he’s currently living with his brother, Raeshawn has experienced years of homelessness. He’s slept under bridges, in abandoned Cincinnati homes, even in the back of U-Haul vans. Right now, his only means of income are through Streetvibes, which he’s been selling for six years. Raeshawn doesn’t give up hope, though; he can often be found selling the newspaper across from Esquire theatre, humming his favorite song “Can’t Give Up Now” by Mary Mary.

“I just can’t give up now. I’ve come too far from where I started from,” Raeshawn sings with a smile. “That line, ‘I just can’t give up now’; when I’m selling Streetvibes, that’s what runs through my mind. That song really reflects on what I’ve had to do and what I’ve been through.”

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Raeshawn graduated from high school with dreams of working with cars. After high school, he moved to Indianapolis to pursue a career as a design engineer. After completing 5 of the 12 needed courses, though, Raeshawn had to drop out.

“I got sidetracked and I never went back,” Raeshawn said. “I ran into other jobs that paid me enough to where I could get a car, pay my rent and for my recreational use.”

These other jobs, however, weren’t always smooth sailing. At one company where he cleaned kitchen systems, he slipped into a deep fryer—the incident left him with second and third degree burns, and a visible patch of skin was taken from his thigh to replace the missing skin. It wasn’t long after this incident that he worked as a crane operator and was electrocuted with 13,200 volts—and again, his missing skin was replaced with skin from his other thigh.

“I wouldn’t wish a skin graft on my worst enemy,” Raeshawn said. “I had to deal with it by myself mentally. I didn’t have someone to say ‘hey, let me help you change that bandage,’ I had to do it all myself. I look at that as God preparing me to do better things.”

Years later—May 15 of 1996, to be exact—Raeshawn’s son, Jason, was fatally shot in Kennedy Heights at age 18. Just two days after his death, Raeshawn’s fiancé at the time, Karen, gave birth to their son Kendall.

“It still eats me up inside,” Raeshawn said. “But God gave me another chance to be a true father to Kendall.”

The next year, Raeshawn, Karen and Kendall left the painful memories of Cincinnati behind and moved to Los Angeles. There, Raeshawn worked as a limo driver, and said he had the opportunity to drive Jerome Bettis “The Bus,” Tim Brown and Leonardo DiCaprio.

“(Leonardo) smoked Marlboro lights,” Raeshawn said with a smile. “He may not now, but then, he did.”

Seven years later, Raeshawn went back to Cincinnati for his brother’s funeral—(Raeshawn is one four living children of his original eight siblings, who did not make it to age 50). After the funeral he went back to LA briefly, but after a run-in with the law, he spent that Christmas and three more days in LA county jail. After marriage complications, he moved back to Cincinnati alone. Kendall stayed with his wife.

The next year, Karen visited Cincinnati, and Raeshawn was able to see 7-year-old Kendall. That was 11 years ago, and it was the last time Raeshawn saw his son. Although they still talk on the phone from time to time, Raeshawn isn’t sure if he’ll even get a father’s day call.

“I didn’t get a chance to go to his graduation, none of those things. It bothers me because I felt like I was going down the same pattern of parenting as I did with my older kids,” Raeshawn said. “People don’t understand how much it hurts.”

Raeshawn spent over a year “going from one labor place to another trying to find work just to pay rent.” At one point, he became so fatigued that he spent three days in a hospital, and soon after was diagnosed with diabetes.

“Once I realized I was on insulin, I had to make a choice: am I going to allow life situations to upset me, or am I going to go ahead and try to stay calm?” Raeshawn said. “I had to accept that as people, we get caught in traffic. We may not like it, but we have to accept it.”

Raeshawn often finds peace sitting underneath the trees in Clifton parks, not far from where he sells to his regular Streetvibes customers.

Program Manager of Streetvibes Anna Worpenberg said that in the winter months, Raeshawn shovels snow on the patio across from the Esquire where he sells. She said that doing this shows the way he actively contributes to the community, something his customers can appreciate.

“People have a neat relationship with him as their Streetvibes distributor,” Worpenberg said. “I feel like I can really talk to Raeshawn; if there’s something new about the program, I might ask Raeshawn what he thinks because I know he would give me a really honest answer.”

This year, Raeshawn will participate in the Day by Day calendar project, which aims to educate students on homelessness in their city as well as provides distributors with an additional source of income.

GCCH intern Josh Harness, who worked with Raeshawn in last summer’s Day by Day project, said the students in their group learned a lot from Raeshawn and loved how friendly and approachable he was to them.

“He’s a very loyal, honest person,” Harness said. “Every memory I have of him is him being extremely friendly and extremely happy. He’s one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”

That attitude is something Raeshawn takes pride in. He said he looks at Streetvibes as a business, a place where he maintains a professional presence representing the coalition.

“I’ve experienced some beautiful things in my life. If I was on my death bed right now, I wouldn’t say ‘why me’ because I have experienced so many good things,” Raeshawn said. “With the way the economy is, people can be homeless in a matter of weeks. They keep moving forward even though they may not have a house or an address. The homeless don’t give up.”

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women's center opens in mt. auburn

With a lack of alternate housing, women experiencing domestic violence are often forced to stay in or return to abusive relationships.

As of Monday June 8, victims of abuse experiencing homelessness in Greater Cincinnati no longer have to live in fear that they’ll have to eat alongside men in an emergency shelter.

The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, located on Reading Road in Mt. Auburn, held a grand opening and tours of the facility Friday June 5 at 10 a.m.

The 20,000-square-foot center, which includes full laundry services, a contemporary kitchen facility and 60 sleeping quarters, will serve more than 500 women each year. This is an increase from the 42 beds for women that were available at the Drop Inn Center, which will be replaced by the Hatton Center and a men’s shelter scheduled to open in September.

“Back in the 70’s… nobody could have imagined this day where we would have this facility that is specifically for women experiencing homelessness,” said Arlene Nolan, executive director of the Drop Inn Center, at the event. “The dreams of so many have finally come to reality.”

About 200 people gathered to watch the ribbon-cutting.

“I think it’s one of the primary functions of civilized society to care for people at risk,” said Mayor John Cranley at the event. “Putting together a facility and services for women and children under stress is our highest calling, and here we are.”

One woman who has been a Drop Inn Center resident since September of 2014, Jesica Kiefler, spoke out about her struggle with substance abuse, mental health and housing. She said that when she came to the Drop Inn Center, she was looking for a safe home base to get back on track.

“The Drop Inn Center made me feel like a person, made me feel like I belonged again,” Kiefler said at the event. “I feel like the women’s shelter here is definitely needed for women because we suffer from a lot of other illnesses that men do not suffer from, and I think it’s very important that we look at women differently from men.”

The opening of the shelter marks the first women-only shelter in Greater Cincinnati, said Fanni Johnson, director of emergency shelters. She added that the YWCA provides shelter to battered women, but that this is the first shelter open to all women, including those who are transgender.

“We don’t want to force a female to be with the men just because of a body part,” Johnson said. “Whatever they identify, that’s who they are to us. We want people to feel comfortable.”

For those not comfortable sleeping with men or women, the Drop Inn Center accommodated, but Nolan said it was difficult because of the lack of space. Johnson added that they often provided some bedding in the main waiting area, both for those who preferred it and in cases of overflow. The Hatton Center, however, provides private spaces that anyone can reside in if available.

“One of the things we’re really proud about is that we always do overflow, and we certainly make sure we do that here (at the Hatton Center) if more than 60 women show up,” said Nolan. “Just being able to accommodate, that’s just another way of making sure nobody’s left behind.”

The men’s shelter will open in Queensgate, about three and a half miles away from the Hatton Center. Nolan doesn’t expect the longer-distance separation of men and women to be an issue, because the Drop Inn Center had a policy not allowing couples into the center at the same time, finding couples coming in together “always ended up with issues.”

Although the sleeping quarters were separated for men and women at the Drop Inn Center, many other services were not. This was uncomfortable for many women, especially those who had experienced abuse. Nationally, 92 percent of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“The space (is a big benefit). Our women are really crammed on top of each other and sleep in really close sleeping quarters,” Nolan said. “There’s a lot of shared services with the men, and the women don’t particularly like that they have to eat their meals with the men. And so many just don’t want to be on the same campus as a man, and now they aren’t.”

The Hatton Center is named after family physician Doctor E. Kenneth and his wife Esther Marie Hatton, said Walter Lunsford, Executive Director of the Hatton Foundation. Lunsford described E. Kenneth’s legacy in the field of medicine, including work with the disabled, the homeless, children and veterans. He added that, from the foundation’s perspective, the opening of the Hatton shelter is the 34th time since 1999 that they’ve “answered the call for help for the homeless.”

“When Gale approached me over a year ago about the prospect of having a new women’s-only shelter named after Esther Marie Hatton, the board and I agreed that this was a tremendous opportunity to honor the woman behind the man,” Lunsford said at the event. “Homelessness is a deep scar in our nation and particularly in Greater Cincinnati… our hope is that the rise of homeless women who enter the new center will truly be transformed.”

distributor spotlight - cleo wombles

Not long ago, Streetvibes distributor Cleo Wombles could easily be spotted on the streets of Clifton in clown makeup and a red-button nose, waving Streetvibes and telling jokes to potential customers.

Although 58-year-old Cleo has, for the most part, ditched the face paint for more regular attire, his love for humor and desire to make people laugh is what keeps his customers coming back to purchase papers from him.

But Cleo’s carefree persona isn’t without a personal history of struggles.

Cleo grew up in Cincinnati in a poor family of six boys and six girls. He was working at the age of 12—if he didn’t plow, the family wouldn’t be able to eat, his dad often told him.

At age 16 he married, and on December 4, 1974, his wife at the time gave birth to Christina Parrot at Good Samaritan Hospital. Because of birth complications, Christina was never able to leave the hospital. Every day, Cleo said, after his job at a saw mill, he’d go home to shower then walk two to three miles to the hospital to visit her.

“She was in an incubator, I had to stick my hands in gloves and touch her that way,” Cleo said. “I’d tell her I loved her, cared about her, try to make her laugh. I kept telling her she was going to come home and that never happened.”

Nineteen months after her birth, Christina died.

“One day I came in there and she’s not in that bed,” Cleo remembers. “It warped me really bad.”

Exactly four years after Christina’s birth—December 4, 1978—Cleo’s second child was born. Cleo calls that day the best memory of his life.

“Because she was born the same day as my first daughter… God gave me another chance,” Cleo said.

After his first child’s death, Cleo was overcome with grief and guilt; a number of other traumatizing events in his life, which he chooses not to share publicly, led him to post-traumatic stress disorder, something he wasn’t diagnosed with until years later. Cleo struggled with other mental illnesses—he said he’d shake, have rapid thoughts and hear voices. This made it more difficult for him to find work, and he became so poor that he eventually became homeless.

Often, he’d “couch potato” at family’s houses, but sometimes he’d sleep seek accommodation in a shelter or in bushes.

Cleo had used just about every resource he could—he ate meals at City Gospel Mission, took advantage of Society of Saint Vincent de Paul’s programs and often stayed at the Drop Inn Center. Above all, though, he said the help he received from Tender Mercies, a nonprofit organization that provides housing and services to homeless persons with histories of mental illness, has had the biggest impact on improving his health and situation.

“If I wasn’t in Tender Mercies, I’d be dead right now,” Cleo said. “When you’re homeless and you’ve used up all your resources and don’t know where to go or turn or don’t know what to do, you cry a lot. I was sick being homeless, and I didn’t want to live that way anymore.”

Cleo doesn’t let his mental illness define him. Last year, he became a member of GCCH’s Voice of the Homeless Speakers’ Bureau to share his story and put a face to the issue of homelessness.

“Cleo has become one of our most popular speakers. Public speaking is not always easy, especially when you’re sharing very personal experiences,” said Michelle Dillingham, education coordinator of GCCH who oversees Speaker’s Bureau. “He sprinkles in life lessons and words of wisdom and at the end he always shares a few jokes with the audience.”

In addition to the time he spends with the Speaker’s Bureau, he sells Streetvibes every day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., takes a break and sells again from 3:30 to 5:30.

“Back when he was selling papers in front of Chipotle in Clifton, he was the most unique seller of newspapers I’ve ever seen,” said Rob Lewin, a long-time friend and customer. “He would wear clown outfits and he would make balloon animals. He’s putting out extra effort to make it interesting, he’s not just saying take this paper and give me money.”

After a day of work, Cleo usually spends his time reading the Bible or watching Red Skelton comedy, thinking of new ways he can make his next customer smile.

“I figure I got two and a half seconds to make you laugh. If I can do that, I did something good,” Cleo said. “I like using humor as one of the means for me to build a relationship with people and not just a customer. I want you to be happy when you come by me. That’s my whole goal.”

UC POLICE OFFICER RAY TENSING INDICTED FOR MURDER   

Officers in the U.S. fatally shoot hundreds of people each year; only in a small margin of cases, however, does the officer face criminal charges.

A University of Cincinnati cop was indicted July 29 for the murder of 43-year-old Samuel Dubose, an unarmed black man. Dubose was shot and killed July 19 by Ray Tensing after being pulled over for allegedly missing a front license plate. Dubose reportedly did not attack the officer or carry any weapons.

Shortly after the announcement of indictment, body camera footage was released and shown at a press conference.

In the video, Tensing asks for Dubose’s license; when Dubose says he doesn’t have it on him, Tensing demands him to take off his seat belt.

“I didn’t do nothing, man,” Dubose says in the video. Just moments after turning the key to rev his engine, Tensing shoots Dubose in the head.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the officer “purposely killed him” and “should never have been a police officer,” adding that the shooting was “senseless.”

“There are prosecutors who don’t always do the right thing,” said Mayor John Cranley at the press conference. “We are blessed and lucky that we had (Deters) in that position not to politicize the situation, but to do the right thing.”

Only two percent of police officers are indicted and of that two percent, 36 percent are actually convicted said Alexander Shelton, a member of UC Students Against Injustice.

“It is a great momentum and a great step forward,” Shelton said of the indictment. “But hopefully justice is served and hopefully a lot of reforms come out of this.”

Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati activist Christina Brown said she felt the indictment was progress, but not victory, adding that without video footage, Dubose likely would not have had a chance at justice.

“The fact that it took a video camera to prove that an innocent man didn’t deserve to die says a lot about our culture,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, not just with changing policy, but with changing our culture.”

Cincinnati is currently pursuing a body camera program but is making sure that it is done in the most “economical and effective way,” said City Manager Harry Black at the press conference.

“I think it’s safe to say that this case is going to help the cause of body cameras across the country,” Cranley said at the conference.

It is unclear whether or not UCPD will officially merge with CPD as a result of Dubose’s death, but UC President Santa J. Ono said he hopes the two departments are able to arrive at a stronger collaboration that will “move the entire situation to a better place.”

Amenities are being worked out for the 13 children of Dubose, one of which is a UC student, Ono said.

“I met with the family today and we started to discuss those things; it will be a process where we talk with them and listen to their wishes,” Ono said at the conference. “Believe me, the best interest of that family is front and center with me.”

The indictment of Tensing is a historical moment not only for the United States, but also for Cincinnati. In 2001, an uprising occurred in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati as a result of the killing of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black 19-year-old. The CPD patrolman who killed Thomas did not suffer any sort of prosecution.

Family members of Dubose said Dubose wouldn’t want any riots and asked that any protests to remain peaceful.

“As a reformer, I am really saddened that this happened. I wish we were not talking about this at this particular time, but here we are at the hands of trained individuals, once again,” said long-time civil rights activist Iris Rowley. “I am hopeful that this gives us an opportunity to reform.”

distributor spotlight - james davis 

Every piece of Streetvibes distributor James Davis’ outfit has a special meaning.

His hat, which has a dolphin on the front, is from Tampa, where he and his friend, Marcus, played music last summer. His bright blue shirt—which reads “Bill Bell for Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge,” is a two-year-old campaign shirt, but he still wears it in support of his friend and patron. He bought his sandals from the old Value City in Kentucky, his all-time favorite store to shop at as a kid. He found the silver ring on his finger under a bench, and claims it’s given him good luck ever since. He listens to 100.3 FM—“old school Cincy”—through the bulky headphones around his neck. And the colorful beads he wears are from New Orleans, where he and his nephew, Dave, like to play music to earn extra cash.

Those beads might be the most defining part of his getup—he hasn’t gone a day without wearing those beads in three years, he says.

“Oh, I love these mardi gras beads,” James grins, laughing and laughing. “My regular (Streetvibes) customers down here, they love them, too. They say, ‘you have on so many magnificent beads!’”

James’ unique style matches his eccentric personality, says William D. Bell Sr., a Cincinnati lawyer and the man behind James’ old campaign shirt.

“I think that (his style) sets him apart from some of the other people who are doing the same thing,” says Bell, who buys papers from James outside of his office on the corner of 9th and Main St. “James is a good spirit, we kid with each other all the time. He’s had some issues, but he has never ceased to be James. He’s never ceased to be a good person.”

Fellow Streetvibes distributor and friend of James, Willa Jones, can attest to his good spirit.

“Me and James, we like to make people laugh,” Jones says. “We try to take bad situations and make some good out of it.”

His style not only attracts potential Streetvibes customers, but it’s also consistent with his music, one of the things he’s been extremely passionate about since a young age.

“I made my first pair of bongos out of oatmeal boxes,” says James. “I took two of them, I cut one shorter than the other and tied them together to get two different sounds out of them. I was 6 years old. I’d sit on the steps, practice and beat along with them.”

In addition to playing the Djembe drum—his favorite—he plays blues, jazz, gospel and reggae on saxophone, trumpet and keyboard. Most of his family, including his parents and his seven brothers and sisters, are musically inclined. He thinks he got it from his mother, the pianist. That was one of his favorite things about her—next to her “to die for” lemon meringue pie, of course.

James admired everything about his mother—for taking him and his siblings on camping trips to Caesar Creek despite “not being the outdoorsy type,” and for taking him and his siblings to church every Sunday.

“We couldn’t get out of church for nothing in the world,” James remembers. “Even if we were sick. She’d tell us we go to church and get healed! Things were so bad (financially for us) then, but she built this faith up in us. Wow, it was remarkable.”

At age 17 he ran away from home in what he describes as a time in his life when he was “naïve” and “didn’t know what to do.” He experienced homelessness, tried out college for a year and a half before his scholarship ran out, and eventually came back around to his mother who welcomed him with open arms. Even though she passed away 10 years ago, he still remembers it like it was yesterday.

“It was one of the worst days of my life,” James says. “Oh god, I will never forget it. I felt like a part of me left the world.”

But James has worked many jobs since, from car washing to landscaping, and lives every day hoping that he’s making her proud. According to Bell, he is.

“He really is phenomenal,” Bell says. “He has this personality that warms somebody’s day, and I think that’s very important. He’s a genuinely good person.”

And every time he enters the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, he has a grin on his face.

“I hate coming in here to hear that I just missed James Davis,” says fellow distributor James Brown. “I see him selling Monday through Friday and I see him selling on the weekend selling At Findlay Market… the way he takes care of business is amazing.”

James is more than just his headphones and mardi gras beads. He dresses to commemorate the memories he’s created with the people who mean the world to him—the snazzy style is just a plus.

“I have a lot of passion for people. I love people to death,” James says. “I’ve been through ups and downs and I’ve learned a lot of things. I believe you can never be too kind. And I believe if you stay strong inside and put your mind to something, you can do anything.”

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black lives matter march: justice for rekia boyd

Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati (BLM) held a rally and march on May 28 at 6:30 p.m. starting in Zeigler Park. Participants and organizers demanded justice for 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by Chicago police detective Dante Servin in March 2012. On May 18 the judge ruled Servin clear of all charges because he “felt threatened.”

While the organizers wanted to pay special attention to the lives of young women, trans women and women of color, they also highlighted the continued attention of shooting unarmed men of color such as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.

“I think this is important right now because of all the attention that’s being paid specifically to black men,” said Abby Friend, participant at the event. “I think (trans women) are targeted for the same reason why police target anybody of color and anybody that identifies differently. They’re very much about power, and that stems directly from the white, cis, hetero capitalist patriarchy.”

According to BLM, every 28 hours police or vigilante law enforcement murders a black man, woman or child. BLM additionally states that the average life expectancy for a black transgender woman is 35 years.

The rally began with Tia Edwards, event organizer, leading the crowd in several chants including “Black girls matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Rekia Boyd, say her name.”

Event organizer Christina Brown told the crowd, “Justice should be extended to black women just like the love and fight for justice is extended to black men.”

“(Many are) seen as violent, seen as loud, seen as aggressive, and seen as strong but with low intelligence, as something to be feared,” added Emmanuel Gray, a marshal of the event. “We are here to say we will not stand for the murders and brutalities against our sisters, our daughters, our mothers and our friends. We are human beings and it doesn’t matter what the court says we know when murder happens. Murder is murder.”

Children of the community held signs reading “Say Her Name” and wrote the phrase on one another’s arms.

“Children are always welcome at all Black Lives Matter Events,” said Friend, who made the signs. “They are the ones that are going to need to grow up and recognize that they are more than what society allows them to be. I think you’d be surprised at how much children understand, especially when it’s something that happens in their daily lives.”

December Lamb, who also served as a marshal of the event, said that he believed that for racial police brutality to ever be solved completely, it was essential that blacks work together with people of other races.

“Every time I turn on the TV, it’s like a series now, somebody unarmed is getting shot,” Lamb said. “It makes me feel like ‘hey, what is the world coming to?’”

About 50 people then marched across 12th street and down Main Street waving signs, shaking fists and shouting chants.

Among attendance were friends Bek Wald and Kellie Sedgwick, who attended the march because they felt it was important to participate in rallies regarding social issues.

“We need to all come out to these events and show solidarity,” Wald said. “It’s important for people of all walks of life, people of all races, people of all faith to come together and show support for people who need support.”

The march ended with a rally at the Justice Center, where participant Anthony Allen named “women who have died at the hands of state-inspired violence” as the crowd repeated the names.

Kevin Farmer also stood up and spoke against police brutality.

“What they always say is ‘I’m doing my job,’” he said at the Justice Center. “The Nazis said the same thing and they persecuted and killed millions. I’m getting tired of people just taking orders. They just want to get paid.”

The event ended shortly after Edwards, who sported a shirt that read “I love being black,” spoke to the crowd.

“Black girls do matter,” Edwards said at the event. “We give birth and because we give birth, we want to keep our black girls alive and our black guys alive as well.”

distributor spotlight - james brown

Streetvibes Distributor James Brown can’t take more than ten steps outside in Cincinnati without a greeting from someone. As we walk from E 12th street to the corner of Vine and Central Parkway, at least 15 people, from business owners to fellow distributors, grin and give James a wave or a handshake.

“What’s up, man?” says a regular patron, Rod, to James upon seeing him. “This guy busts his butt. He really puts in a lot of hours,” he tells me before crossing the street.

James then leads me into The Little Mahatma, a small jewelry and artifact store on Vine St. There, we chat with the owner Dan Schwander, who has been buying papers from James for three years.

“If we’re walking by the Kroger area, James is always there to keep an eye on us,” Schwander said. “He really likes to make sure we’re well-serviced by what he does, and he’s really proud of what he does.”

James then leads me into Suder’s Art Store, where he greets the store cat, George, who is seated on top of a pile of books.

“This cat has been here since (the store) has been here. I just come in and kick it with him,” James says with a smile as he pets George’s head.

“He loves that cat,” laughs Ros Boles, a Suder’s employee of 29 years and patron of James. “And we love James’ personal deliveries. He’s real personable.”

It seems as though most people in Cincinnati know James. His willingness to talk to everybody is his best trait, Boles says.

But James isn’t just the friendly guy with a copy of Streetvibes in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He’s the father of a 22-year-old daughter, a victim of a heart stabbing and a prior caregiver to his dying grandmother, Frances Challold.

Challold had been young for a grandmother—James’ parents were only 14 when he was born—and she was only 50 when she died.

“She spoiled me,” he said, remembering the German chocolate cake she’d make for his birthday every year. “She let me do whatever I wanted.”

When she fell ill, James quit his job in the construction field and dropped out of high school to take care of her. He was only 16 when she died and remembers the day he had to rush back to the hospital he had just left to be with her when she passed away.

“I wish I had stayed with her longer that day… I lost half my heart when she died,” James said. “I remember hearing her heartbeat stop.”

After her death, James spent time on the streets, sleeping on friends’ couches and eventually staying with his mother, Senithia Brown. Although she was strict when he was growing up—fearing he would “get involved with gangs,” he said—she taught him a number of things, from physical therapy to manners.

“To this day, I respect my elders. I always say sir and ma’am. Kids aren’t raised like that now,” James said. “I understand today why she raised us the way she did.”

Senithia encouraged him to participate in summer and after-school programs like swimming, flag football and Boy Scouts. Today, James serves as a mentor for other children in programs like these, such as the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless’ (GCCH) annual Day-by-Day calendar project. The project aims to educate high school students on homelessness and poverty issues.

“The students get out there and we show them how to sell (Streetvibes) papers,” James said. “It makes me understand why my mother had us in programs back in the day. She didn’t want us getting into trouble.”

His mother also encouraged him to play football, which James wishes he had a chance to play for a living, despite being just five foot three. If he wasn’t selling Streetvibes, he said, he’d like to be playing football.

“I loved being a teammate,” said James, looking back on his time as both a “pee-wee” football player and also a wide receiver on the blue and gold Pershing High School Doughboys. “If you ain’t got a team, you ain’t got nothing.”

Maybe he would be a football player if he hadn’t been stabbed in the heart or suffered a major heart attack, he said. Or maybe, he said, if his grandmother hadn’t died when he was 17, his life would be on a completely different path right now. When he’s feeling down, he looks to Psalms 1:16, verse 8: For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.

“That keeps me motivated,” said James, pointing to the verse in the Bible he held open. “I got stabbed. I cry sometimes. But if I fall, I always get back up, no matter what.”

And for now, he’s satisfied selling Streetvibes to his regular customers every day and paying the occasional visit to George the cat.

“I worked factory jobs and things like that, but I love my Streetvibes,” James said. “That’s the only thing keeping me above water today.”

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op-ed: black lives matter demands recognition during bernie sanders speech

Being a politician is a tough job; being a black person in the United States is tougher.

The two ideas clashed earlier this month in Phoenix, AZ at Netroots Nation, the country’s largest progressive gathering. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke at the event, and I had the opportunity to attend. I stood in the front row on the left side, clutching my “Bernie 2016” sign. I was hopeful for him to share his ideas for the country and inspire the progressives in the room. But I don’t think many people in the room, Bernie included, were expecting the amount of criticism with which he was forced to confront.

Before Bernie’s speech, Senator Martin O’Malley spoke. He’s also running for the democratic presidency. In the talk-show-esque setting, Malley was asked a few questions; midway through, a group of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protestors marched in, loudly chanting “which side are you on, my people?”

O’Malley had no choice but to remain quiet as they chanted, “black lives matter” and “Sandra Bland, say her name.” O’Malley appeared frustrated as he tried to answer questions over the protests, and shouted back, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” This was met with groans and boo’s. The contrast between the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter have spurred debate since the BLM slogan was created.

The boo’s were for a good reason; responding to “black lives matter” with “all lives matter” misses the point, because the value of life of a young white person is rarely questioned, but the value of a young black person often is. A CNN article illustrated this point with the analogy “Imagine a series of sexual assaults by men against women on a campus. Someone says, ‘Men on this campus need to stop raping women!’ And someone responds, ‘Well, everyone should just stop raping everyone.’ You can see why some women might feel this is missing the point,” the article states.

Statistically, men are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual assault—according to a 2011 study, for female rape survivors, 98.1 percent of the time a man was the perpetrator. Similarly, black people are more likely to be killed by the cops than white ones—according to Think Progress, black male teens are 21 percent more likely to be killed by cops than white ones.

After Malley exited and Bernie took the stage, he too was met with Black Lives Matter’s chants and pleas for him to “say her name, Sandra Bland.” While he had more sense than telling the protestors “white lives matter,” he told them yes, black lives mattered, and then attempted to talk over them about income inequality.

In the moment, I stood, frustrated at BLM’s chants. I’d come here to see Bernie, and protestors weren’t letting him talk. I wanted to shout at them to please quiet down. I wanted to tell them “Bernie is on your side, and he’s your only hope for this election.” I wanted to tell them he cares deeply about black lives and his track record proves it. I wanted them to go protest Donald Trump, not Bernie.

It wasn’t until after the event, reading up on what exactly happened and talking to people involved that I realized what I’d just experienced.

As a white person of privilege, I’m not used to getting talked over, shut out or not listened to daily. I realized that I’d been hit with just a taste of the cold reality of being black: every day, people of color are talked over, ignored or told to be quiet. Every day, black people feel inconceivably frustrated by the ignorance and privilege of white people.

According to BLM, every 28 hours a black person is murdered by police or vigilante law enforcement. That’s one black person dead for about every day you’re living.

Since its formation two years ago, BLM has been speaking out against the deaths of black people at the hands of law enforcement—Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Missouri and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, just to name a few.

Earlier this month, a 28-year-old black woman named Sandra Bland was stopped by white state trooper Brian T. Encinia for reportedly failing to use a signal when switching lanes. In the dash cam video released by Texas officials, Bland refuses to get out of the car, stating she has the right to do so. The confrontation continues off-camera, and Bland is audibly heard saying the officer knocked her head into the ground.

Three days after her arrest, Bland reportedly died in her cell.

More recently (and locally), University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, who is white, fatally shot 43-year-old Samuel Dubose, who was black and reportedly unarmed. Dubose had been pulled over for a missing front license plate and was later shot in the head.

These deaths are not something we can brush over and ignore any longer, and that’s exactly the point BLM was trying to make. Sure, the room was full of progressives—Bernie included—who make innumerable efforts to reduce racism. But the movement wasn’t to make a point to people of color. They already know, live and experience the effects of racism every day.

This was a push for Bernie to further push conversation about racism in our country. This was for the people who scoff at the movement and respond with “white lives matter, too.” This was for the conservatives scrolling through their daily news and reading about what exactly happened that day and why their movement was so, so important.

I’ve interviewed a few people from the BLM movement, I’ve been to a rally and I follow the news, but I’m not going to pretend I know what people of color go through. All I have are the words I’ve absorbed from the times I’ve spent listening. It is true that you cannot fully grasp the effects of racism until you experience them. To white readers, if you consider yourself an ally, realize that there is still work to be done. Being an ally goes beyond a singular declarative statement. It’s a constant detox of racism in a society where black people are vilified. Let us choose to stand in solidarity, listen and spread the word of the BLM movement.

distributor spotlight - lee mccoy

“I want to start back as far as I can remember,” said Lee McCoy as he leans back in his chair and scratches his gray facial hair. “I remember crawling under my mother and father’s bed and seeing a mason jar under the bed. I started drinking some of that moonshine. It tasted good; it was smooth. That was my earliest recollection of having a drink of anything. I was seven years old.”

Streetvibes distributor Lee McCoy added that he was expelled from catholic school a couple years later for drinking the holy wine. His father died after he turned 11, and when he was 15, he got “into a big fight with some white people.” That fight, which left him and his brother sentenced to a juvenile detention center in Columbus for 18 months, marked his first incident with the police.

On a frigid February day six months into the sentence, he and his brother had had enough. The two escaped and traveled back to Cincinnati mostly by foot, catching a short ride as hitchhikers along the way. It wasn’t long, however, before the police caught him. He was sent him back to a juvenile center in Zanesville. At one point, Lee said he witnessed one friend—whom he was even closer to than his brother—get crushed by an 18-wheeler when the two were riding their bicycles. The trauma of this incident led Lee back to what comforted him most—drugs and alcohol.

“When he hit that corner, it was too late. His blood and his guts splattered on me,” Lee said. “I was that close.”

While in Zanesville, Lee said he had an accident of his own—he said his arm was pulled into a laundry extractor, he was thrown across the room and broke his elbow, forearm and wrist.

“They had to send me home after that,” Lee remembers. “I guess they was worried about a lawsuit. It never happened, though—being young and dumb and knowing nothing about how the law works, I didn’t pursue the matter. I was just so glad to be home.”

Home, or Cincinnati, was where Lee could continue to feed his alcohol addiction. He worked job to job but nothing was as comfortable to him as selling drugs. He opened an apartment to people to buy and have a place to use drugs, and said he was sent to prison five different times in a matter of six years.

Prison wasn’t necessarily a bad place for Lee. He had always loved cooking, so he worked his way up to lead cook in the prison kitchen. He got his GED. He kept busy, but when he got out and saw his friend die in his arms because of heroin overdose, he made the decision to cut use of the drug then and there.

That was 37 years ago. Lee has been in housing off and on, but after being displaced two and a half years ago, he said he struggles to find housing due to his trafficking charges, and is currently homeless.

“Any time I saw a potential landlord and they looked at my police record, (they say) ‘oh you have a trafficking charge,’” Lee said. “Yeah, but that was 37 years ago, and still today, I might as well still be in a penitentiary. I paid that debt and I’m still in prison. I’m still paying my debt to society.”

Lee pays his debt to society when he sleeps on front steps of music hall and in garages. He pays his debt to society when he experiences pain from an open wound on his ankle and isn’t allowed pain medication because of his past as an addict.

But as Director of Development for Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) Leslie Moorhead can attest to, Lee is turning his life around. In 2012, Lee was awarded Streetvibes Distributor of the Year at their annual banquet.

“If there’s ever anything we need any kind of help with, Lee is kind of the go-to person for us. He genuinely cares about us and the staff,” Moorhead said. “He sees the paper in a different way than other people do; he takes such pride in it. It’s not just an income for him, it’s an education piece as well.”

This way of looking at the paper is why Lee is often chosen by GCCH for a monthly program GCCH holds with schools. At the program, students meet with Lee and learn his story and then try to sell papers on the street.

“He doesn’t always have the highest numbers, but his approach (for selling) I think is really good,” Moorhead said.

One of Lee’s regular customers, Valarie Dowell—who sometimes buys two or three copies of the same issue—said everybody in Lee’s regular selling area on Court Street see Lee as a “good individual.”

“Everybody up here knows Lee. Everybody somewhat feels like this is his area,” said Dowell, who works with reentry in social service outreach at the county administration building on E Court Street. “He knows how to hold a conversation and he knows how to approach people.”

Having known Lee for 30 years and having experienced homelessness herself, Dowell said Lee constantly inspires her.

“I always tell him what I’m doing and he always says ‘Have you done that? Have you graduated yet?’ Just those little things,” Dowell said. “When I told him I got my bachelor’s degree, he gave me a hug. It’s people like him that keep me doing what I’m doing. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it to help the next individual.”

Dowell said her biggest worry for Lee is getting him into housing before October, when the temperature drops. Lee worries about this too, and said he often looks back on his life thinking maybe, if certain events hadn’t happened in his life, maybe he’d be in housing with a drastically different life.

“If I never had picked up that little mason jar from under the bed, who knows what I might be today,” Lee said. “If I had ever went to college, who knows what I would be today. If I never had that accident that broke my arm, I might have been a football or baseball star. If I hadn’t seen my friend get hit by that 18-wheeler who knows what I’d be? I think it’s those types of stories that happened to me that define where I am today.”

But above everything, Lee is thankful to be alive.

“We as people have a tendency not to be grateful,” Lee said. “I’ve had people hold guns to my head that (luckily) didn’t go off. Once, I was in a van going to work and the van flipped over 3 times and busted into flames. I’ve been blessed most of my life and I am grateful.”

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women's expo held on fountain's square

The Women’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati (WCC) held a women’s economic, mental and physical health expo in Fountain’s Square on Friday May 29. About 50 people and 15 organizations attended, with the primary goal being to bring together a variety of agencies to raise awareness for women’s issues.

At the event, a three-and-a-half minute movie was shown on Fountain Square’s Jumbotron. Pushpop media created this movie for WCC, and it portrayed economic inadequacy.

State representative Denise Driehaus, who is in her last term, first took the stage to advocate women’s rights. Among other things, Driehaus mentioned that statehouse legislation is dealing with accommodations for women in the workplace – for example, not getting fired because of a pregnancy leave or court dates due to domestic violence.

“You should not be fearful that you’re going to lose your job if you take half a day off for that (reason),” Driehaus said at the event. “Until we recognize (pay equity) and our colleagues recognize it, we cannot do anything about it. We are fighting the fight but we need your help.”

Additionally, local artist and advocate for women’s issues and child sexual abuse Melissa Rowland displayed her art piece, “Perceived Value.” The piece was a women’s mannequin covered in dollar bills with pennies over the breasts and between the legs.

“She’s expressing the value that some people place on womanhood,” Rowland said about the piece. “The parts of the body everybody has—shoulders, thighs, belly buttons—those are equal already, so they’re all dollars. But when women are devalued and they’re worth less, that’s what she shows.”

This isn’t the first social justice art piece that Rowland has created. Her last artwork was a series of several mannequins called “Finding Voice” that depicted the timeline of sexual abuse from a young age to adulthood. She said this was featured at the Fringe Festival last year.

This issue of pay equity is an important issue for people not only concerned about women, but also concerned about children in poverty, low-income family’s health, and children’s education said Vanessa Freytag, executive director of the Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“Research that was done at University of Cincinnati’s Economic Center found that four out of seven jobs in our region that women hold right now don’t pay her enough to take care of herself and just one child,” Freytag said at the event. “You cannot lift a family to all the areas that they need to be if you don’t start with the fact that that family must have enough resources to take care of itself.”

Beth Schwartz, Executive Director of Jewish Family Service, spoke about taking the “food stamp challenge” for one week with her daughter, who was 14 at the time, in 2011. She said she had participated in the food stamp challenge in the past and kept a blog update, but was criticized for not having an “all beans all the time” diet. She said the second time around, she was surprised her daughter volunteered to participate, and she vowed to try and make healthier choices.

“I started the challenge as an advocate and wanting to raise awareness, and I finished the challenge with a very personally transformative experience,” Schwartz said at the event. “I learned what it felt like to be poor. I learned what it meant to have food and security.”

The event wrapped up with dancers from Pones Inc, performing to “Uptown Funk.” The organization “provides artistic opportunities for community growth by creating engaging new ways for audiences to experience dance.”

Executive Director of Pones Kimberly Popa took the stage with four other dancers who performed a dance to “Uptown Funk.”

“That dance had a lot of repetition in it, so what I’d like to do now is invite all of you brave souls to learn a bit of that dance,” Executive Director of Pones Inc. Kimberly Popa said, as participants gathered in front of the stage. “We use dance to create community.”

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distributor spotlight - maurice golsby

For Streetvibes distributor Maurice Golsby, Sunday morning is the best day of the week.

“Saturday night can’t get over quick enough,” he said. “I lay my clothes out, take my shower, and come 6 a.m., I’m ready to go.”

Every Sunday for as long as he can remember, Golsby has taken the bus from his apartment in Cincinnati to an African Methodist Episcopal church in Covington. There, he likes to call himself “second in command”—the pastor, Rev. Doc. Wallace L. Gunn Sr., often has Maurice preach when he’s gone.

Sometimes, Gunn speaks about the sin of homosexuality; but it doesn’t bother Maurice, who is “no stranger to the homosexual lifestyle.” He’s been going to the same church since age four and says he discovered he was bisexual when he was seven.

Maurice prefers to keep his sexuality quiet—he generally separates his personal life from his life at church. But when last serious relationship with his partner of four years, Tony, ended in 1997, he didn’t have a choice.

“I loved him very much,” Maurice said. “I still do, today. He made me laugh.”

The two lived together for a while. Tony had met the family, even attended Thanksgiving with Maurice’s family. Maurice’s sister, Charlene Golsby, said she liked Tony a lot, and their mom did, too. But at age 29, Tony died in Maurice’s arms.

“He was happiest when he was with Tony,” Charlene said. “When Maurice lost him, he was really down after that. After losing someone you’ve been with for so long, it took him a while to get back to being himself.”

After Tony died, Maurice got wound up in drugs and crime. He spent some years in prison, and looking back, he says he thinks his life would be much different if Tony was still in it.

“I think if he hadn’t passed on we’d still be together. I think he would have kept me out of (prison),” Maurice said. “If somebody comes along in the future and makes me as happy as Tony did, that’s cool. But as long as I got me now, I’m fine.”

Maurice is no stranger to being alone, either. He has an apartment now, but has struggled with homelessness off and on throughout his life.

“That’s one of my passions, to help the homeless. I can learn from homeless folks’ stories because I’ve been there before, too,” he said. “I’m a check away from being homeless myself.”

He often channels this passion into his preaching, which he does an “excellent job” at, said Gunn.

“He’s more committed to church than a lot of people,” Gunn said. “A lot of people straggle into church not on time, but he’s always on time. He’s willing to help anybody, and that’s my favorite thing about him. They’re inspired by him. I’m inspired by him.”

Today, Maurice can be found early in the morning at Our Daily Bread, hanging out in the lobby of Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH), or on a good day, at Frisch’s with a Big Boy platter and chili on the side.

“My mom worked at Frisch’s for 30 years. I grew up on Big Boys,” said Maurice with a grin. “I have a friend who takes me to Frisch’s every year.”

And when he’s at GCCH, Maurice said he likes to joke around and make people smile.

“Maurice is the best friend I’ve ever made here,” said Josh Harness, intern at GCCH. “We bonded over the fact that we can joke around with each other to the fullest extent and still be friends at the end of the day.”

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ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK: THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUITY IN PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE DEMISE OF HOUSE BILL 70

More than half of Cincinnati children live in poverty, according to a 2012 American Community Survey. That’s second only to Detroit’s 59 percent child poverty rate.

Many of these children attend public schools, and providing children with a fair and equal opportunity to education can pose a challenge for educators and advocates.

Years ago, Oyler School in Lower Price Hill had experienced many of the effects of poverty. Because the school only provided education to elementary and junior-high school children and no high school was in the neighborhood, many kids dropped out.

The school garnered national attention after a PBS documentary released last month attempted to answer the question: can a school transform despite being in a poverty and crime-stricken community, and ultimately produce more high school graduates?

The then-principal Craig Hockenberry was quoted by PBS saying he could walk “not even 15 steps” out the door of Oyler and get “just about any drug” he wanted. Cincinnati tax-payers voted to support massive capital funding campaign to rebuild its schools. Along with fixing the buildings, it was clear the district also needed a new plan of action.

That’s when the decision came about to transform Oyler and other Cincinnati public schools into “Community Learning Centers” (CLCs). CLCs take in a variety of partners – community members, parents, teachers, and administrators – and identify the needs of the students and the community; once identified, partnerships with needed organizations are created and implemented into the schools.

Today, Oyler contains a health clinic with dental services and mental health counselors. Children are able to eat all three meals at school and bring home food for the weekends. The school even includes a vision center, where children can receive free eye examinations and glasses. Oyler now educates children up to 12th grade; and 40 to 50 students graduate each year.

Whether it is a mental health clinic or a service to provide breakfast and dinner to the children, the partnerships created with CLCs can positively affect a student’s education experience.

Oyler School is what State Representative Denise Driehaus calls the “poster child for the success of Community Learning Centers,” especially in high-poverty areas.

When a school district is failing, often their only option is to shut the school down, fire the principal, or turn into a charter school; House Bill 70 proposed another alternative to failing districts that Ohio will recognize: CLCs.

However, on June 24th a last-minute amendment to House Bill 70 was inserted, which would not only allow the community-learning center process, but now Cincinnati schools could potentially be dismantled and privatized.

The added amendment allows the state to transfer control of a school district that has received an “F” rating after 3 years to a five-member panel. This panel can then appoint a “CEO” who doesn’t need to have any background in education, to run the failing district.

Driehaus, who co-sponsored the original bill and said she has been working on it for four years, said while she is pleased with “the CLC part of the bill,” she did not vote in favor because she said the amendment could lead to privatization of school systems.

“There are these contracts that have been negotiated between teachers and school districts,” Driehaus said. “To throw them aside and have the CEO have so much authority that these contracts are no longer valid, I think that in itself is a huge concern.”

Public Education advocates like the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition (CEJC) assert that while privatizing businesses may be widely considered to make things more cost-efficient, imposing this “business model” on children doesn’t work.

“Our children are not products, and we can’t afford to leave any child behind,” spokesperson for the CEJC Michelle Dillingham said. “When you have young teenagers shooting guns at each other in our streets, the question is, are we leaving them behind? And when we do leave them behind, they’re not going anywhere; they are our neighbors, so we need to make a commitment to them.”

She said the CLC model provides a commitment to every child, rejecting the business model and the idea that “you can simply pick out the high performers.”

At a Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition event on June 18, before House Bill 70 was amended and passed, about 60 people gathered to provide updates on threats to the education system and discuss changes that need to be made.

At the event, teachers Christine McDonough and Glenda Nix presented local data about inequity and its effect on student achievement.

“Equality is when everybody gets the same thing. If you have an apple, you cut it eight ways, everybody gets the same amount of that apple. Equity is people get what they need,” McDonough said. “So how do we impact lower-achieving schools that have high poverty? Why is it that they’re not getting what they need when there are other schools doing well with a high socioeconomic status?”

They presented slides showing the stark differences among our schools, then compared those with test scores. Among statistics presented were schools including Pleasant Ridge Montessori, where 62 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and there are no librarians, and reading specialist and psychologists were present only 2.5 days a week. The goal of these slides showed the correlation between resources available and test success.

Providing schools like these with resources through a CLC is vital, Dillingham said.

“At Oyler, when that school was wrapped with services to help reduce the impact of poverty, we saw a transformation in school culture where children are now going to college at a school where graduations were not happening.” Dillingham said. “These are children, and every one of them deserve an opportunity.”

Without a satisfactory educational environment, Driehaus says, students are at risk of falling into poverty again.

“Without education, you are so limited on job opportunities. It’s how people pull themselves out of challenging situations,” Driehaus said. “Education is imperative for success.”

Featured Image: Wesley Barnfield and his Youth Drum Circle play before the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition event on June 18. 

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CONTACT CENTER CELEBRATES SOCIAL SECURITY’S 80TH BIRTHDAY

People wore birthday-themed hats, cooked out and munched on cake at the Contact Center on Vine St. last Friday. The celebration? Social Security’s 80th birthday.

Contact Center, a community-based membership organization aimed at making changes in policies that affect low-income people and health care, celebrated the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Social Security Act of 1935 by President Roosevelt.

“Before 1935, seniors may have slaved for as long as they could until they just fell over and died,” said Lynn Williams, lead organizer at the Contact Center. “You had to rely on having a child to help you in your old age, and if you had no surviving children, that’s why a lot of seniors ended up homeless.”

About 50 people gathered, many of who are on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Lead organizer at the Contact Center Lynn Williams estimates that about 90 percent of members of the Contact Center have a disability.

“Because a lot of our members are getting older, they’re very concerned about how they’re going to live into old age. Social security is very important to them,” said Williams.

One attendee, John Munnis, is on SSDI and said he hopes to protect social security especially for people like him who have Spina Bifida, a developmental birth defect of the spinal cord.

“I was born with Spina Bifida and my mobility is quite good, but many people with Spina Bifida need SSDI,” said Munnis, who volunteers for the Spina Bifida Coalition of Cincinnati.

One way to protect social security, he feels, is by “scrapping the cap.” Currently, anyone who makes more than $118,500 each year does not pay social security payroll taxes on anything above that amount, Williams said.

“Millionaires and billionaires should be paying their full share,” Willaims said. “It’s something that low income people can’t even comprehend just how much they’re making on stocks alone.”

Phillip M. Jacobs, who works with Dr JW Jones Center for Training & Innercity Development, said that while social security is worth celebrating, there is still work to be done.

“Hopefully the new president will make some better social security benefits,” Jacobs said. “When you have social security, you have (less) problems in the community.”