I am the oldest of three children born to a fifteen year old mother and a seventeen year old father. My father went off to the Korean War and my mother found it impossible to provide for her three children. I was five years old and my brother was three years old when we were found on the front porch of a home on Case Court in Cleveland, Ohio. We were on the porch for several days and nights all alone. The foster family that was to care for us traveled South by car for a funeral. The kindness of a stranger rescued us by trickery from that porch and drove us to her mother’s home. This is where we were introduced to Mama Crockett. Mama Crockett, gave us baths, combed my hair and then clothed us in fresh clean clothes. I was skeptical, suspicious and very concerned whenever my little brother was out of my sight. I had been his “Mama” for so long; I didn’t want anyone else to tell him what to do and he would only respond to their request when I nodded my head that it was OK. At just five years of age, I had seen and heard far too much. My experience with fear exceeded my years on earth and I was constantly in protection mode for my brother. I remain very concerned about children that witness violence and try to encourage them to move to a better place in their hearts; offering help whenever and wherever I can.
On the same day that we came to Mama Crockett a new dining room set was delivered, having an eye for beauty; I asked Mama Crockett if I could have the dining room set after she died. She said “yes” and I have that dining room set today. She never forgot my request; and in her illness, many years later called me to come get it.
Many people lived in Mama Crockett’s home over the eleven years that I was there; she always had a helping hand out to assist someone in trouble. She didn’t give anyone just one or two chances, she was always willing to believe the best and give someone another chance to get it right. Over time I began to remember that I had a younger sister. Mama asked the Caseworker about it and the Foster Care system. Everyone that she talked with told her that it was not the truth---that there was just me and my brother. I told Mama that I remembered playing with her under a big dining room table and that I wanted her because she was my sister. Mama felt that I had too many details about me and Janie for it not to be the truth and so she persisted in looking for her. Mama found Janie-my little sister and Janie came to live with us also. She came wearing a yellow and white checkered dress with a petticoat and a black velvet ribbon around her waist. I thought she was beautiful. I was so happy. (MAMA CROCKETT’S HOME—youth that have aged-out of the foster care system)
When I was sixteen I was reunited with my father and we moved with him and his family of seven children. Life went on. I graduated, married and moved on with my life. My brother and step-brother went to Viet Nam; sadly only my brother returned. He married, had children and life went on. (PETE’S PLACE—homeless veterans) My sister was in one violent relationship after another but, for her life went on. (JANIE’S HOME—families that have escaped domestic violence)
A second marriage for me also included a move to a new home in Slavic Village. My family members were victims of hate crimes when we were the first African Americans to move into the tight-knit ethnic community in 1982. I looked deep, below hard surfaces convinced that I would find goodness within. Shortly after we moved into the neighborhood and before we met anyone, we found a note on the front porch inviting us to a street club meeting. We attended the meeting. But we were never invited again. Soon, rocks were being thrown at our children as they walked home from school. Then the garage caught fire. Officials said the fire had been set. Then the garage burned down a second time. When a rock was thrown through the kitchen window, it hit one of our daughters in the head, shortly after a group of teens and adults threatened to rape my daughters. I never believed the trouble was about race. I saw our family as an asset to the community. My children are the type who help neighbors and help seniors. I didn’t see us as a threat. My husband worked; I worked. I saw us as valuable contributors to our community. I didn’t see what they saw. Trouble continued to escalate. One night, fires were set at all three exits of our home. We weren’t meant to get out. By this time we had filed so many insurance claims the company canceled our policy.
We went into safety mode—the children took only one route to and from school so we would know where to find them. The children were told to look for me on the porch when they got home. If they didn’t see me, they knew they shouldn’t come in the house they should just go and get help. We even practiced fire drills. My sister and her four children moved in with us as she battled breast cancer. As I struggled to provide and hearing the advice of so many telling me to shop at the Salvation Army or Goodwill---I realized that even those stores was out of my price range. I promised myself that if I were ever in a position to give away good free stuff I would. (THE FREE STORE—freely giving away anything that is donated to ACOO) The Lord welcomed my sister in heaven in 1985; I made a promise to my sister regarding the care of her children; I keep my promises.
The factory next to my house closed down and the community’s economic base eroded. The people who lost their jobs couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages—some moved away and others refinanced with adjustable rate mortgages; believing their rates would go down. At the same time, other African Americans began to move into the neighborhood.
Then a fire was set at one of the African American homes. All the family members were able to escape except for Mabel Grant who was confined to a wheelchair, June 1985. She perished in the fire (3662 East 50th Street). That same night I got a call on the phone—the voice at the other end stated that they "got them Nig---s, now we’ll get you." I was fed up. It was no longer about me, it was about Mabel. All the trouble we had made me lose sleep, but Mabel lost her life. Working with a neighborhood activists group, I wrote down everything that happened to my family. We testified to then Governor Celeste, and he passed the Racial Intimidation and Harassment Act.
Sometime later our next door neighbors’ house was burning. I ran to their front porch and started banging on the door. They had been sleeping. They were able to get out unharmed. This family was white and no one else had come to their rescue. That was the last fire.
By the mid-1990s, we couldn’t keep up with home repairs without insurance. We refinanced our mortgage to get money to fix up our house. The variable-rate mortgage loan opened the door to more trouble—the sub-prime mortgage crisis, which has contributed to foreclosures mounting in Cleveland for nearly a decade. We were behind on bills. My husband had to quit work. He had diabetes and was placed on dialysis. Our house was put into foreclosure. Almost half of the homes in their neighborhood had been foreclosed upon. Abandoned properties are like vampires that suck the life out of communities. Yards were becoming overgrown and vacant houses were being used for prostitution and drugs. People were using the streets as a dump.
I was confident that the heart of my neighborhood could be revived I turned to a group called ESOP for help. In the process, I began to do volunteer work for them, reaching out to others whose houses had gone into foreclosure. I met a friend that was also a banker; Marc Stefanski, Chief Executive of Third Federal Savings and Loan Bank. Stefanski's parents started Third Federal in Slavic Village in 1938, believing that helping neighbors was the right thing to do. Stefanski and his board agreed to assume our mortgage, converted it to a manageable fixed rate and reduced the monthly payment.
I started shouting about foreclosures from the rooftops. I made fliers and went to neighbors, talking to them about what they could do so they didn't lose their homes. I also testified at numerous public meetings about the dangers of sub-prime loans and the more dangerous predatory loans.
I stood before a crowd at a 2007 presidential campaign forum and told then candidate Barack Obama,” Some things aren’t right, and some things ain’t right. Predatory lending just ain’t right.” As a result of the practice, “some children who should be in their beds at night are laying in the back seats of cars. Their closets are the trunks of cars. And what should be a personal bathroom is now a bathroom in any public area. It ain’t right!”
I was a principle in a documentary film about the foreclosure crisis that featured my work to end predatory lending which has resulted in millions of dollars being reinvested into low-income neighborhoods and money returned to the victims of predatory lending. The film, Cleveland vs. Wall Street was up for an award at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in France and I was invited to attend. I also attended the premiers in Germany and Switzerland but, was most proud for our city when it premiered in Cleveland at the Film Festival.
ESOP’s Founder and then President, Inez Tillman Killingsworth had taught me how to organize and the real significance and power in “people power”. I took those talents to my neighborhood. As Founder and President of the Bring Back the 70s Street Club, I and my neighbors from East 70th Street to East 78th Street knew that the only way to bring back the community is to put the neighbor back into the “hood”. We had to stand strong and stay tough. We give the streets to those that may be undesirable whenever we decide to go into our homes and hide. Now, we had to come out and say, No! You can't have our street. Responsible residents should be the biggest, baddest gang”! We got our voice back and we took our streets back. We hung banners announcing our existence in the community, established a garden, the youth painted curve side addresses, we did major clean-ups, the men patrolled the area; we set up surveillance cameras to chase drug dealers away through exposure and then gave police surveillance tapes. We included our youth by getting them to cut lawns at vacant properties and to decorate the boards of those homes that were boarded up. We had “70’s” parties and even gave out college scholarships. Because we accomplished many goals we won awards and were identified as the “award winning street club”. I appeared in People Magazine as a “People Heroes Among Us” and Cleveland Magazine as a “Street Fighter”. I also had the opportunity to be invited to several meetings, where residents wanted to start a street club, to offer my assistance and knowledge.
I then founded Another Chance out of my personal unmet needs and my desire to assist someone else with resources and meet their personal needs. Recently Another Chance partnered with Cleveland State University. CSU will assist in providing education opportunities; free of charge to qualifying youth that have aged out of foster care—this is a huge accomplishment that is being funded with a million dollar plus grant from a caring donor to CSU. Another Chance with the partnership of Trinity Outreach Ministries and the Urban Initiatives also has the opportunity to partner with Coach Al and Hattie Hollingsworth in the “BOSS” (Building on Spiritual Strength) program by assisting youth between the ages of 4-12 in building wholesome character traits. This program will be introduced at the end of the year, and will be brought to Ohio and more specifically will be headquartered in Cleveland.
Another Chance of Ohio’s Business Plan for youth and for adults that are challenged with the lack of jobs in the marketplace and the need for entrepreneurial skills is now in place.
This need for workforce integration in the neighborhood is obvious. Another Chance believes that this personal integration will help to develop a sense of pride for the neighborhood, a higher sense of respect for property, an understanding of the need to be involved in the neighborhood and a true feeling of inclusion. Another Chance further wants to offer some practical training such as small machine maintenance training: snow blowers, lawnmowers, trimmers and sharpening blades, and cleaning.
So, I'm just thinking that all my life I have had to experience certain things so that I could properly advocate for others that are struggling. Out of each struggle was born a mission that shows up in the programs and projects of Another Chance of Ohio.....I'll just keep moving forward---I don't have all the education; no letters before or after my name- no degree--except for a high degree of mother wit, street sense, common sense and wisdom. I have blended that with a love for people, the ability to recognize their pain, and the heart of God that wants me to help soften some of the blows of life.
Barbara Anderson, Chairman
Another Chance of Ohio