CIN-spiration by Andy Shenk

I want to put words to my passion for Cincinnati, but if I’m being honest, I find the process terrifying.  Where to start?  Public transportation?  History?  And no matter what venue I choose, I realize that there is so much more I need to learn; my ignorance at times outstrips my enthusiasm. Every time I sit down to write or engage, I know I may embarrass myself in front of more educated readers.

But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I want to be honest about my who I am and where I come from, because I know that helping spark positive change requires trust and transparency.

To that end, I want to share briefly about three people who inspire me and influence my relationship with my adopted city.

Marian Spencer is, first of all, my biggest Cincinnati hero. Now ninety-five years old, Marian’s visionary life leaps from the pages of her biography Keep On Fighting. Notably, she led the effort to desegregate Coney Island and the YWCA, and she was the first African-American woman elected to city council.

But it’s the story of her battle to integrate Cincinnati Public Schools that I can’t get out of my mind. For more than a decade, Marian fought to ensure that all children in Cincinnati would receive the same quality of education, no matter their race or address.

She won several victories in this fight: new magnet schools, teacher integration, and school busing, which gave underprivileged children a better chance at a good education. But Marian’s ultimate goal — a high-achieving, racially diverse public school district — remained elusive. External factors, primarily white flight and a sharp rise in private school enrollment, meant that Cincinnati’s schools continued to be very segregated.

In the face of bitter disappointment, Marian’s resilience is remarkable. Even into her 90’s, she has continued to impact Cincinnati, standing up for voter rights, affordable housing and transparent city government, to name a few issues.

More than anything else, Marian was not afraid to go against the status quo. Sometimes she won, other times she lost. But even in defeat, her courage exposed injustice and inequality and challenged Cincinnati to be better. That, I believe, is something to be admired.

Second, I’d like to mention someone who inspires my life in Cincinnati even though she was not herself a fellow resident of the Queen City.  

Denver Hutt was a 28-year-old California transplant to Indianapolis who passed away from cancer this January.  A few weeks ago, I read an article in the Indy Star about her that someone shared on Twitter.  As I read through the piece, these words jumped from the screen:

Hutt’s peeve was when people would refer to Indianapolis as mediocre.  “She [Denver] would often argue that people here too often don’t understand what we have and what is unique about Indianapolis. She would say that until we understand that we are not going to compete in the way we deserve to…She made people believe in Indianapolis.”

Cincinnati is beautiful. Every time I stumble across something new or unexpected, I feel a little thrill.  I don’t know quite how to express it.  It’s a city of wonder and surprise.  So, like Denver, I am outraged when I hear someone sell my adopted city short.

Here is an example of the sort of Cincinnati experience that I think Denver would have appreciated.  I recently took the 28/50 to Harlan Graphics, located about six miles west of downtown on River Road. Nikki and I are trying to blow up an art print to canvas and add a bit of culture to our apartment. We’d like to be more sophisticated. We even made a New Year’s resolution to do so.

River Road Bus Stop 2

After picking my way down Mt Adams’ eastern slope, I caught the 28 across from the Montgomery Inn Boathouse. The bus wound through downtown, Queensgate, and Lower Price Hill, then onto River Road. I saw Sedamsville, the river industries, and Anderson Ferry for the first time, gawking out the window like a tourist. After finishing up at Harlan, I needed to wait about 50 minutes for my bus, so I decided to pass the time by walking. Tromping along a snow-clogged sidewalk, I made it about three miles before the 50 picked me up at this bus stop across from Riverside Academy.

River Road Bus Stop

I’ve never seen anything like it in Cincinnati. The bold contrast to the sterile Metro shelters made me laugh.   I bet Denver would have as well.

Finally, there is Nate Wessel.  I’ve been gradually working my backwards through his Cincinnati Transit Blog. Over several years, he developed two very impressive maps: the Cincinnati Transit Frequency Map and Cincinnati Bike Map. In addition to these maps, he left behind a wealth of information on Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s bus systems, which he cared deeply about. Sadly, he’s moved to Toronto to pursue a PhD in Urban Planning.

Here is the most recent rendition of the Transit Frequency Map:

11ff1562-f709-43ea-9ac6-563955179719

Nate was able to simplify a complex system and encourage a stronger identity for Cincinnati’s public transportation. Much of the progress he hoped to see has yet to take place, but he unquestionably helped build the foundation for future change.  I’m excited to be a part of that future.
Marian, Denver, and Nate inspire me. They challenged assumptions and stood up for what they believed to be right. As I continue to find my feet in Cincinnati, I hope I can learn from their examples and the many others like them who want to make our city a better place for everyone.

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6 thoughts on “CIN-spiration by Andy Shenk

  1. Bill Collins

    A note on Marian Spencer:
    Marian and have talked about the Bronson desegregation case on at least one occasion, if not more. She always made it clear to me that it was *never* her intent, or the intent of the Bronon defendants, to try to achieve school desegregation only within the boundaries of the Cincinnati City school district.

    Marian made it clear that the intent was *always* to integrate county-wide, so that all 22 or more school district in the county were involved in a successful desegregation. This approach (city and suburban integration accomplished as part of the same desegregation plan) was typical of the approach that plaintiffs seeking school desegregation took when filing these suits in Midwestern and Northeastern cities during the 1960s and 1970s. The reason that this smart city/suburban approach to school desegregation was accomplished in the final court decrees is clear. To wit, after President Richard Nixon and George Wallace demonized “bussing” during the 1968 presidential campaign, and then pols like Joe Biden started to ape this pro-segregation approach by 1972, the federal courts were packed (by Nixon, with the co-operation of Dems like Biden in the U.S. Senate) with judges who rejected the kinds of desegregation lawsuits that were brought by people like Marian Spencer.

    TODAY
    Today, now that the “white flight” from the City has ended and CPS’s enrollment is growing again for the first time since the 1970s — up five percent during the last four years, from 32,385 in October 2011 to 34,104 in October 2015 — we have enough stability in the City to accomplish much for stable school desegregation than we ever had in the 1970s and 1980s when these lawsuits were settled in the half-baked way that they were.

    The battle for school desegregation is different now — for one thing, the scholarship now shows that it’s desegregation by social class that matters more academically than school desegregation by race only — but desegreation is if anything even more important now than it was in the 1950s and 1960s when the family life and institutions in black community were so much stronger in the City than they are today. Today, with so many black middle-class people having left the City, leaving behind a black population that percentage-wise is perhaps poorer than ever, we need to desegregate as many schools as possible — especially in the City and the District’s many stable, integrated communities like Silverton, Kennedy Heights, Madisonville, Corryville, CUF, Northside, College Hill, Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, OTR and Downtown.

    Reply
  2. Bill Collins

    #2 — PLEASE READ THIS RESPONSE. MY PREVIOUS RESPONSE HAD TYPOS IN IT, AND CINCYOPOLIS DOES NOT ALLOW CONTRIBUTORS TO EDIT THEIR RESPONSES WHEN THEY SEE ERRORS:

    A note on Marian Spencer and school desegregation:
    Marian and have talked about the Bronson desegregation case on at least one occasion, if not more. She always made it clear to me that it was *never* her intent, or the intent of the Bronson defendants, to try to achieve school desegregation only within the boundaries of the Cincinnati City school district.

    COUNTY-WIDE DESEGREGATION WAS ALWAYS THE GOAL
    Marian made it clear that the intent was *always* to integrate county-wide, so that all 22 or more school district in Hamilton were involved in a successful desegregation. This approach (city and suburban integration accomplished as part of the same desegregation plan) was typical of the approach that plaintiffs seeking school desegregation took when filing these suits in Midwestern and Northeastern cities during the 1960s and 1970s.

    The reason that this smart city/suburban approach to school desegregation was *not* accomplished in the final court decrees is clear. To wit, after President Richard Nixon and George Wallace demonized “bussing” during the 1968 presidential campaign, and then pols like Joe Biden started to ape this pro-segregation approach by 1972, the federal courts were packed (by Nixon, with the co-operation of Dems like Biden in the U.S. Senate) with judges who rejected the kinds of desegregation lawsuits that were brought by people like Marian Spencer.

    TODAY: NOW THE DESEGREGATION OF NEIGHBORHOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE CITY’S MANY STABLE, INTEGRATED COMMUNITIES IS MUCH MORE ‘DO-ABLE’ THAN WAS THE CASE IN THE 1970s and 1980s WHEN MARIAN SPENCER WAS INVOLVED WITH THE BRONSON DESEGREGATION CASE
    Today, now that the “white flight” from the City has ended and CPS’s enrollment is growing again for the first time since the 1970s — up five percent during the last four years, from 32,385 in October 2011 to 34,104 in October 2015 — we have enough stability in the City to accomplish much for stable school desegregation than we ever had in the 1970s and 1980s when these lawsuits were settled in the half-baked way that they were.

    The battle for school desegregation is different now. For one thing, the scholarship now shows that it’s desegregation by social class that matters more academically than school desegregation by race only — but desegregation is if anything even more important now than it was in the 1950s and 1960s when the family life and institutions in black community were so much stronger in the City than they are today.
    Today, with so many black middle-class people having left the City, leaving behind within the City Limits a black population that percentage-wise is perhaps poorer than ever, we need to desegregate as many schools as possible — especially in the City and the District’s many stable, integrated communities such as Silverton, Kennedy Heights, Madisonville, Corryville, CUF, Northside, College Hill, Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn, OTR and Downtown.

    If we succeed during the next 6-8 years in integrating and enhancing quality in another 8-10 elementary schools in CPS’s many stable, integrated communities while also preserving the quality magnet options for families that don’t live in the stable, integrated neighborhoods, this City’s workforce will be stronger, poverty will surely be reduced, the City will prosper and many more black middle-class people will return to the City from the suburbs. Truth be told, desegregation is the cheapest way to provide more quality education to more children. For that reason alone, we should take up Marian Spencer’s challenge to put quality, integrated public education back at the center of our City’s agenda.

    Reply
    1. Andy Shenk

      Bill, I couldn’t agree more. The time is now to make up for what has been lost for several decades in the city. Thanks for sharing this – we need to make sure that everyone knows this story.

      I know that Nikki and I are looking forward to sending our kids to CPS. That’s about 8 years away, so I am personally very invested in doing whatever I can to advocate for better schools. It is so important to the city’s future.

      Reply
      1. Bill Collins

        Andy: Thanks so much. Your children will be coming along at a very good time for local public schools. Enrollment growth (5% during the last four years) is likely to accelerate within local public schools. At this same time, even though sadly the size of the middle class is dropping across the USA and the Tri-State, the middle class is growing and concentrating within the City and the CPS District because (a) jobs are concentrated here and (b) young couples are tired of commuting long distances.

        This process is not automatic, but the trends are clear, and unless we as voters make the mistake of electing really bad school board members (which I don’t think we will do) CPS is likely in the coming years to offer many more good options for both
        (a) parents seeking quality walkable, neighborhood schools for their kids and
        (b) parents seeking special programs in the magnet schools.

        The growth in enrollment today proves that that this momentum within CPS is palpable. Even as we try to elect the best school board members that we can, the *real* key to ongoing success within our schools is the same that it has always been: active involved parents. I’m glad to hear that you and Nikki plan to be two of those involved parents!

  3. Blue Ash.Mom

    Mine is one of those families who moved to the suburbs for the schools. Our child is on the autism spectrum and we needed a district with deep pockets so he could get the services and supports he would need.

    Our son is a high school senior now and we couldn’t be happier with our choice. It’s worked out very well for our son and our family. But I also know that if he was currently a preschooler and was just now beginning his school career, it would be a very different experience.

    The high-stakes testing regime and other aspects of the school “deform” movement, in conjunction with state wide cutbacks and other financial pressures, are having significant effects, including a big brain drain of experienced teachers over the past couple of years. There is an increasing amount of teaching to the test, which is narrowing the curriculum.

    You are going to have to take all of that into account when you dream of a newly attractive CPS system. The truth is, there is a coordinated effort to make ALL public schools unattractive. There is only so much involved parents can achieve when they are fighting Columbus and Washington.

    Reply
    1. Bill Collins

      Thank you, Blue Ash Mom, for your note. You raise a lot of key issues, especially the point about the attacks on all public school in Ohio coming from the Ohio General Assembly (OGA). Also I very appreciate your taking the time to write because I think it’s important to launch a serious dialogue about public schools between suburban parents and city parents.

      ‘DREAMING’
      I’ll start my response by respectfully disagreeing with the statement that some of us are “dreaming” of a newly attractive CPS system. The enrollment increases within CPS over the last 4 years — up 5% from the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2015 as CPS’s $1.2 construction program wound down — is clear proof that this is not a “dream.” The fact is that parents today are attracted to CPS schools at levels that we have not seen since the baby boomers started to graduate out of the local K-12 schools in the 1970s. This is happening in this city district at a time when many (if not most) suburban school districts in Southwest Ohio are seeing enrollment declines. Beyond that, please note that CPS’s test data on Governor Kasich’s “3rd Grade Reading Guarantee” shows CPS 3rd graders achieving not just higher than other urban school districts, but also significantly higher than the state average among *all* (rural, suburban and urban) among the 600-plus school districts in Ohio.

      This data that I am citing is the market speaking. I am not making this data up.
      In reporting this, I am in no way taking issue (I would never do with or to any parent) with your decision to move to the Sycamore School District 10-12 years ago to find a program that was best for your child. Just as you decided, as a caring parent, to move *out* of the CPS District to help your child, the enrollment numbers in recent years now show that increasing numbers of caring parents are moving *into* the Cincinnati City District (comprise of the City of Cincinnati, along with Madison Place, Silverton, Amberley Village, Golf Manor and Covedale) and sending their kids to CPS schools in order to pursue schooling that is best for their children.

      And, with Open Enrollment now CPS’s policy, we’re seeing more and more parents from the suburbs remain in the suburbs while making the decision to send their children (without the benefit of free bussing) to CPS schools. For example, this trend of suburban parents sending their kids to CPS school is most noticeable in four areas, as I understand it:
      * parents in the northern suburbs like North College Hill and Mount Healthy sending their kids to CPS’s Aiken New Tech High School in College Hill,
      * parents in the Forest Hills (Anderson Township) District sending their elementary-school kids to CPS’s Mount Washington Elementary School,
      * parents from outside the District successfully auditioning their high-school kids to CPS’s School for the Performing Arts (SCPA) in OTR, and then transporting them 5 days per week at their own expense to SCPA, and as
      * Walnut Hills Junior/Senior High (grades 7-12) grows in enrollment, more parents are pulling their kids out of a wide variety of suburban junior and senior high schools and sending their kids to Walnut Hills, again knowing that they (the parents) are required to transport their kids to this CPS school 5 days per week at their own expense.

      TEACHERS, THE BRAIN DRAIN AND THE GERRYMANDERED OHIO GENERAL ASSEMBLY
      Living in Blue Ash, I’m sure it’s not easy to see this. But, what is happening today in this City (and other cities in our region) as middle-class Millennials start buying homes and starting families is that the middle class is growing in this City and many other cities. For example, U.S. Census data now shows that since the 2011-2012 period the white population in the City of Cincinnati is growing as a percentage of the total population for the first time since before the Civil War. At the same time that the overall population is now growing in the City and within the CPS District for the first time since 1950. [Again, I’m not making this up. These are the facts. It’s not a “dream.” ]

      Ironically and sadly, at this same time that the middle class is growing in Cincinnati’ school distict and in many other cities, the middle class continues to shrink across the USA as a while — declining particularly fast locally in those suburban communities that either have weak tax bases and/or where so many factories have closed during the last 30 years. Examples of these sububan places where the middle class is shrinking and poverty is spiking are North College Hill, Mount Healthy, Lockland, St. Bernard-Elmwood Place, Finneytown, Fairfield, Colerain Township, the Winton Woods School District, the entire Tri-County area, and all of Clermont County. [For example, the Enquirer recently reported that the percentage of kids in the Fairfield School District that receive free-reduced lunches increased from just 10% ten years ago to 40% today.]

      You are right that the testing requirements for K-12 students in Ohio is out of control. You’re also right that there is a big brain drain in Ohio as many quality teachers are leaving the profession because of pension cuts that have been imposed by the Ohio General Assembly and Governor Kasich. You are also right that in any and all school districts, “There is only so much involved parents can achieve when they are fighting Columbus and Washington.”

      SO WHY AM I SO HOPEFUL?
      At the state level, I believe that the passage of the anti-gerrymandering Issue 1 reform last November was a watershed event in Ohio’s history. What this means is that after the next full U.S. Census in 2010, then by the 2012 election we will have fair state-legislative elections for the first time ever in the history of this State. That means that in the metro areas of Ohio, there will be 3-4 truly competitive state legislative races between the two major parties, whereas today in the Cincinnati area we only have one (the Connie Pillich District that you may live in). This reform means that after 2012 Ohio will have a true “purple” OGA which reflects the true “purple” two-party-battleground nature of our state’s population.

      In that context, these involved parents that I speak of will finally be able to organize and impact state education policy in a positive way. Again, by that time, with more and more middle-class parents living in this school district and becoming active in this District, we will be ready to lead these fights at the state level to protect and advance public education in general, and neighborhood schools specifically. In the meantime, just the fact of more middle-class parents will be living in the CPS District and sending their kids to CPS schools will make those schools better. In America, that’s how it works: middle class families tend to thrive, and families affected by poverty tend to struggle. So, the more middle-class families that live a community and send their kids to local schools, the better those schools will be, and vice versa. Again, that’s the reality, and the trends are moving positively in our direction here in the CPS District.

      The world is changing, even in Ohio. And living in the City of Cincinnati today — particularly here on the East Side and in the stable, integrated community (Madisonville) where I live — the progress and the promise is becoming more and more obvious every day. Ain’t nothing stopping us now.

      Reply

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