By J.F. McKenna
Make no mistake about it. My hometown grasps irony as well as any place on earth. Most certainly now.
For years the city has regularly trumpeted such institutional jewels as The Cleveland Clinic, and it has never missed any opportunity to lay claim to rock-and-roll’s birth. Currently it owns the world’s rapt and nearly constant attention. It’s the place where Arial Castro turned his West Side house into three women’s makeshift hell for a decade.
“The story of those girls’ confinement is straight out of a horror movie,” a marketing friend said during a meeting in Pittsburgh. “It’s the ultimate nightmare for them. It’s the ultimate PR nightmare. How do those women cope now that they’re free? How is Cleveland ever going to be remembered except as the place where a monster tortured women in the middle of his neighborhood? ”
Pretty weighty questions—ones still being asked all over the world, in fact. My quick response to them surprised even me, indicating that I had indeed paid attention, at least part of the time, to the St. Joseph nuns and Holy Cross brothers who taught me on the West Side.
“One of the great strengths of Cleveland,” I said, “is its surplus of faith, hope and charity. At the risk of jeopardizing my status as a first-class heathen, I’m telling you that this heavenly combination will see those women and the whole community though this tragedy.”
Faith in Providence, I insisted, most certainly never wavered in Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The same goes for their families and friends. We might not grasp why such evil is allowed to take place in the world, but we certainly have to acknowledge that the trio’s faith should be a lesson to the rest of us when our own soul-lights starts to flicker.
Hope in the truest sense is trust, I also told my friend. For these women, they’ll have to trust the world again. And everyone they meet from now on will have to be an agent of reinforcing the trust they’re rebuilding. In particular, city officials will have to reconfirm the community’s trust by examining what they learned from this case of “hiding in plain sight,” thereby ensuring that the possibility of an equal horror can be reduced if not eliminated.
Charity, I said, is pretty obvious. This unprecedented terror tale should be a reminder that each of us needs to be a little more neighborly on his or her own street. As the world now knows, West Sider Charles Ramsey may not be the most polished speaker in front of TV cameras, but his commitment to a neighbor in peril is charity writ large. We might never be asked to rescue kidnapping victims, but we can copy Ramsey’s humble attitude about lending aid to those in need.
I left my colleague with a final thought worth copying by neighbors throughout northeast Ohio and folks just about everywhere. Maybe, I suggested, a little preemptive charity is in order.
“What do you mean by preemptive charity?” my colleague said.
“What if every neighborhood organized its own block party this summer?” I said. “You know, an old-fashioned block party—an opportunity for people to find out who’s on the block, who lives alone, who can use an occasional helping hand. It’s that non-threatening way to ‘love thy neighbor’ by knowing thy neighbor better. Invite the cops and politicians, too. As the folks in West Park will tell you, nothing builds safety better than a sense of awareness, and nothing builds awareness like a block party.”
“The block party as preemptive charity, huh?” my Pittsburgh friend said. “That’s a good idea—even coming from a Browns fan.”
CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, communications consultant and former editor at Industry Week, Tooling & Production, and Northern Ohio Live magazines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.