Long-time Cudell community activist, Faouzi Baddour, helps us understand his neighborhood
by David C. Barnett
A memorial gathering is planned this weekend for Tamir Rice at Cudell Park, on Cleveland’s west side. The site where the 12-year-old was shot by a rookie police officer, a year ago, has become a touchstone for many people in Northeast Ohio, and across the country. But, this park has long been a special place for the people who live in the neighborhood.
Take Willie Lawson. He was 11-years-old when his family moved to the Cudell community, in 1988. For an eastside kid who was used to street football and baseball, he was awestruck when he walked into his new neighborhood’s recreation center.
"So, I go in there," he recalls, "and you can play judo, you can go to golf camp, basketball, swimming. It was just amazing. It still is. For an urban kid like me this is what an amusement park, looks like."
The Cudell rec. center is at the heart of a sprawling park that fills with children spilling out of nearby Marion Seltzer elementary school every afternoon at 4:00. Paige Arnholt’s house is a couple blocks away, and the park is a daily destination for her and a canine companion, named Spot.
"We have some favorite spots," she smiles. "There are some beautiful trees down there, I like all the kids --- it’s just a beautiful place to be."
The park was deeded to the city by noted Cleveland architect Frank Cudell over a century ago. His farmhouse and stable are still on the property, and now house a popular arts and craft center. This used to be as far west as you could go in Cleveland, before hitting the sticks, and it was once home to a grove of cherry trees. Anita Brindza is a student of that history. "I’ve been in this neighborhood since I was born, 71 years ago," she says.
Brindza's also the longtime executive director of the Cudell community development organization. She says there are a number of stories that connect the park to the people of that neighborhood. For instance, a gray concrete clock tower was built in honor of Frank Cudell, after his death in 1916. But, when the mechanism fell into disrepair many years later, Brindza says it proved too expensive to fix.
"There was a great outcry," she says. "People wanted it restored, because a number of people when they were youngsters would know it was time to go home to dinner when the chimes played in the clock."
Over the years, as the clock deteriorated, there was an increase in drug activity and gangs on some of the nearby streets. More recently, the neighborhood’s reputation was further tarnished by the death of Tamir Rice – a 12-year old shot by police who thought he had a gun. That incident has made the park the site of demonstrations.
Anita Brindza says there’s a lingering anger in the community over the way their neighborhood was portrayed in the news over the past year, and how it’s become an iconic place for protests.
"I believe many people are resentful, because so many of those who have staged the very overt protests were from out of town. They didn’t know Tamir and his family, they didn’t know the community."
In an effort to get past the protests and the tragedy, community members collaborated this summer on the Butterfly Project ---- a garden, decorated with plants, painted stones and signs with messages about Tamir. Paige Arnholt helped it take shape.
"I worked and planted some bulbs and helped lay some of the stone," she says. "It was a community project and it was healing, but it’s also… there’s a great sadness there."
Willie Lawson points to a group of children tossing a basketball around. He says they remind him of Tamir.
"I used to repair his mother’s car, back when he was about that age. He used to play around with my son. It hit me in the heart. Even with that grainy black and white video --- I know who that was. How could that happen?"
Lawson says it’s still going to take a while for him to shake the images from that security camera video, and the memories from that event in this park, one year ago.
"And those things have to dissipate into something usable. When the smoke clears, we need something, as a community, that’s usable for our own future."
For the near term, it seems like that future includes more demonstrations and a growing collection of stuffed animals and other mementos under the gazebo, marking the spot where Cudell lost a young member of the community.