Hough Residents Want To Focus On Positivity, Leave The Past In The Past

A sign in the window of the Lexington-Bell Community Center: "Without struggle, there can be no progress." (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
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by Tony Ganzer, ideastream

The riots or rebellion of 1966 influenced Hough, but that violence isn’t the whole story of this community.  And many residents are fighting to share a different narrative, one heavy on hope, positivity, and progress. 

Here’s a sample of voices:

Jacqueline Rogers Overby: “People think of Hough as ‘the Hough riots’ and from the outside looking in they only know about what folks tell them about the riot, but there’s more in Hough than riots.”

Ben Hughes: “The riots definitely don’t define Hough. It’s a community that’s been on the rise for, I’ve been down here about 20 years, and it’s been on the rise ever since.”

Stephanie Manney: “Everything’s not negative.  Some people leave and don’t come back, because they say ‘oh, that’s what it used to be.’ But you need to come revisit to know what has changed.”

All of these perspectives come from people working at the Fatima Family Center at East 66th and Lexington Ave. 

The center is supported by Catholic Charities, and is one of many hubs of activity and community in Hough.  It sits across from the historic League Park baseball field. 

Shelly Brooks and Jacqueline Rogers Overby

Shelly Brooks also works at Fatima.

BROOKS: “The things that are happening and growing, the seeds were planted long ago, but now they’re coming up and we’re getting there.” 

Brooks says her family moved to Hough in 1952, and she remembers earlier incarnations of Fatima and other community centers in the neighborhood—places where you could do arts and crafts, or play sports. 

She left for college in 1973, and traveled while playing volleyball, giving her exposure to other cities and giving her a new perspective on home:

BROOKS: “It’s like watching your kids, you don’t see them grow.  All of the sudden, ‘wow, when did you get this tall?’ But it was one of those things when I came home and certain things were happening, and it was like, streets were a little cleaner, lots were being cut, abandoned houses were being torn down, things were being spruced up.”

HUGHES: “There are good things going on around here.”

Ben Hughes, with the Fatima Center, is at League Park running a summer camp program.  Today kids are learning baseball in a program sponsored by the Indians.

HUGHES: “You have to focus on the positive.  I mean if you just take a look, does this look like crime and all the negative connotations that you have.  No, there are kids playing on a beautiful baseball field.  That’s Hough.”

Fatima teens play baseball at the historic League Park

The Indians partnership is just one of many, there are others with the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Cleveland Orchestra for example.

It’s not that these residents of Hough don’t think more needs to be done in the community.  But they emphasize how far things have come.

PETERS: “I saw the neighborhood change…I watched it, when I came there was no new development, no new nothing.”

Lu Anne Peters runs the Lexington-Bell Community Center down the street from League Park and Fatima.  She’s worked there for 33 years.

PETERS: “Even though it’s kind of deceiving on the community you see rows of nice homes and you see different things, but it’s still the need here.  There are still people that are suffering…even though we are, I feel Hough, are a bright star and our star is never shown. We have a lot of people in this area that care, that are working toward the betterment of the community, working toward lifting us and let us be on the map.  And we keep our reputations up as being positive in this community, that’s why we lasted so long, that’s why we’ll be here.”

One of Hough’s vocal proponents is Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams.  He says part of the reason the positive narrative of Hough is not shared more widely is because of outsiders making a judgement, and because of the media:

WILLIAMS: “People don’t come to Hough and actually see what’s going on here.  And people like your self, in the media, they don’t ask those questions about the positive things going on in Hough. We live here, so we see it day-in and day-out. My family and I, we’ve lived here for over 20 years.  I wasn’t born here, but when my family moved here this was the first neighborhood we moved to. Of course we moved out as I got older and went to different schools, and then I chose to move my family back here, again, over 20 years ago.”

GANZER: “Did you think twice about it, or was it a natural decision to do that?”

WILLIAMS: “No, I didn’t think twice about it.  Again, I had grown up here, always wanted to come back to Hough.  And again when I had my family, and my wife and I were looking for a new home, and we decided to build actually a new home in Hough.”

GANZER: “Some people claim that nothing has changed from before the uprising even to now.  What do you say to that perspective or opinion?”

WILLIAMS: “Well, again, when things happened in Hough I think I was 2 years old.  But I know just over the last 8-10 years Hough has changed.  We have a brand new parish church next store; Fatima Family Center is relatively new in this iteration; beautiful League Park right across the street, that people from all over the world come to just to visit; we have rec centers, and community centers; half a block from here probably 8-10 brand new homes within the last year-and-a-half—100, 200, 300-thousand dollar homes.  That stigma of what happened over 50 years ago, people have that, but until they come here and actually see what’s going on, I guess it’s hard for people to imagine anything else.”

Williams sat in a conference room back at the Fatima Family Center, many of the employees warmly calling him by his first name.

The center’s run by LaJean Ray, a strong booster for the neighborhood.  She and her husband moved here from Warrensville Heights in 1984.

RAY: “The perception of this community for the most part is negative, and has been for a long time.  This whole perception of a time when we were impacted by economics, but so was Central, so was Glenville, so were most of the urban communities in this city.  But we’ve had, I think, one of the most negative stereotypes, and I’m just very much opposed to doing anything that would further that because that’s not how I explain home.  The people are genuinely interested in their children being good citizens; his is a place where the seniors are the rock of this neighborhood; the churches here are not just places of worship, but they are also active contributors to the life of the community.  That’s my experience. And we’ve had our challenges, and we will continue to have them, as does the United States of America. I think, yes there’s a need for more businesses, yes there’s a need for more jobs.  But at the same time people are working hard every day to make this community, this city, a better place for us to live, and to work, and to thrive.”

LaJean Ray (left) watches during a drum lesson at Fatima Family Center.

GANZER: “Some people when they hear Hough they think ‘Hough riots.’ How do you change that to, you hear Hough and you say, ‘oh, Fatima Center’ or…”

RAY: “I think Cleveland has that whole victim mentality, and I think there will be people who will never change their impression.  But those of us who are here have a responsibility to push back on that when we hear it, and to challenge people about who we are and what that means when they say it.”

GANZER: “Is there anything you want to say about the future, and about the present of Hough now?”

RAY: “You can’t broad-brush stroke the whole vision of where we came from, where we are right now, and where we’re going.  And I think anything that does that does it to the detriment of the progress we’ve made.  And people who are spending their time going back…need to get on the bus and go back.  The rest of us are going forward.”

For many working with Hough’s community centers recognizing progress is key to reshaping the narrative of this neighborhood.  During the Hough riots a home near Fatima was burned out, a historic photo shows a beautiful stately building scarred by unrest.

LaJean Ray says Lexington Avenue has seen a lot of transition...now she wants everyone to know about it.

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