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Social Media Work

This is an event and social media campaign my PR account (Scripps JSchool) put on for Valentine's Day.

This is an event and social media campaign my PR account (Scripps JSchool) put on for Valentine’s Day.

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I interviewed, wrote copy and posted about this professor for #FacultyFriday and it was one of our most engaging posts.

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I wrote the copy for this post, which was boosted, after talking to Sarah about what Planned Parenthood means to her.

At my internship with the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, I connected national awareness campaigns to our mission

At my internship with the Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, I connected national awareness campaigns to our mission.

In addition to writing about the opening of this shelter for the newspaper, I sent out a tweet in real-time as it was happening.

In addition to writing about the opening of this shelter for the newspaper, I sent out a tweet in real-time as it was happening.

 

 

A campaign my PR account and I put on; one of our most engaging social media posts.

A campaign my PR account and I put on; one of our most engaging social media posts

Portfolio – Journalism Work

Distributor Spotlights:

James Davis 

James Brown 

Maurice Golsby

*Cleo Wombles

Lee McCoy

*Melissa Mosby

*Raeshawn Gipson

Event/Issue Coverage:

*Same-Sex marriage legalized: Moving towards equality for all 

*Women’s Center opens in Mt. Auburn 

Women’s Expo held on Fountain’s Square 

Black Lives Matter March: Justice for Rekia Boyd

Contact Center celebrates Social Security’s 80th birthday 

The struggle for equity in public education: The demise of House Bill 80 

*UC police officer Ray Tensing indicted for murder 

Op-ed: Black Lives Matter demands recognition during Bernie Sanders speech 

the post

These are pieces that I wrote for The Post, the daily newspaper at Ohio University.

*Stars indicate the pieces I am most proud of.

February 2016

Dress codes force women to worry about being sexualized at school and work

November 2015

Vigil held in honor of International Transgender Day of Remembrance 

Trans Education Week to be held in line with International Trans Remembrance Day 

Crafternoon in Ohio University LGBT Center allows for safe space

October 2015

Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costumes could be offensive to LGBT individuals 

New Women’s Center director to hold a ‘fat activism’ panel, meet and greet 

Ohio University’s Women’s Center celebrates ‘Love Your Body’ Day 

*Prior sexual experiences could defer one from donating blood, FDA in process of changing policy 

The Ohio University LGBT Center will team up with several other activist groups for a combined pride presence at the Homecoming Parade 

Old Lesbians Organizing for Change to speak on ageism 

September 2015

Companion app co-founder speaks on unexpected success 

Ohio University Women’s Center to hold screening of ‘The Purity Myth’ 

Local trainer to hold women’s self-defense and personal safety training workshop Friday 

*Site created by Scripps associate dean looks to bust trolls, encourage women to speak openly online

*Polyamorous relationships redefine commitment, love 

August 2015

Ohio University filled its vacant spot of director of the Women’s Center

OU LGBT Center invites community to attend pride event Saturday

June 2015

*LGBT-Inclusive preferred name and pronoun policy approved for the 2015-2016 academic year 

(see also: Weekly recap blogs of ‘The Bachelorette’)

April 2015

West Green students being offered more healthy options 

Writers try to sidestep stereotypes when writing LGBT characters 

Athens local restaurants limited by small seating capacity 

March 2015

Faces of pride posters to be hung around campus 

New LGBT-friendly lecture offered this year to help better train OU medical students

*Wanted: Healthy food for Ohio University students on West Green

In Athens, Ohio University students can cause trouble with Court St shuffles 

International Women’s Day festival highlighted cultural appreciation 

February 2015

*Conventional dating: Is it dying, or being enhanced for generation Y? 

January 2015

Goodfella’s and Big Mamma’s seen as late-night food havens of Athens 

*Women’s Center lone male worker inspires LGBT students

Students with new year fitness goals make mistakes on their track to healthy living 

December 2014

Athens begins to celebrate holiday season

November 2014

*Hip-Hop Shop relocates after fire 

Inspiration: Student volunteers for food donations

October 2014

Benefit concert for Spinal Muscular Atrophy this Saturday

FuckRapeCulture plans march, rally

Cliftones, Boomslang and Wanyama to play Friday 

September 2014

Quartet to perform, work with students 

spark

These are longer-form pieces I wrote for my high school newsmagazine, Spark, which I was also an editor for.

* Stars indicate pieces I am most proud of.

*Home (Isn’t) Where the Heart Is 

Touching Base 

Sounds from the Basement 

The Duff Report 

Friend or Faux 

The Illuminaudi 

The Knight Shift 

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.”

James Brown with George, the cat.

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.”

James Brown

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.

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Bernie Sanders speaks at Netroots Nation.

 

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.

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Bernie supporters watch as Black Lives Matter takes the stage.

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.

BLM article

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.

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“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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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.”

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President Ono speaks at a press conference at City Hall.

“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.”

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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.

About 60 people attended the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition event on June 18.

About 60 people attended the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition event on June 18.

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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Cleo Wombles Distributor Spotlight

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.

Cleo Wombles close up

Cleo holds a copy of Streetvibes to sell.

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.”

 

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