I grew up on the east side of Cleveland, in the Glenville neighborhood on a side street off of Eddy Road and St. Clair. My family has resided in this area for thirty plus years. In that time, they’ve seen people and businesses come and go. They’ve seen the demographics shift and change all around them. My father often looks back onto his childhood, telling me how when he was growing up mobs of children would walk to school every day, spilling off of the sidewalk into the street. By the time I came around, this dynamic had completely changed. The factories that boomed during my father’s childhood were now closed and their workers were now on social security. The residents aged. The funds dried up and the neighborhood slipped into poverty. Schools that previously were bursting at the seams now atrophied severely. Their teaching materials weren’t updated, their facilities fell apart and the education system failed the children. Many of the kids that once went from the sidewalks to the classroom now went from the sidewalk to the corner.
When I grew up on Irvington Avenue, there were four kids on the street. Ricky, Rocky, Hassan and me. Ricky lived in the house directly across the street from me but we might as well have been worlds apart. He was a good kid, smart and kind. He cared about his family deeply and would do anything for them. We both had interests in sports, we would play together often but that is where the similarities ended.
His father got sucked into the streets, in and out of the home over the course of Ricky’s childhood. When his father stepped out of the home his uncle stepped in, although with him he brought his rap sheet, volatile temper and influence. These were the male role models in Ricky’s life.
When it came to education, Ricky had limited options - Captain Author Roth, an ill equipped elementary school followed by a choice between Glenville and Collinwood High School, two cogs in the struggling Cleveland Municipal School District. What do you do when your home life is a mess and the education system provides no way out? How do you function in a neighborhood that is crashing down all around you? How can you pull yourself up by the bootstraps when all the forces around you are pouring concrete over your feet? This is the world Ricky faced.
As he got older, he had to be the man of the house, doing whatever was necessary to try and provide for his mother and sisters. On one cold winter night, the house caught fire. It was an old home and faulty wiring set the home ablaze. They lost everything except their lives. A year went by, renovations were done to make the house livable and the family returned. However, things were never the same inside or out. Instead of two peaks rising high above the attic, there was now one, the roof sagged and dipped, the result of shoddy repair work. Within the house, struggles were present as well. As they labored to pay the bills, utilities were turned off and on routinely. I recall at one point in time seeing Ricky tear up the front yard trying to find a way to turn the gas back on for the house.
Time went on, I went off to college. On one of my visits home, I turned the corner onto my street. Ricky’s house was gone. Torn down by the city. The family, unable to pay the bills was displaced and told to move along. Sometimes, Ricky would walk back to Irvington, stand and stare at the empty space his home once occupied.
I haven’t seen Ricky in years. I have no idea what has become of him in reality but I know what could have been. See Ricky wasn’t afforded the option of a private school education. He didn’t have a sound home life to provide him with the support he needed to hold him up and strengthen him when life got tough. He didn’t have a plethora of examples in his life of people who did it the “right way.” But the interesting thing to me, and the point of this post is the only difference between a lot of people who “make it” and those who don’t are the opportunities placed in front of them.