Moving Towards Equality For All

Cincinnati resident Sara Keebler was working at her job as a library services assistant when a regular patron scrolled to an article on Facebook and casually announced, “Hey, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states now.”

To the patron’s surprise, tears immediately came to Sara’s eyes, as she dialed her partner, Liz Hooper, to tell her the news.

Liz received the call while she was at work as a manager at T-mobile. A friend had already sent her a link to a Washington Post article about the law. Liz’s parents were excited, Sara was excited; even strangers were congratulating Liz simply because she was gay.

The ring Liz had picked out for Sara was ready, and although she had planned to propose next month in celebration of three years together, she decided June 26, 2015 was “as good of a day as any.”

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Sara Keebler, left, with Liz Hooper, right

It happened after their dinner at Django Western Taco. Liz had hidden the ring in the spare tire well of their 1994 pink Ford escort hatchback. She told Sara she needed to get into the trunk to retrieve something, and there, she pulled out the ring and asked Sara to marry her.

“It was really sweet, it was emotional,” Sara said.

The two have always wanted to get married in Liz’s parents’ backyard, where Liz’s parents got married 29 years ago.

Because the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution requires same-sex couples be allowed to marry in all 50 states, now they can.

“We would have done it whether it was legal or not,” said Liz with a laugh.

“But the fact that it was legalized does feel good,” added Sara. “I don’t know what it is exactly; I think just to have that recognition of marriage.”

Liz and Sara attended the Cincinnati Pride Parade Saturday, the day after their engagement, with Miller Lite and a warm spirit.

Cincinnati has celebrated Pride Week for 42 years, but in light of the Supreme Court decision, Saturday’s pride event was particularly festive.

“I never figured it would happen,” said Cincinnati resident Roger Eikenberry, who identifies as gay, as he watched the parade begin. “This is wonderful.”

Thousands of people, many dawning rainbow attire and waving pride flags, gathered to watch the parade on 7th St, Vine Street and past Fountain Square.

The parade began with the grand marshal of the event, a transgender woman and celebrity Erika Ervin. Ervin is well-known for her role as Amazon Eve in the television series American Horror Story.

The face of the Supreme Court decision, Jim Obergefell, also attended as a front-runner of the parade. The Cincinnati real estate agent is the named plaintiff in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the case that ruled the nationwide ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.

Jim Obergefell in Cinci Pride.

Jim Obergefell in Cinci Pride.

Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay city councilman, was among attendance at the event, which was particularly important to him because of efforts he has made for inclusivity in Cincinnati.

In 1993, voters approved Article XII, which stated “No special class status may be granted based upon sexual orientation, conduct or relationships.”

Although supporters of the article said it was put in place to prevent LGBT individuals from receiving “special rights” as opposed to “equal rights,” many found the consequences to be damaging. People identifying as LGBT feared losing their job or being denied basic rights by the city.

Because of Article XII, conventions that were already booked with the city pulled out, tens of millions of dollars were lost, and many people moved away. This added to a 50-year population loss.

“We lived under perhaps the most anti-gay local law our city, and our country, has ever seen,” Seelbach said publicly in November.

Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, said in November the city was a better place when Article XII was in place, citing that “homosexuals” had equal rights, not special rights, under it.

The article was repealed in 2004.

Last year, City Council passed regulations that require those who contract with Cincinnati to adapt a nondiscrimination policy. The hate crime laws were expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity along with race and gender, and in September, Cincinnati included transgender-inclusive procedures to the city’s health insurance policy.

Nearly ten years after Article XII’s repeal, Cincinnati received the highest possible score for inclusion by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.

Although inclusivity has recently expanded locally and nationally, advocates say there is still work to be done.

A parade participant waves a flag at Cinci Pride.

A parade participant waves a flag at Cinci Pride.

In 28 states including Ohio, it is still legal for an employer to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation, and to refuse to rent an apartment to someone simply because they are gay or transgender. That means same-sex couples who married on Sunday could lose their jobs because of it on Monday.

“Honestly, me getting married isn’t as important to me as having equal rights like everyone else,” Sara said. “That’s more important than anything to me.”

Liz said she hopes this Supreme Court decision paves the way for recognition of many types of relationships.

“I think the way we live is built for a partnered existence,” Liz said. “You should be able to pick whatever partner you want to live with and get those benefits. think that’s why it’s s important that this passed; it allows for nontraditional relationships to be recognized in the eyes of the law.”

Featured Image: Lauren Oliver, left, and Chloe Lambert, right.

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Lee McCoy, Distributor Spotlight

“I want to start back as far as I can remember,” said Lee McCoy as he leans back in his chair and scratches his gray facial hair. “I remember crawling under my mother and father’s bed and seeing a mason jar under the bed. I started drinking some of that moonshine. It tasted good; it was smooth. That was my earliest recollection of having a drink of anything. I was seven years old.”

Streetvibes distributor Lee McCoy added that he was expelled from catholic school a couple years later for drinking the holy wine. His father died after he turned 11, and when he was 15, he got “into a big fight with some white people.” That fight, which left him and his brother sentenced to a juvenile detention center in Columbus for 18 months, marked his first incident with the police.

On a frigid February day six months into the sentence, he and his brother had had enough. The two escaped and traveled back to Cincinnati mostly by foot, catching a short ride as hitchhikers along the way. It wasn’t long, however, before the police caught him. He was sent him back to a juvenile center in Zanesville. At one point, Lee said he witnessed one friend—whom he was even closer to than his brother—get crushed by an 18-wheeler when the two were riding their bicycles. The trauma of this incident led Lee back to what comforted him most—drugs and alcohol.

“When he hit that corner, it was too late. His blood and his guts splattered on me,” Lee said. “I was that close.”

While in Zanesville, Lee said he had an accident of his own—he said his arm was pulled into a laundry extractor, he was thrown across the room and broke his elbow, forearm and wrist.

“They had to send me home after that,” Lee remembers. “I guess they was worried about a lawsuit. It never happened, though—being young and dumb and knowing nothing about how the law works, I didn’t pursue the matter. I was just so glad to be home.”

Home, or Cincinnati, was where Lee could continue to feed his alcohol addiction. He worked job to job but nothing was as comfortable to him as selling drugs. He opened an apartment to people to buy and have a place to use drugs, and said he was sent to prison five different times in a matter of six years.

Prison wasn’t necessarily a bad place for Lee. He had always loved cooking, so he worked his way up to lead cook in the prison kitchen. He got his GED. He kept busy, but when he got out and saw his friend die in his arms because of heroin overdose, he made the decision to cut use of the drug then and there.

That was 37 years ago. Lee has been in housing off and on, but after being displaced two and a half years ago, he said he struggles to find housing due to his trafficking charges, and is currently homeless.

“Any time I saw a potential landlord and they looked at my police record, (they say) ‘oh you have a trafficking charge,’” Lee said. “Yeah, but that was 37 years ago, and still today, I might as well still be in a penitentiary. I paid that debt and I’m still in prison. I’m still paying my debt to society.”

Lee pays his debt to society when he sleeps on front steps of music hall and in garages. He pays his debt to society when he experiences pain from an open wound on his ankle and isn’t allowed pain medication because of his past as an addict.

But as Director of Development for Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) Leslie Moorhead can attest to, Lee is turning his life around. In 2012, Lee was awarded Streetvibes Distributor of the Year at their annual banquet.

“If there’s ever anything we need any kind of help with, Lee is kind of the go-to person for us. He genuinely cares about us and the staff,” Moorhead said. “He sees the paper in a different way than other people do; he takes such pride in it. It’s not just an income for him, it’s an education piece as well.”

This way of looking at the paper is why Lee is often chosen by GCCH for a monthly program GCCH holds with schools. At the program, students meet with Lee and learn his story and then try to sell papers on the street.

“He doesn’t always have the highest numbers, but his approach (for selling) I think is really good,” Moorhead said.

One of Lee’s regular customers, Valarie Dowell—who sometimes buys two or three copies of the same issue—said everybody in Lee’s regular selling area on Court Street see Lee as a “good individual.”

“Everybody up here knows Lee. Everybody somewhat feels like this is his area,” said Dowell, who works with reentry in social service outreach at the county administration building on E Court Street. “He knows how to hold a conversation and he knows how to approach people.”

Having known Lee for 30 years and having experienced homelessness herself, Dowell said Lee constantly inspires her.

“I always tell him what I’m doing and he always says ‘Have you done that? Have you graduated yet?’ Just those little things,” Dowell said. “When I told him I got my bachelor’s degree, he gave me a hug. It’s people like him that keep me doing what I’m doing. I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it to help the next individual.”

Dowell said her biggest worry for Lee is getting him into housing before October, when the temperature drops. Lee worries about this too, and said he often looks back on his life thinking maybe, if certain events hadn’t happened in his life, maybe he’d be in housing with a drastically different life.

“If I never had picked up that little mason jar from under the bed, who knows what I might be today,” Lee said. “If I had ever went to college, who knows what I would be today. If I never had that accident that broke my arm, I might have been a football or baseball star. If I hadn’t seen my friend get hit by that 18-wheeler who knows what I’d be? I think it’s those types of stories that happened to me that define where I am today.”

But above everything, Lee is thankful to be alive.

“We as people have a tendency not to be grateful,” Lee said. “I’ve had people hold guns to my head that (luckily) didn’t go off. Once, I was in a van going to work and the van flipped over 3 times and busted into flames. I’ve been blessed most of my life and I am grateful.”

Lee McCoy

Raeshawn Gipson, Distributor Spotlight

Raeshawn Gipson will never forget the day his teammates picked him up above their heads after he hit at home run at age 7. He’ll never forget the time his peers gave him a standing ovation after a solo in gospel choir in junior high, or the ear-to-ear smile on his father’s face when he came to see Raeshawn play football.

As he sits in the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) office, every memorable event Raeshawn has experienced, along with its accompanied year, rolls right off his tongue. He dawns a wide-brimmed hat around the back of his neck and gold-rimmed glasses. He speaks softly, because he says it’s not good for his diabetes to stress and cause his blood pressure to go up.

Although he’s currently living with his brother, Raeshawn has experienced years of homelessness. He’s slept under bridges, in abandoned Cincinnati homes, even in the back of U-Haul vans. Right now, his only means of income are through Streetvibes, which he’s been selling for six years. Raeshawn doesn’t give up hope, though; he can often be found selling the newspaper across from Esquire theatre, humming his favorite song “Can’t Give Up Now” by Mary Mary.

“I just can’t give up now. I’ve come too far from where I started from,” Raeshawn sings with a smile. “That line, ‘I just can’t give up now’; when I’m selling Streetvibes, that’s what runs through my mind. That song really reflects on what I’ve had to do and what I’ve been through.”

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Raeshawn graduated from high school with dreams of working with cars. After high school, he moved to Indianapolis to pursue a career as a design engineer. After completing 5 of the 12 needed courses, though, Raeshawn had to drop out.

“I got sidetracked and I never went back,” Raeshawn said. “I ran into other jobs that paid me enough to where I could get a car, pay my rent and for my recreational use.”

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Raeshawn holds the latest issue of Streetvibes.

These other jobs, however, weren’t always smooth sailing. At one company where he cleaned kitchen systems, he slipped into a deep fryer—the incident left him with second and third degree burns, and a visible patch of skin was taken from his thigh to replace the missing skin. It wasn’t long after this incident that he worked as a crane operator and was electrocuted with 13,200 volts—and again, his missing skin was replaced with skin from his other thigh.

“I wouldn’t wish a skin graft on my worst enemy,” Raeshawn said. “I had to deal with it by myself mentally. I didn’t have someone to say ‘hey, let me help you change that bandage,’ I had to do it all myself. I look at that as God preparing me to do better things.”

Years later—May 15 of 1996, to be exact—Raeshawn’s son, Jason, was fatally shot in Kennedy Heights at age 18. Just two days after his death, Raeshawn’s fiancé at the time, Karen, gave birth to their son Kendall.

“It still eats me up inside,” Raeshawn said. “But God gave me another chance to be a true father to Kendall.”

The next year, Raeshawn, Karen and Kendall left the painful memories of Cincinnati behind and moved to Los Angeles. There, Raeshawn worked as a limo driver, and said he had the opportunity to drive Jerome Bettis “The Bus,” Tim Brown and Leonardo DiCaprio.

“(Leonardo) smoked Marlboro lights,” Raeshawn said with a smile. “He may not now, but then, he did.”

Seven years later, Raeshawn went back to Cincinnati for his brother’s funeral—(Raeshawn is one four living children of his original eight siblings, who did not make it to age 50). After the funeral he went back to LA briefly, but after a run-in with the law, he spent that Christmas and three more days in LA county jail. After marriage complications, he moved back to Cincinnati alone. Kendall stayed with his wife.

The next year, Karen visited Cincinnati, and Raeshawn was able to see 7-year-old Kendall. That was 11 years ago, and it was the last time Raeshawn saw his son. Although they still talk on the phone from time to time, Raeshawn isn’t sure if he’ll even get a father’s day call.

“I didn’t get a chance to go to his graduation, none of those things. It bothers me because I felt like I was going down the same pattern of parenting as I did with my older kids,” Raeshawn said. “People don’t understand how much it hurts.”

Raeshawn spent over a year “going from one labor place to another trying to find work just to pay rent.” At one point, he became so fatigued that he spent three days in a hospital, and soon after was diagnosed with diabetes.

“Once I realized I was on insulin, I had to make a choice: am I going to allow life situations to upset me, or am I going to go ahead and try to stay calm?” Raeshawn said. “I had to accept that as people, we get caught in traffic. We may not like it, but we have to accept it.”

Raeshawn often finds peace sitting underneath the trees in Clifton parks, not far from where he sells to his regular Streetvibes customers.

Program Manager of Streetvibes Anna Worpenberg said that in the winter months, Raeshawn shovels snow on the patio across from the Esquire where he sells. She said that doing this shows the way he actively contributes to the community, something his customers can appreciate.

“People have a neat relationship with him as their Streetvibes distributor,” Worpenberg said. “I feel like I can really talk to Raeshawn; if there’s something new about the program, I might ask Raeshawn what he thinks because I know he would give me a really honest answer.”

This year, Raeshawn will participate in the Day by Day calendar project, which aims to educate students on homelessness in their city as well as provides distributors with an additional source of income.

GCCH intern Josh Harness, who worked with Raeshawn in last summer’s Day by Day project, said the students in their group learned a lot from Raeshawn and loved how friendly and approachable he was to them.

“He’s a very loyal, honest person,” Harness said. “Every memory I have of him is him being extremely friendly and extremely happy. He’s one of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”

That attitude is something Raeshawn takes pride in. He said he looks at Streetvibes as a business, a place where he maintains a professional presence representing the coalition.

“I’ve experienced some beautiful things in my life. If I was on my death bed right now, I wouldn’t say ‘why me’ because I have experienced so many good things,” Raeshawn said. “With the way the economy is, people can be homeless in a matter of weeks. They keep moving forward even though they may not have a house or an address. The homeless don’t give up.”

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Women’s Center Opens In Mt. Auburn

With a lack of alternate housing, women experiencing domestic violence are often forced to stay in or return to abusive relationships.

As of Monday June 8, victims of abuse experiencing homelessness in Greater Cincinnati no longer have to live in fear that they’ll have to eat alongside men in an emergency shelter.

The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, located on Reading Road in Mt. Auburn, held a grand opening and tours of the facility Friday June 5 at 10 a.m.

The 20,000-square-foot center, which includes full laundry services, a contemporary kitchen facility and 60 sleeping quarters, will serve more than 500 women each year. This is an increase from the 42 beds for women that were available at the Drop Inn Center, which will be replaced by the Hatton Center and a men’s shelter scheduled to open in September.

“Back in the 70’s… nobody could have imagined this day where we would have this facility that is specifically for women experiencing homelessness,” said Arlene Nolan, executive director of the Drop Inn Center, at the event. “The dreams of so many have finally come to reality.”

About 200 people gathered to watch the ribbon-cutting.

“I think it’s one of the primary functions of civilized society to care for people at risk,” said Mayor John Cranley at the event. “Putting together a facility and services for women and children under stress is our highest calling, and here we are.”

One woman who has been a Drop Inn Center resident since September of 2014, Jesica Kiefler, spoke out about her struggle with substance abuse, mental health and housing. She said that when she came to the Drop Inn Center, she was looking for a safe home base to get back on track.

“The Drop Inn Center made me feel like a person, made me feel like I belonged again,” Kiefler said at the event. “I feel like the women’s shelter here is definitely needed for women because we suffer from a lot of other illnesses that men do not suffer from, and I think it’s very important that we look at women differently from men.”

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Many of the rooms in the new Women’s Center have lockers for residents to put their belongings.

The opening of the shelter marks the first women-only shelter in Greater Cincinnati, said Fanni Johnson, director of emergency shelters. She added that the YWCA provides shelter to battered women, but that this is the first shelter open to all women, including those who are transgender.

“We don’t want to force a female to be with the men just because of a body part,” Johnson said. “Whatever they identify, that’s who they are to us. We want people to feel comfortable.”

For those not comfortable sleeping with men or women, the Drop Inn Center accommodated, but Nolan said it was difficult because of the lack of space. Johnson added that they often provided some bedding in the main waiting area, both for those who preferred it and in cases of overflow. The Hatton Center, however, provides private spaces that anyone can reside in if available.

“One of the things we’re really proud about is that we always do overflow, and we certainly make sure we do that here (at the Hatton Center) if more than 60 women show up,” said Nolan. “Just being able to accommodate, that’s just another way of making sure nobody’s left behind.”

The men’s shelter will open in Queensgate, about three and a half miles away from the Hatton Center. Nolan doesn’t expect the longer-distance separation of men and women to be an issue, because the Drop Inn Center had a policy not allowing couples into the center at the same time, finding couples coming in together “always ended up with issues.”

Although the sleeping quarters were separated for men and women at the Drop Inn Center, many other services were not. This was uncomfortable for many women, especially those who had experienced abuse. Nationally, 92 percent of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

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Ribbon cutting of the Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women

“The space (is a big benefit). Our women are really crammed on top of each other and sleep in really close sleeping quarters,” Nolan said. “There’s a lot of shared services with the men, and the women don’t particularly like that they have to eat their meals with the men. And so many just don’t want to be on the same campus as a man, and now they aren’t.”

The Hatton Center is named after family physician Doctor E. Kenneth and his wife Esther Marie Hatton, said Walter Lunsford, Executive Director of the Hatton Foundation. Lunsford described E. Kenneth’s legacy in the field of medicine, including work with the disabled, the homeless, children and veterans. He added that, from the foundation’s perspective, the opening of the Hatton shelter is the 34th time since 1999 that they’ve “answered the call for help for the homeless.”

“When Gale approached me over a year ago about the prospect of having a new women’s-only shelter named after Esther Marie Hatton, the board and I agreed that this was a tremendous opportunity to honor the woman behind the man,” Lunsford said at the event. “Homelessness is a deep scar in our nation and particularly in Greater Cincinnati… our hope is that the rise of homeless women who enter the new center will truly be transformed.”

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Women’s Expo Held On Fountain’s Square

The Women’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati (WCC) held a women’s economic, mental and physical health expo in Fountain’s Square on Friday May 29. About 50 people and 15 organizations attended, with the primary goal being to bring together a variety of agencies to raise awareness for women’s issues.

At the event, a three-and-a-half minute movie was shown on Fountain Square’s Jumbotron. Pushpop media created this movie for WCC, and it portrayed economic inadequacy.

State representative Denise Driehaus, who is in her last term, first took the stage to advocate women’s rights. Among other things, Driehaus mentioned that statehouse legislation is dealing with accommodations for women in the workplace – for example, not getting fired because of a pregnancy leave or court dates due to domestic violence.

“You should not be fearful that you’re going to lose your job if you take half a day off for that (reason),” Driehaus said at the event. “Until we recognize (pay equity) and our colleagues recognize it, we cannot do anything about it. We are fighting the fight but we need your help.”

Additionally, local artist and advocate for women’s issues and child sexual abuse Melissa Rowland displayed her art piece, “Perceived Value.” The piece was a women’s mannequin covered in dollar bills with pennies over the breasts and between the legs.

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Melissa Rowland’s statue “Perceived Value.”

“She’s expressing the value that some people place on womanhood,” Rowland said about the piece. “The parts of the body everybody has—shoulders, thighs, belly buttons—those are equal already, so they’re all dollars. But when women are devalued and they’re worth less, that’s what she shows.”

This isn’t the first social justice art piece that Rowland has created. Her last artwork was a series of several mannequins called “Finding Voice” that depicted the timeline of sexual abuse from a young age to adulthood. She said this was featured at the Fringe Festival last year.

This issue of pay equity is an important issue for people not only concerned about women, but also concerned about children in poverty, low-income family’s health, and children’s education said Vanessa Freytag, executive director of the Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

“Research that was done at University of Cincinnati’s Economic Center found that four out of seven jobs in our region that women hold right now don’t pay her enough to take care of herself and just one child,” Freytag said at the event. “You cannot lift a family to all the areas that they need to be if you don’t start with the fact that that family must have enough resources to take care of itself.”

Beth Schwartz, Executive Director of Jewish Family Service, spoke about taking the “food stamp challenge” for one week with her daughter, who was 14 at the time, in 2011. She said she had participated in the food stamp challenge in the past and kept a blog update, but was criticized for not having an “all beans all the time” diet. She said the second time around, she was surprised her daughter volunteered to participate, and she vowed to try and make healthier choices.

“I started the challenge as an advocate and wanting to raise awareness, and I finished the challenge with a very personally transformative experience,” Schwartz said at the event. “I learned what it felt like to be poor. I learned what it meant to have food and security.”

The event wrapped up with dancers from Pones Inc, performing to “Uptown Funk.” The organization “provides artistic opportunities for community growth by creating engaging new ways for audiences to experience dance.”

Executive Director of Pones Kimberly Popa took the stage with four other dancers who performed a dance to “Uptown Funk.”

“That dance had a lot of repetition in it, so what I’d like to do now is invite all of you brave souls to learn a bit of that dance,” Executive Director of Pones Inc. Kimberly Popa said, as participants gathered in front of the stage. “We use dance to create community.”

Women's Expo

Black Lives Matter March; Justice for Rekia Boyd

 

Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati (BLM) held a rally and march on May 28 at 6:30 p.m. starting in Zeigler Park. Participants and organizers demanded justice for 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by Chicago police detective Dante Servin in March 2012. On May 18 the judge ruled Servin clear of all charges because he “felt threatened.”

While the organizers wanted to pay special attention to the lives of young women, trans women and women of color, they also highlighted the continued attention of shooting unarmed men of color such as Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and John Crawford III.

“I think this is important right now because of all the attention that’s being paid specifically to black men,” said Abby Friend, participant at the event. “I think (trans women) are targeted for the same reason why police target anybody of color and anybody that identifies differently. They’re very much about power, and that stems directly from the white, cis, hetero capitalist patriarchy.”

According to BLM, every 28 hours police or vigilante law enforcement murders a black man, woman or child. BLM additionally states that the average life expectancy for a black transgender woman is 35 years.

The rally began with Tia Edwards, event organizer, leading the crowd in several chants including “Black girls matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and “Rekia Boyd, say her name.”

Event organizer Christina Brown told the crowd, “Justice should be extended to black women just like the love and fight for justice is extended to black men.”

“(Many are) seen as violent, seen as loud, seen as aggressive, and seen as strong but with low intelligence, as something to be feared,” added Emmanuel Gray, a marshal of the event. “We are here to say we will not stand for the murders and brutalities against our sisters, our daughters, our mothers and our friends. We are human beings and it doesn’t matter what the court says we know when murder happens. Murder is murder.”

Children of the community held signs reading “Say Her Name” and wrote the phrase on one another’s arms.

Children write "Say Her Name" on one another's arms.

Children write “Say Her Name” on one another’s arms.

“Children are always welcome at all Black Lives Matter Events,” said Friend, who made the signs. “They are the ones that are going to need to grow up and recognize that they are more than what society allows them to be. I think you’d be surprised at how much children understand, especially when it’s something that happens in their daily lives.”

December Lamb, who also served as a marshal of the event, said that he believed that for racial police brutality to ever be solved completely, it was essential that blacks work together with people of other races.

“Every time I turn on the TV, it’s like a series now, somebody unarmed is getting shot,” Lamb said. “It makes me feel like ‘hey, what is the world coming to?’”

About 50 people then marched across 12th street and down Main Street waving signs, shaking fists and shouting chants.

Among attendance were friends Bek Wald and Kellie Sedgwick, who attended the march because they felt it was important to participate in rallies regarding social issues.

“We need to all come out to these events and show solidarity,” Wald said. “It’s important for people of all walks of life, people of all races, people of all faith to come together and show support for people who need support.”

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Protestors march toward Justice Center.

The march ended with a rally at the Justice Center, where participant Anthony Allen named “women who have died at the hands of state-inspired violence” as the crowd repeated the names.

Kevin Farmer also stood up and spoke against police brutality.

“What they always say is ‘I’m doing my job,’” he said at the Justice Center. “The Nazis said the same thing and they persecuted and killed millions. I’m getting tired of people just taking orders. They just want to get paid.”

The event ended shortly after Edwards, who sported a shirt that read “I love being black,” spoke to the crowd.

“Black girls do matter,” Edwards said at the event. “We give birth and because we give birth, we want to keep our black girls alive and our black guys alive as well.”

BLM March Article

Distributor Spotlight – Melissa Mosby

 

It may have started when Melissa Mosby was just a child as she watched her mother sexually abuse her older siblings, or when she was herself sexually abused by other family members. It could have started when she was 19 years old and gave birth to a daughter, Erin, with cerebral palsy. Or it could have started when Erin died six years later.

Mosby can’t pinpoint exactly which events in her life made her homeless today. What she can decide on, though, is that the death of Erin was when her life really “started spinning out of control.”

There was nothing easy for Mosby about raising a handicapped child. In addition to being completely blind, Erin was unable to sit up, eat or take in information.

“It’s different when you’re feeding your baby with a spoon and when you’re just putting it in a syringe and dumping milk in her stomach. But I tried to make it bonding time. I used to give her chocolate,” Mosby said with a smile and tears in her eyes. “My grandma would say ‘you shouldn’t give her that,’ but you could tell she was just trying to taste it… she liked it.”

Since Erin’s death, Mosby had two more children, a 23-year-old and a 21-year-old. She married and had one more child, a 14-year-old, and after separating from her husband had one more child, a 5-year-old.

Today, though, Mosby sleeps alone. Usually, she sleeps in a side entryway of a local theatre.

Mosby has been homeless on and off for 10 years. She keeps in contact with her eldest through Facebook. But aside from a weekly phone call, she hasn’t seen her 5-year-old, who resides in Columbus with family friends, in a year. She is no longer in a relationship with her husband, but an expensive divorce is the least of her worries. Her main concerns are making money for food to eat and finding a place to sleep. Although the Drop Inn Center, the largest homeless shelter in Greater Cincinnati, welcomes men and women 24 hours a day, Mosby prefers solitude.

“In the winter months, I stayed in the basement of an apartment building. The sheriff came down and the owner was upset I was in his place,” Mosby said. “It’s not right to enter somebody else’s property, but I’d rather face the anxiety of getting caught every morning than dealing with shelters where there’s no structure.”

It’s in this solitude where Mosby does what comforts her most—reading and writing.

Mosby’s desire to read at a young age helped her later on in life. One of her most-loved books, Tunnel Vision by Fran Arrick, is about a teenage boy who commits suicide without leaving behind a note.

“That’s what my brother Michael did,” Mosby said. “I read that years before my brother committed suicide when he was 18. But I feel like that book really helped prepare me, without me even knowing, what it would be like when my brother took his own life and didn’t leave behind any reason.”

Mosby attributes her passion for reading partly to her oldest sister Clara, who died in 1994.

piano

Melissa sits in Mannequin, a boutique where she works once a week.

“She’s my idol,” Mosby said. “She’s the one who threw me a book and said you’re going to be ignorant if you can’t read. So I read.”

One of Mosby’s most vivid memories of her sister was when she walked in on her lying on the floor being molested by her mother. As her sister moved her hand away from her eyes, she saw tears streaming from them and shouted for Mosby to please go away. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, 92 percent of homeless women experienced severe physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lives.

“So I left,” Mosby remembers. “I didn’t want to make my older sister cry. My sister wrote me a letter one time that was prompted by when my mom asked me to do something and I said no. She said ‘you remind me of the song My Prerogative by Bobby Brown. Don’t lose that. I love you the way you are.’”

Receptionist at Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Roosevelt William agrees that Mosby certainly has her “prerogative.”

“She comes in here and she knows what she wants,” William said. “She’ll stand up for her rights.”

Mosby isn’t afraid to transfer this mindset into her writing either. Program Manager of Streetvibes Anna Worpenberg first noticed Mosby’s gift for writing at a writing workshop.

“One of Melissa’s articles was produced in like 15 minutes and was incredibly detailed,” Worpenberg said. “She writes really raw, vulnerable pieces and she’s not afraid to put herself out there.”

In one such piece, Invisible, Mosby speaks about how it feels as a person experiencing homelessness to be blatantly ignored on the streets. Mosby writes,

“We share the universe, the planet, the state and this city. We share 12th and Vine St., 13th and Main St., Court and Walnut St. We share Peaslee Park, the field at Sycamore and Woodward, and Washington Park. We share Final Fridays and Second Sundays and every day in between them in OTR… there is no discreet, polite way to pretend someone is invisible.”

Worpenberg describes Mosby’s writing as some of the best work she’s seen come in from distributors.

“She calls out the people who don’t see her and I think that’s part of the mission here at the homeless coalition,” Worpenberg said. “We try to wake them up and say ‘you need to see these people as people, not homeless.’”

Although Mosby has no problem standing up for herself, she said being ignored on the streets isn’t something that one can just get used to.

“This one guy told me, ‘I envy homeless people, they have no responsibility!’ I said, ‘are you kidding me?’” Mosby said. “What makes you think I didn’t go through the normal process of life and I just got turned around some kind of way, something happened to me or I made a choice that caused this? That doesn’t make me any different than you.”

Besides just selling Streetvibes, Mosby spends her time looking for employment while working once a week at Mannequin Boutique, a vintage store that donates proceeds to seven different charities.

“She’s an integral part of Mannequin and she’s a part of the Mannequin family,” said Ilene Ross, manager of Mannequin. “She’s timely and she does her job and it’s always with a smile on her face.”

Above all, Mosby wants people to know that she wouldn’t be where she is today if it weren’t for the help of other people.

“From my birth to right now, I can’t even imagine what a path to a healthy, whole life would look like,” Mosby said. “My life is what it is. I’ve done things that made it worst. But I’ve done things that made it better at times, too. For someone to say ‘this is your own fault, get out of it yourself’ is someone who doesn’t believe that as human beings, we need help. And it’s okay if I need help to get back on track.”

Melissa Article, pt. 1 Melissa Article, pt. 2

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