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.
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.
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:
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.