Life is for the Living

By Dawn Glasco, Manager of Engagement and Social Innovation (Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood),  CHEEER Community Journal Reviewer

This summer I helped run a day camp for teenagers and adults at a community garden.
We were never there during evening times, although we would have loved to. Being outdoors, although in a beautiful environment, in my redlined neighborhood, felt weird. The beautiful flowers and creative activities along with gardening brought comfort and peace. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of nature, the art creations, and the laughter and chuckles of those of us who were gathered in that space. We talked about our feelings and aspirations and how we cope with adversity. I could feel the little knot in my stomach on most days as I braced myself from the elements of the environment; the human ones we could not control. I was haunted by thoughts of gunfire and images of being struck by a bullet. I would snap out of it and say a prayer: “God, please protect us. God is with us.” I would tell myself that we were doing something good. We were doing something really great to make the world a better place. “Nothing is going to happen to us”, I would say. The garden is owned by my friend Andrea, whose grandmother purchased the land in 1919. She gave the land to Andrea who turned the space into what we call An Oasis in the Middle of a Storm.

The garden sits right next door to a 24-hour gas station that hosts every kind of customer and all kinds of circumstances, including death. I was deeply saddened when I learned that my friend Walter, who lives nearby, stopped shopping at the gas station since his friend was killed. Most days, before jumping into the garden activities, we pick up litter that has been dropped by passers-by over the weekend and during the evenings throughout the week. Beer cans, tobacco papers, wine bottles, potato chip bags, condoms, and Styrofoam containers are the usual contaminants.

The city’s Mayor and Ward councilperson have lived a few streets away for many years. The open, colorful, natural environment is a space where we gather, connect with nature, do art, plant seeds, grill, catch a glimpse of laughter, and we pray. We pray for our lives and for the lives of the people around us. This summer we held a public event to show off our art creations. One of the exhibits was vandalized. However, we were allowed to showcase it at a neighborhood hospital, where it is still on display. I was told, “Life is for the living.” So, we live and continue to do work that makes a difference.