Cleveland family gifted a home by historically Black fraternity
Just in time for the holiday season, a Cleveland family received a life-changing gift — a three-story, three-bedroom home, courtesy of a historically Black fraternity.
Beta Lambda Omega, the Cleveland chapter of the Iota Phi Theta Fraternity unveiled the newly remodeled home to the family just a few days before Thanksgiving.
Dozens of fraternity brothers, project partners and neighbors welcomed Leslie Smith and her three sons to their new house in style, picking the family up in a large, black SUV and escorting them to their new neighborhood by police.
Cameras flashed and people applauded, red-carpet style, as the family approached their new home, which sits in Cleveland’s Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood on the city’s East Side.
“It was such a good feeling, like giving birth to my kids — that feeling you know all over again. Something exciting and new,” said Leslie Smith, who moved into the house with her sons ages 17, 15 and 7 from a housing crisis center run by the City Mission, a local nonprofit that helps people facing homelessness.
There are new bedrooms, a living room and a playroom, but the kids seemed most excited when they saw the kitchen. The oldest son Jordan Watkins choked up when he saw the refrigerator.
“I saw the fridge. It was one of the rich people fridges. I wasn’t ready for that. I saw the sink and everything. It was one you see on TV,” Watkins said. “I want to cook some breakfast. Breakfast sounds good.”
Orlando Grant from Iota Phi Theta’s Beta Lambda Omega chapter said the fraternity partnered with several organizations to raise about $150,000 to remodel the home.
“Economic injustices are things that we face every day as African Americans. If we can create pathways to generational wealth, it is important. We want to be a change agent in our community,” Grant said. “She’s going to walk into a house that is valued at over $200,000. That’s $200,000 of equity that she can tap into.”
Homelessness disproportionately affects Black people in Cleveland, who make up half the city’s population but represent three-fourths of people using shelters, Census and Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services figures show.
Other organizations, including the Cleveland-based construction management company the AKA Team, did about $50,000 of work on the project free of charge.
“It’s when you hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourself is when you reach your full potential," AKA Team CEO Ariane Kirkpatrick said. "That’s what we’ve done because we care about people first."
The Mission will continue to provide “wraparound services” for things like financial literacy and career growth, a spokesperson said. The fraternity said it will eventually sign the deed over to Smith.
“I see the future for not just me but my kids,” Smith said.
The house was in rough shape when they bought it from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank for $1 in June, the fraternity brothers said. Now, it looks like something out of a magazine with new floors, appliances and fresh paint.
The front door is gold with brown trim, which Grant pointed out are the Iota Phi Theta colors.
“You had over 30 to 40 brothers here today that is helping and supporting this family and those same 30 to 40 brothers, not only here but worldwide, are going to continue to provide the support and help to this family as we grow and evolve in their life,” Grant said.
That support is exactly what Smith said she and her boys needed.
“I’m so grateful. I thank everyone for making this happen,” she said. “I just wanted a support system and... in the end, I actually got what I came for and more.”