Rebecca Kempton discusses growing up in the Clark-Fulton and Ohio City neighborhoods in the 1970s, including memories of Puerto Rican and Appalachian neighbors, Aragon Ballroom, West Side Market, and Tremont. She discusses her memories of the controversial school desegregation order to implement busing. She also recalls her decision to return to live in Clark-Fulton in 1999. She shares her affinity for historic preservation, her campaign to recall a city councilman, and her involvement in what became the Metro West Community Development Organization. She concludes with an extensive recounting of the challenges and rewards of implementing the Neighborhood Connections–sponsored City Repair Cleveland project to clean up and paint murals on alleys in Clark-Fulton in 2013.


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Kempton, Rebecca (interviewee)


Nemeth, Sarah (interviewer)


Metro West



Document Type

Oral History


77 minutes


Sarah Nemeth [00:00:00] Hi, my name is Sarah Nemeth. It is July 7, 2017. We’re at the Metro West Community Development Organization offices. I’m here with Rebecca Kempton for the Cleveland Regional Oral History Project. Could you please state your name for the record?

Rebecca Kempton [00:00:16] Rebecca Kempton.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:17] And where were you born?

Rebecca Kempton [00:00:18] Right here in Cleveland at Metro Hospital.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:21] Really?

Rebecca Kempton [00:00:21] Yep.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:22] What side of town did you live on?

Rebecca Kempton [00:00:24] At that time I believe, actually, my parents lived on the east side, so I’m not 100% sure how I got to Metro, but they lived near the Broadway area, I believe.

Sarah Nemeth [00:00:33] Okay, so, like, Broadway and, what, East 55th?

Rebecca Kempton [00:00:36] Yeah, near there. I mean, I can think of some landmarks, but they might not be relevant right now. Yeah, the old St. Alexis Hospital. I believe that. I think it was Jewett Avenue, but I don’t think that that avenue exists anymore. I think it might have been taken out with a highway expansion. Or if it is, it’s probably real small.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:01] Perfect. I can look, though.

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:02] Oh, okay.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:05] So what year was that?

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:06] 1967.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:07] Okay. So you were coming in. Well, you were born.

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:10] I was born.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:11] Right when they put in, like, [I–]71 and 90?

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:14] Yeah. That was all the expansion, because the city had, populace was really was a lot larger than it is now. So, I mean, the city was just expanding. There were lots of money for infrastructures and things like that, so, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:25] And what did your parents do?

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:27] My mom was a stay at home mom, and my dad was over the road truck driver.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:31] Oh, that’s cool.

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:32] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:01:35] And so you lived on. Where did you attend school?

Rebecca Kempton [00:01:37] So then, by the time I went to school, I actually went to Walton School for first grade, right over here, because they had moved to the west side and lived on Kinkel Avenue, which is right off of West 25th. And I went to Walton school from first- I don’t know why I didn’t go to kindergarten. I don’t know why. Maybe that explains a lot that’s wrong with me nowadays. [laughs] But. So first through second grade, I went to Walton school, and then we moved out of state for a little while. And then when I came back, when we came back, I went to- So, third grade, I was in Indiana. And then when we came back, I went to Orchard School, and then I went there through 6th grade. And then there was a lot of issues with busing and desegregation. And so my class, the 7th grade class, would have been the first class to actually be bused. And there was just a lot of fear, there was a lot of uncertainty, there was a lot of violence. And then I went to a private school in, a couple different private schools, because a lot of them popped up during that time because they were trying to cash in on different things. And I went to a private school in Parma, but I’ve always pretty much lived right here on the west side.

Sarah Nemeth [00:03:03] Do you have any remembrances of your time in first grade? Like, who were your classmates? What did your school look like?

Rebecca Kempton [00:03:11] So. Oh, my goodness. My first grade teacher, her name was, what was her name? Mrs. Beamer. And I remember Walton School so specifically because it was a newer school at that time. I mean, I don’t think that it was brand new, but I mean, I guess if we looked it up, but I bet it was only a few years old. And they had an inside courtyard and they had, like, a terrarium. And it was so fascinating to me that it was inside, you know. And I remember also English as a second language, or Spanish, English as a second language, ESL, yeah, I had to think. That was- That would have been, like, the first or second year, I believe, maybe even the first year that it was being taught in Cleveland public schools. And so there were lots of children in my classroom that didn’t speak good English, that were going through these, you know, that they had not an interpreter in the classroom, but they would go out of the room for special learning, and then they’d be back in the room and stuff like that. So I can remember that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:19] So there was a large Spanish-speaking-?

Rebecca Kempton [00:04:22] Yes, yes. Yeah. [crosstalk] Already at that time. So that would have been like, I don’t know what year.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:29] Like 70-something?

Rebecca Kempton [00:04:30] Yeah. So about ’72, I guess, or so trying to think. Yeah, my sister was born in ’74, so if I go backwards. So ’72, ’73, something like that. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:43] And were there any other languages spoken or was it just Spanish and English?

Rebecca Kempton [00:04:49] Just Spanish and English that I can recall, yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:04:53] And your neighborhood, do you remember who lived in your neighborhood?

Rebecca Kempton [00:04:57] So when I was that age, hmm. I do know that there were some Hispanic people. I remember that. It’s just the funny, the memories that you have, because I know that there was this lady that lived next door, and she spoke Spanish, and she would have me come over to her house sometimes, you know, just as a little kid, and she was from Puerto Rico, and I always remembered because her couches all had plastic slip covers on ’em. And I used to think that was so weird. [laughs] Isn’t that funny? Like a weird remembrance? And she would give me orange juice with ice in it, and I used to tell my mom, that is so cool. I just thought that was, like, the most amazing thing. And there were also a lot of Appalachian people that lived in this area. So, you know, and it’s- You know, you could just tell, like, lots of people from West Virginia or Kentucky and not so much Tennessee as I really recall, but lots of people from West Virginia and Kentucky. And then there were also some people that were, you know, like, there was also a higher population of Italian people too.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:08] Okay. I know that you were young, but, or if you even remember, maybe those groups clashing? Was there issues?

Rebecca Kempton [00:06:15] You know, I don’t really remember that. I don’t. I just remember that there- That there were. I do remember maybe not exactly at that age, but as a little older, you know, people wanting to leave, like, some of the older people that lived here who had lived here for a long time, they were gonna move to Parma or they were moving to Lakewood. I do remember, like, my parents discussing that, like, well, this person’s gonna move or that person’s gonna move. And I’m not really sure why. It just seemed like that kind of upwardly mobile, like, you know, you get to a certain point in your life, maybe you move instead of- Or maybe they were fearful. I’m not really sure.

Sarah Nemeth [00:06:51] Okay, so you had- You were hanging out with your next-door neighbor and having a good time.

Rebecca Kempton [00:06:58] Yeah, it was like, so seven years old in my orange juice. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:07:03] Do you remember any of the smells in the neighborhood? Any of the cooking? The restaurants, maybe? Did you guys go out?

Rebecca Kempton [00:07:12] No, I don’t really, I don’t really remember. I mean, I guess we did. I mean, I know there was a little tiny diner that we used to pass that used to be on West 25th. And my mom didn’t drive, so we took the bus a lot. I used to think it was so cool. I always wanted to go in there, but I don’t think- Or if we did, it wasn’t anything. One of the things I really remember about when I lived on Kinkel and I was that age was that the Aragon Ballroom was still operating then. It’s a large building that’s- And they literally had ballroom dancing in there. So in the evenings, especially on the weekend, you would see these people in, like, suits and ball gowns, like, walking down the street. It was so awesome as, especially imagine, like, five or six years old, you know, seven. And they were so beautiful. And, I mean, they have these beautiful gowns on and everything. And then you could hear the music and everything. And shortly it closed after that. But I have very, very distinct memories of that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:08:09] Could you describe it a little bit?

Rebecca Kempton [00:08:11] So the building looked, I think in my mind it looked elegant. I don’t really think that it did, because it was old and it was already beginning to start to decay. But it had sort of, like, columns. And there’s no parking. The building, which I learned just a few years ago because of another reason, the building literally takes up its whole footprint. So it had no parking. So the people would- And there’d be several hundred people that would come, and so they’d park a lot of different places. So you’d see them walking for a long way, like maybe over a block. So, you know, and just the ladies with their long gowns and, you know, their, you know, and you could always tell their hair would be up. And they have on a lot of makeup. They just look so, so elegant and beautiful, you know, so, yeah, I always. This was a cool. And then a little bit further down, there was an adult bookstore that was very, you know, and even though I didn’t know what it was like, I knew it wasn’t, like, a cool, like, don’t ask your dad about this. [laughs] That’s a bad place, you know? And it had a marquee ’cause it was a theater. It was called the Paris theater. And it had been a normal movie theater, like, maybe in the forties and the fifties and the sixties. But, like, so many movie theaters that happened, you know, in urban areas, they just became abandoned. And they showed, you know, pornographic movies there. And literally on the marquee, the big marquee with the lights, it would say XXX [laughs], you know, and even though I didn’t exactly know, I had a feeling.

Sarah Nemeth [00:09:42] So you’re watching all of these- [crosstalk]

Rebecca Kempton [00:09:44] [laughs] Yeah. Right. It was just like a block apart. Like a short block apart, too. It was really kind of funny. Well, you asked! [crosstalk] Right. You know, it was- You know, it was changing. You know, it was changing. And shortly after that, I would say, I don’t know, but I bet by 1975 or 1976, the Aragon was probably closed. And then we moved from there. And then I lived on Columbus Road, which is in Ohio City. Well, they don’t always claim us. They didn’t before. We weren’t really Ohio City. But if you look at the map, I think that is, now they claim it again, I guess. That’s local politics for you. But so I grew up there, and the rapid on Columbus Road, there’s only homes on one side of the street because the rapid comes through. And so that was a really weird experience when we moved there because, like, you know, your stuff in your dresser would shake just a little bit. I mean, after a month or so, you just learn to get used to it. But the noise from, from the train was kind of strange, you know, and we could walk real close. We could walk to the West Side Market and other things like that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:11:00] Do you remember what that neighborhood looked like? It was at that time-

Rebecca Kempton [00:11:06] So it was like a lot of neighborhoods still are today. It was like one part was a little bit better than the other part. So Columbus Road, per se, was very nice because it had two businesses, four houses, and then the church. St. Gwendolyn’s Catholic Church was there. So, too, there was sisters that lived on the street. They had never married. They lived there, and they kind of took responsibility. The one particularly, she took responsibility for mowing the grass on the tree lawn on the other side. I’m sure she got- As an adult, I realized that she probably got paid by somebody, but at the time, I was like, why does she do that? But she always kept it clean and cut the grass every week in the summer and stuff like that. But then on the streets right behind there, which was like West 20th and Freeman going to Abbey Avenue, those type places, it was really- There was a lot of, I would say, people that were, again, Appalachian and really poor and also maybe not really educated. You know, I can just remember people that didn’t graduate school or just people, a lot of them worked or their husband worked, but just barely making ends meet, just always struggling, that kind of stuff.

Sarah Nemeth [00:12:33] Where did people work at?

Rebecca Kempton [00:12:36] Hmm, I think. I don’t know. Let’s see. Where do people work at? I think retail. A lot of people worked in, like, Kmart’s, and we used to have a department store called Zayre’s. They went out of business a long time ago. People worked there. I think some people worked at some of the car manufacturers too. You know, I think, like, Chevy or Ford was a little bit bigger then. But I think I remember that. But I think it seemed to be as people didn’t ever really get full time work. Like, maybe they weren’t as skilled, so they would work for a certain period of time, or they were only, they weren’t actually hired in by the company as permanent, you know, so people kind of struggled. I’m not really sure what else. I don’t know. Hmm.

Sarah Nemeth [00:13:32] When- So you lived on Columbus Street after you left Kinkel, and then you went to Indiana?

Rebecca Kempton [00:13:37] We went to Indiana, no. So from Kinkel, we went to Indiana, and then we came back. Oh, sorry. I lived on Bridge Avenue for a little while. Oh, I forgot. See, good job. So, yeah, so we lived on Bridge Avenue, that was actually Ohio City proper. So we lived there about two years near 41st and Bridge. Yeah, I remember there was an ice cream place there, which is still there today. It’s gone through a couple different transitions, and now it’s a little trendy place. But when I was a little girl, it was called Dairy Delight, and it was, like, near, you know, right where we lived. And so that was cool. So, yeah, I lived- [laughs] Yeah, I forgot about that or skipped over two years of my life. And from Bridge Avenue then, we went to Columbus Road.

Sarah Nemeth [00:14:24] What was the West Side Market like when you went there?

Rebecca Kempton [00:14:26] It was amazing. It’s to this day, at 50 years old, when I walk into the West Side Market, when I smell the inside of the West Side Market, which to me is a good smell, it’s like I’m instantly transported to when I was like a little kid. I love it. It just feels like home or feels like a good memory. It was busy and it was cold and hot because at that point in time, they didn’t have- In the last ten years, they’ve built an enclosure on the outside to help the outside vendors, you know, like, deal with the temperature changes? But when I was a little girl that wasn’t there. And, like, in the wintertime, it was so incredibly cold. And the people would have, like, they were, like, they couldn’t move, you know, they had so much, you know, cold, I mean, you know, winter coats and everything on. And then they all had, I remember this, they all had, like, kerosene heaters, like, at the stands, you know. And I think about, like, fire codes and stuff today, like, ahh, you know, but, I mean, they would froze to death. It was cold, you know, so I remember that in the wintertime I didn’t even really like going to the outside, even though a strange way, it was warmer when you were in a shopper in the aisle, correct. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:15:46] Was it- Would you say there’s more vendors now than there were or-?

Rebecca Kempton [00:15:53] Yeah, the vendors- I mean, the market seems much different to me now. I mean, I still enjoy it and I like it, but it doesn’t- When I was a little girl, I liked the idea when I would see a sign that says, you know, we’ve been here for 30 years, or we’ve, you know, we’re like the original families and stuff like that. And I understand that things change, but it seems as though a lot of that history isn’t there anymore. There’s lots of vendors that come and go, and, you know, there’s been some concern that the city isn’t supporting the market in its natural state to be a market, they kind of want to use it as a tourist attraction. And I’m concerned about that because in other municipalities across the country, whenever they haven’t kept true to the real purpose of the markets, the markets haven’t survived. And it’s- It’s a gem, and there’s not that many markets like it left in the country. And so I’m- I’m at odds with some of the, you know, elected officials in my belief of how it should be managed.

Sarah Nemeth [00:16:56] That makes sense. Sometimes when you try to make something, when, when you lose the essence of something-

Rebecca Kempton [00:17:02] Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:03] It seems fake.

Rebecca Kempton [00:17:04] It is. I mean, I mean, or it, you know, it could very easily turn that way. You know, it’s not- It’s a place to shop. It’s not a tourist. I mean, it let it be a tourist attraction because it is. Because it’s fabulous for what it really is. Don’t try to make it into something because it was already great. [crosstalk] It already was something. Right, exactly. Exactly.

Sarah Nemeth [00:17:25] Was there a favorite place that you always stopped at?

Rebecca Kempton [00:17:28] In the market? Yeah. There was a place where- And I really can’t remember the name, I was thinking, but we used to get, like, homemade smokies, and it was like a treat and yeah, so my dad would all, you know, whenever my mom would get them, too, but it was like, a thing to go with my dad, and if, you know, if he went to the market and we always got these smokies and, you know, sometimes we’d have them even before we came home, and it was, like, only, like, two blocks, you know? [laughs] You know. And so yeah, and I remember my- There’s a park right across the street from the market now - there had been a building there and it was torn down - and I remember my mom was involved with the city council person at that time, trying to encourage the city to, like, turn that into a park. So, you know. You know, just always been involved in something. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:16] I didn’t know that there used to be a building there.

Rebecca Kempton [00:18:18] Right. It’s so easy when you, when it’s gone and then you see something else to have a memory. I don’t remember the building there, but it was open space. [crosstalk] You know, it wasn’t like-

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:28] It wasn’t always into a purpose.

Rebecca Kempton [00:18:30] Into a- Yeah, right.

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:31] Okay. So you’re kind of in Ohio City on Columbus, but not really. Maybe they’ll claim you.

Rebecca Kempton [00:18:39] Yeah! Yeah! [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:18:43] And at that point, where do you move to?

Rebecca Kempton [00:18:45] So. Wow. So my parents had separated for a while, and I lived- I lived in Parma for just a little while, but just for a little, like, less than three or four months. And then I moved to Denison. Yeah. So I lived at Denison near 55th and, I don’t know, 58th in Denison, I think, in a little small apartment there. And I worked at a factory that was called New Era Products and they made- They made lights for tool manufacturers, like snap-on tools and [inaudible] tools, those kind of things. They made drop lights for mechanics. And it was a super low-paying job, and it was probably one of the- It was extremely fun. It was a great place to work in the sense that it was just crazy. You know, the- It was very low. It was minimum wage, you know, so whatever that was. And we just had a lot of- There were some people that had worked there a long time, and then there were a lot of young people, like, around my age, which was about 21, 22 at the time. And the production manager knew that nobody was getting paid, so he tried to make it, like, a really fun environment, you know, like, you know, tried to keep it upbeat. People had radios, and they played. You know, it was a neat place. It had been there for a long time, so I worked there for a while and-

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:20] Did you work on the line?

Rebecca Kempton [00:20:21] Yeah, I actually ran some machines that put plugs- Well, I did a- In that place, you kind of learned everything. But the primary job that I had was a job where you- So when you have anything that has an electric plug to it, at some point, you take a wire and you have to put that metal blade on it. So I ran a machine that put the metal blade on it. Yeah. And then once there’s two metal blades, you put it into another machine that pours the hot melted plastic around it to form the plug.

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:47] Interesting.

Rebecca Kempton [00:20:48] I know. Who knew? [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:20:50] You don’t think about these things.

Rebecca Kempton [00:20:51] Right. It just exists. How did it make- Yeah, exactly. So I worked there, and then I worked for a few- Oh, I think I skipped something. So I did live someplace else. Do you want me to go backwards?

Sarah Nemeth [00:21:07] Yeah, definitely. I wanted to go back to the busing thing where you-

Rebecca Kempton [00:21:10] Oh, okay. So, yeah, I know it’s gonna be out of order. I lived on Chatham. I lived at 38th and Chatham after I lived in Parma for a little while. Okay, so I went there. So everything else is in line. Yeah. Sorry. [laughs] Like, oh, I don’t even know my own life. And I rented an apartment there from my best friend’s father. They owned a duplex, and I lived upstairs over top of them, and it felt like almost kind of like home because I had, you know, been there so many times as a child because, you know, was their house. So I lived there. And, yeah, I- It was a great place. And then, you know, I don’t know, life goes on, you know, they moved, and then I ended up moving back with my mom for a while, and she lived off Denison in another place and, you know, go on. So you wanted to go backwards before I go to-

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:03] Oh, yeah, I wanted to go backwards to busing. So from what you observed, you actually didn’t have to bus-

Rebecca Kempton [00:22:11] No.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:11] Because you went to private.

Rebecca Kempton [00:22:12] Right.

Sarah Nemeth [00:22:12] But what you observed, I mean, did some of your friends have to bus?

Rebecca Kempton [00:22:17] Yeah, it was terrible. It was terrible. A lot of it had to do with fear. Part of it was racism. Part of it is because the public schools wasn’t organized. People were afraid. I mean, and not afraid. I don’t know that somebody was afraid to go to school with somebody who was Black, but they were afraid to go so far away from home because lots of people’s families didn’t have cars. This neighborhood has always been and still is today, generally, the Near West Side, lots of, I mean, if you look outside there’s lots of cars, but a lot of people don’t drive. And especially then, people were afraid for their kids to be so far from home. The schools didn’t- You know, it was forced to segregation. You know, it’s so different now. But then, so there was anger and there was frustration. And if anything little happened that maybe if it was in your neighborhood school, your mom or your dad would say, suck it up. If it happened there, the fear was so great, you know, people didn’t go to school, and lots of people were not, were not, were not-

Sarah Nemeth [00:23:25] Excuse me.

Rebecca Kempton [00:23:30] Were not- Didn’t graduate. And I think if you would look, that is the year that the graduation rate started declining. And a lot of it was out of fear or something did happen, you know, that was legitimate. And the schools didn’t know how to address it because instead of people addressing things like this, and even unfortunately, I think it happens still now, today, it was like, well, just be politically correct, or let’s just pretend like it really wasn’t that bad. And it’s like, if it was bad, we have to face it. It doesn’t matter if you’re purple with green polka dots, it doesn’t matter your color but you can’t have this violence, you know? And they didn’t want to address it because they wanted to pretend that, you know, it’s okay. We’re doing a good job. You know, it’s working. And it wasn’t working because if you start looking at the, at the graduation rates, you know, I think. Cause most of the people that I was in 7th or 8th grade with or 6th grade, but my friends, most of them didn’t graduate. My close friends or they went back and got GEDs. So, I mean, I have an attitude about it. Cause I feel that it really, you know, affected me in a way because, I mean, I was going to two different schools ’cause my parents, you know, like, one wasn’t, ended up not being accredited, and it was just- But just my friends and, like, my neighborhood, like, what did it say them, you know? So, yeah, it has nothing to do with anybody getting a full education, but nobody likes being forced. Right? And it doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s just the idea that it’s forced, you know, so, I mean, it’s better now, I think, as far as, you know, open enrollment - I think in Cleveland now you can pretty much go anywhere - and, you know, all schools should have the same opportunity. It’s nothing to do in my mind about the books or the teachers. It’s just, you know, people don’t like to be forced, you know? Yeah. In anything.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:31] Especially something like that can be frightening to everyone.

Rebecca Kempton [00:25:33] Right, exactly.

Sarah Nemeth [00:25:36] At that- Were there any violent things that happened to your friends?

Rebecca Kempton [00:25:42] So, I mean, yeah, I had- Okay, so. So don’t forget, they first, they did it with the seniors. So, you know, the seniors started and there was some violence, like those first years, and I don’t know much of that ’cause, I mean, I would have been, like- It would have been the first junior high class. So I remember- And that’s made it scarier for parents with younger kids, you know, like myself, and then- But they said, whoever they are, that they expected more problems out of the junior high students, maybe because they’re not as mature, but yet, you know, they’re being ramped up from their parents or their peers and different things. And I think that did happen. But, yeah, I had friends that were female girlfriends that were attacked at school. I had one that was almost raped. A friend, very good. She quit school. She told her mom, I think she was in the 8th grade, and she’s like, you can’t make me go back. She wouldn’t go back. I was horrible. She ended up going back. But, I mean, it was bad. And she was terrified. She was just absolutely terrified. And, you know, I think in 1980 versus 2017, like, children are more exposed to things, so certain things that would scare somebody who was, you know, a child then or a young teenager then compared to what might scare somebody now is different. But it was true fear, right?

Sarah Nemeth [00:27:06] Right, it’s fear. [crosstalk] It’s fear. You can’t justify it either way, but it always changes.

Rebecca Kempton [00:27:11] And then there was a problem with the busing itself, because then there wasn’t enough buses, or the buses wasn’t right, and then they decided to make it where the teenagers, or, you know, the junior high and the high school, not the elementary, could take RTA. So then there were all these kids on the buses, and then, you know, people were working, and then kids were not behaving properly on the buses, and they were rude. And then the buses, the RTA wasn’t prepared, or they didn’t want to actually add additional buses. So the buses would be like sardines, you know, like it was standing room only for a long time, not standing room only from, you know, 25th to downtown. I mean, halfway the route, and it was just uncomfortable. People didn’t like it. So, I mean, there was just lots of tension because of it. So then other people that didn’t have any skin in the game, like their kids weren’t being bossed, or they didn’t live in Cleveland, then they had attitudes about it, too, because now they were being affected when they were on the buses and stuff. So life. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:28:13] Yeah, very interesting time. At that point, was this predominantly White and Hispanic?

Rebecca Kempton [00:28:23] Yes. It was still my neighborhood. I mean, I would, let’s say when I was in 6th grade, somebody else asked me this, and this is the reason I know. I mean, like, a long time ago, it just stuck in my mind. My 6th grade class at Orchard Elementary had two African American students. That’s it. Everybody else was either Hispanic or White, so. And I never really did understand the disproportionate, because I know that when, like, some of, like, my one friend too, like, a lot of her classes at the school that she went to, she was the only White student there. So I’m like, well, where are all the other- Where are all the other White students going? Or Hispanics, where are they? Like, so I don’t know if it’s because disproportionately White parents had racial problems or whatever the problems were, and they didn’t enroll their kids, or they unenrolled them and sent them- There were lots of fly by night schools that popped up to try to take advantage of the situation. And they really, I think they like fear mongers, you know, like, oh, you’re gonna be safe here. But I never personally understood that if you were going to take all these kids from over here and these kids were predominantly White, and you were going to move all these kids from over here and they were predominantly Black, why, when you got over to Glenville, you would have classes that only had two White students. I still never figured that out. [laughs] I’m not asking you to. I’m just saying I could never- Like, even to this minute, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like, I don’t know. What did you do with them? Put them all in the basement? I mean, I don’t know.

Sarah Nemeth [00:29:56] Where did they go?

Rebecca Kempton [00:29:58] Where did they go? You know, so whatever.

Sarah Nemeth [00:30:04] Did, after the- Well, as busing’s happening, all of this is going on, did a lot of African American families come to the west side at that point instead of just-

Rebecca Kempton [00:30:15] Yeah, yeah, I would say that was the beginning, because just like, anybody who wasn’t, they didn’t want their kids bused over here either. So I. A lot of them thought that, I think because not every child was bused. I think it was like a percentage, you know, like, some were and some weren’t. It wasn’t- And so if they lived on the- I think the thought was if they had. If they were African American and they lived on the west side, they had a better chance of their child going to the community school. So I don’t know if that’s the exact science of it, but I think that was the thought process, and sometimes it worked. So I would say that was maybe the beginning of when more African American families moved in. But, I mean, I think certain communities were, you know, like, harder to, I would imagine, like, Ohio City was, was harder to accept them because the prices even back then were pretty high. There was a lot of historic homes and a lot of, you know, like, people trying to really control who lived there and who didn’t. In Tremont at that time, before Tremont was the Tremont that we know today, Tremont was really a rough place to be, and so there was, you know, housing projects there. And I would say the majority of the people that lived in those projects at the time were probably African American or really, really uneducated, you know, Appalachians that were just here and just didn’t, you know, didn’t maybe just came and got on some kind of assistance rolls and stuff and just went to that, you know, that didn’t work at all. But it was that- It’s amazing, Tremont, when I was a little girl, it was a scary place to be, even as a young woman. I remember this one particular time. My mom used to work for the Salvation Army, and there was a lady there who was in desperate need of something. And I don’t know why because it was out of the normal character. But we took it to her, and my mom didn’t drive, so I drove my mom to there. The lady needed diapers or something, and there wasn’t any and somehow they got some diapers. And so when my mom was getting off work, she decided she would take them. And I was at the stop sign, waiting for her to go into this, I forget what they were called, but the projects down there. And this young man, like, approaches me and he’s, like, trying to sell me drugs. And he had more money than I had, like, working for like, a month in his hand. He’s like, what you need, what you need. And I’m like, I’m just waiting on that lady right over there. I was, like, really scared. Really scared wasn’t. I was shocked, like, what is happening here? [laughs] But I was glad, you know, I’m like, we should go. I’m like, you see that kid over there? You know, and she was like, well, let’s just go. But it’s made such an amazing transformation, you know? I mean, it’s like the place, you know, I read something today, it was about Trendy Tremont, and I, Which it is, and it’s, and I’m glad, but, you know, it has its past. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:33:20] Yeah, that would be interesting to see some man selling you drugs and then turn around and now it’s the Tremont that we know today. That’s kind of- Gentrification has set in and-

Rebecca Kempton [00:33:34] Yeah, yeah, no, it’s exactly what’s happened. And it’s just changed. I mean, there’s still a projects there, but it’s managed differently. It’s harder- Your average normal person who might qualify for assisted living, I don’t think they automatically get into that project. I think there’s some criteria, which I question personally. I mean, if that’s what it is, if it’s a government run facility that’s for low-income people, I don’t know why somebody should be deciding who gets there. It should be based on- But, you know, supposedly there is that. But, I mean, it’s a wonderful place now. So, you know, I mean, in theory, you know, unless you have a piece of property there where you’d like to park in front of your own house, because forget it. [laughs] But, I mean, you know, it’s great. Better than it was. I mean, it’s, you know, I mean, it’s not run down, a lot of the homes were preserved, you know? So it’s just like, any area that gets gentrified and the arts community moves into it just changes. It’s not good or bad in a sense, is different, you know? I guess, so. I mean, there’s times I like it and times I, like, roll my eyes at it. [laughs] Life. Right.

Sarah Nemeth [00:34:44] Well, I guess we can move on from there.

Rebecca Kempton [00:34:47] Okay.

Sarah Nemeth [00:34:49] When did- When did you come as an adult to live here, like, on your own you decided you wanted to live here?

Rebecca Kempton [00:34:56] So when I really- In 1999, I rented an apartment. 1998. I rented a small apartment on the corner of Newark and 41st. And, yeah, I moved in with no furniture. [laughs] A bed and a dining room table and a stove that came with the apartment, but that’s what you do, you know? So I lived there, and eventually I got furniture. [laughs] I loved- That was my- That was, like I had previously that other small apartment, but this was, like, my real grown-up apartment. You know, it was really mine, and it was gonna. You know, I wasn’t gonna ever go back home and that kind of stuff, so that was awesome. And I lived there until 2006, when I bought a house one street away, literally, like, kind of catty cornered from the house that I, that apartment. And I’ve been then on Hyde Avenue since 2006.

Sarah Nemeth [00:36:00] What made you want to be here and stay here?

Rebecca Kempton [00:36:05] You know, it’s just- It felt like home. And I love the people. You know, it’s- They’re just the people that live in this general part of the city that- Most of them are just hardworking people. You know, they take care of their business, they try, you know, to do better, and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I don’t know. It’s just- It feels where I feel comfortable. Like I would never- I should never say never ’cause sometimes, you know, you just, you get mad at who gets elected, and you’re gonna leave the country, much less the state, you know? But, I mean, you know, like, I would never aspire, in theory, to move outside of the city. Like. Like, I want to support- Like, I love the city. So I feel that it’s important to stay here and to own a home here or to work here or build something here, because I want it to, you know, to stay strong or to, you know, regain its strength and to go forward. So I, like, I’m really big- It’s not like I’m not involved. Like, I don’t care if there’s bike trails. It means nothing to me. I mean, it’s fine. You know, I think it’s a lot of money spent for nothing. It’s not that kind of urban stuff- Like, it’s okay if somebody must have it, but I’m saying for me personally, that’s- But like, just maintain, stabilizing it. Right. Like, I encourage people to move here because the more people that live in the city, this, the more stable it becomes and then the neighborhoods become more stable. [laughs] I have my days. Don’t talk to my friends.

Sarah Nemeth [00:37:43] Do you feel that the Clark-Fulton area has been separated from the rest of the Near West Side? That it’s kind of in its own [RK: Yes.] bubble? Why do you believe that?

Rebecca Kempton [00:37:56] Because the Hispanic community is pretty strong and it’s large and they don’t, and they don’t engage. They don’t engage with themselves. They don’t engage with Anglos. Is that the right way, politically correct, which is a so not me term. They’re strong in their churches. They don’t get involved in politics for the most part. A lot of them don’t even vote. If you look at the voter rolls, a lot of them register and then they don’t vote. So it creates this bubble in a way because it’s such a dense population that doesn’t assimilate to anything else, I think. I mean, you know, there’s other people. There’s African Americans, there’s, you know, there’s Caucasians. There’s a lot we have- Actually, I used to know this number. There’s like 73 different nationalities that live inside the ward, and the ward is primarily made up of this general Clark-Fulton area. 73. Well. Cause, you know, and that’s one of the reasons why we got this school here. We have the newcomer’s school where they teach, you know, English, and there’s, I don’t know how many nationalities are taught there, but a lot. So. But I think that’s why it’s primarily based on the Hispanic population. And they don’t as a group, you know, I’m not talking about anybody individually, but as a group, they don’t assimilate. They don’t, they don’t. They just stated themselves, and so that creates this separation because they don’t merge or they don’t fight or they’re just there.

Sarah Nemeth [00:39:34] Okay. Are you familiar, really, with the International School?

Rebecca Kempton [00:39:43] Just a little bit. I mean, I’ve read their, you know, their information. I’ve listened to some of the talks. I was invited to go two separate times, but both times it just didn’t work out. Anybody that I’ve known that has went through the tours or viewed some of the classes, they’re always amazed. They come out so, like, wow. The children are so interested in learning American history. They’re so interested in assimilating that it’s just moving, supposedly. I mean, I’ve had three, four different people tell me that when you leave there, you just can’t believe the experience it is. If, you know, like, this one particular person was talking about how he viewed a civics class. He’s like, I’m telling you that if I went to a civics class in any other place in this city, I’m not coming out with the same feeling that I watch these kids, and it’s amazing.

Sarah Nemeth [00:40:37] Do you think that- Well, does the school, if, you know, encourage people to live and stay here?

Rebecca Kempton [00:40:46] I’m not really sure. I don’t- They don’t- Cleveland public schools doesn’t seem to do enough outreach in my mind. Like, I shouldn’t have to get invited into the school because a politician is going there or something. It should be more welcoming into the community. And I don’t think it’s just that school. I think it’s a lot of schools, and I’m sure there’s lots of reasons. I understand safety and stuff, but there should be more of that community certain days of the year and things like where they encourage the community to come in because it’s just the school. Right? And if you don’t have kids in school, which I don’t, and they wouldn’t be going there anyway, you can just get this disconnect to it. But schools are so important, so, you know, if there was more of an outreach to the community to understand the importance of it. So the neighborhood, like the development corporation, the city council, I mean, they are driving that to encourage the children that go there for their parents and their families to connect, you know, to live in this neighborhood. You know, a lot of- Some of the students. I don’t want to say a lot, but some of the students there are children of refugees. So, you know, there’s really a push to come, because it does seem as though a lot of the- From what I understand, a lot of the refugees come and they get stable, and they’re actually determined to make a success, and they start getting, going up the financial ladder, and then they move to different communities. They don’t stay in the city either. So, I mean, and I don’t care. I mean, if they come from Somalia or they come from where- Stay, I mean, if you’re gonna, if you’re gonna be a benefit to the community and you’re gonna live there, and you’re gonna work and support it and pay taxes and support the school, then I welcome you. It doesn’t matter to me. I’d rather see them live in a house that’s been, and the house saved than the house get torn down. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:42:47] Has a lot of that been happening? Instead of tear down, board up, tear down, is there an effort to preserve?

Rebecca Kempton [00:42:55] So in this neighborhood, there has been. So there’s two. Well, in the general vicinity, like in the Jones Home district, which is actually part of Clark-Fulton, too. It’s a small street. It’s historic. And so there’s a lot of people that live, I shouldn’t say a lot, but there’s four to five people on the street that really, residents that drive that. That, like, are like, just preserve everything. And it’s hard, though, because people get afraid of that when you start talking about historic districts. Oh, I’m gonna paint my house whatever color I want, and I’m gonna put a, you know, vinyl siding, and you can’t stop me. It’s like, no, no, no. So there is some of that that happens. But, yeah, we’re so fortunate in general that although we’ve had a lot of houses torn down, we haven’t had as many as other neighborhoods. So, yes, there is a push to try to stop that, because, you know, my house that I live in was built approximately 1900, but I know the houses that were built eight years ago that look like they need to be torn down already. You know? So there’s something for the workmanship. There’s something for the craftsmanship. And I really, you know, believe in preservation, and also that when they build these newer homes in our neighborhoods, too, it’s always been important to me, and I’ve been on committees and stuff and try to drive this, like they need to look like the other houses that are there. Like, it’s fine, I’ve nothing against a modern style home. And if somebody owns a property, they, of course, have a right to build whatever they want. But if a developer comes in, then I want to encourage him to make his houses look like the other houses in the neighborhood, you know, so it feels like a neighborhood. It feels cohesive. It feels like everybody belongs together. But other neighborhoods have dealt with more of that than we have because we haven’t had as many torn down. And we’re lucky. But, I mean, it’s on the bubble. The thing is that I think that our little neighborhood is like the next neighborhood to really, really pop, because we’re running out of neighborhoods, right? [laughs] Ohio City is expanding. Tremont is expanding. Old Brooklyn doesn’t need it. West Park doesn’t- So, I mean, it’s us. I mean, on the west side.

Sarah Nemeth [00:45:12] Yeah. Even Detroit Shoreway. [crosstalk] You are the next-

Rebecca Kempton [00:45:17] Yeah, we’re up and coming. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:45:18] Have you noticed maybe different businesses starting to filter back in over the past few Years?

Rebecca Kempton [00:45:24] Yeah, slowly. There’s been- Some haven’t been successful. You know, there’s been some restaurants and a couple little stores and a bakery, and a couple of them came, and they were only- They weren’t able to make it. But it’s still okay. I mean, I bad for that particular business owner, but that it’s a thought process that they even want to come, you know? So that’s- Yeah. So it’s slowly starting to happen. Yeah.

Sarah Nemeth [00:45:51] It’s encouraging even to think about coming here, because maybe, I don’t know how many years ago, maybe no one would have thought to come.

Rebecca Kempton [00:45:59] Even ten years ago, even ten years ago, people weren’t. And, like, on Clark Avenue, a lot of the buildings, especially from 41st to 65th, if you just drive down the street and you kind of glance, it just looks like kind of a poor rundown, but if you drive slowly and you look at the buildings, they have an amazing amount of architecture. There’s a lot of them were built with- The shopkeepers had their stores on the bottom, and they lived up above. But it’s not just a square building with apartments on top. They have turrets. They have bump-outs. They’re fascinating. And I just believe, I just want to see them restored before I’m 99. [laughs] I want to see them looking in a way that- And I hope that they’re not all full of bars and restaurants either. If I want that, I’ll just go to Ohio City. But, I mean, I don’t, I mean, we all have to have bars and restaurants. I mean, that’s part of a thriving community, but I would just love to see little shops of some sort or something. And I know that it’s hard because little shops can barely make it now. You know, I mean, you have big box retailers closing, because the way our country is changing. But I just would love to see those restored and to be some type of, you know, businesses that people could walk, you know, right off the sidewalk, right directly into them. Some of them are amazing. A lot of them have aluminum siding on ’em, or they’ve been covered up or, you know, the tiles have been painted. But I’d like to think that someday, you know, eventually, there’ll be a Friends of Clark Avenue and it’s restored.

Sarah Nemeth [00:47:32] I always tell people, when you go down the main street, look up. Don’t just look at street level. Look up. And it’s worth it.

Rebecca Kempton [00:47:41] It is. It is.

Sarah Nemeth [00:47:42] So you have a lot of opinions about the community-

Rebecca Kempton [00:47:48] [laughs] Imagine that!

Sarah Nemeth [00:47:50] In what aspect are you involved?

Rebecca Kempton [00:47:53] So I- From the time I was a little kid, my mom was involved in, like, local politics and stuff and block clubs and stuff. So she always dragged me to those meetings, and I used to just want to leave, so. But somehow I just, it got on me. And in, I’m not sure the year now, it’s been about ten years ago, our elected city council person was pulling money from, at that time our CDC was called Clark Metro. It was kind of funny because I thought I was involved, right? Because I read the paper and I voted. So I’m involved, and you read the local paper, the Plain Press, and this little thing’s happening and that little thing’s happening. But then when I found out that this councilman was going to pull this money away, I’m like, wait a minute. This is money that belongs here. This is our neighborhood. And so I started going to some meetings and asking questions, and one thing led to another, and there was a lot of difference of opinions. And I got involved in trying to recall that council person, an actual physical recall. And it was a strange experience. It was fascinating. You know, there were the people that supported him, and then there were the people that didn’t. And then there were the people that took it personal and the people that didn’t. But. So there were about 20 people involved in the general part of it, doing the work. There were about six people, including myself, involved in doing most of the work. We had about $1,900 in in-kind donations and about $800 in cash. They spent almost $50,000, and we lost by 70 votes. So it was an experience, like, if now at my age and more understanding political ways, would I necessarily get involved in a recall again? Probably not. But at the same time, I don’t regret it at all because I believe that the issues that we had with this gentleman were legitimate. And I think that, I mean, it’s a great experience. But, you know, a lot of it was kind of, like, on passion, like principle. And it was cool to be a part of that and to raise that up in yourself and to just, you know, I would tell people, I don’t care if you vote my way for the recall or you vote against the recall. Please just vote. I used to say that all the time. Please just come out and vote, because at the end of the day, it’s, you know, it’s about you. Of course the vote happened. It was- The election was set for December 18. So how many people want to vote right before Christmas when you can’t get them to vote on a warm, sunny day? It hadn’t snowed all year. Did it snow? Yes. [laughs] But so, so that was like, my first, you know, it was like a year process, you know, from getting involved and finding out what’s going on and going through it. And then I just, you know, I stayed involved then. Metro West at that time was called Stockyards - Clark-Fulton - Brooklyn Centre, and it was an office of Detroit Shoreway because we had no CDC because said councilman the previous year had closed it. And so community development dollars coming into a community and the benefit of them in general is a good thing. There’s always problems, and it’s not always just a perfect match, but- So I started coming to meetings to find out, like, what it was gonna look like. Why were we going to be associated with Detroit Shoreway? Why couldn’t we just have our own CDC? You know, why, why, why, why? And so then I was asked if I would consider becoming a member of the advisory council. So I did that with some other really great people in the neighborhood. And then, so from an advisory council, like any other organization, then you would have committees. And so we had housing committee and a safety committee and a green space committee. I was on all the committees. I mean, sometimes we would come to the meetings and it would be the same three people. Hey, saw you yesterday. How’s it going? [laughs] I mean, because, you know, it was new and you have to bring people in. And also, people are jaded or they are, their lives- They care, but they also care about feeding their kids and getting up in the morning. So there has to be priorities. So for you to get people involved, you have to show them why it’s important to them. And it takes time because, you know, the community had already been without the CDC for almost two years, and we were supposedly being serviced by the Stockyard or by Tremont. But people that were less affluent or Spanish didn’t feel that going to Tremont was gonna be helpful to them because they felt that it was, whether it was or wasn’t, they felt that there was, like, a bias, you know? And I don’t really know why people didn’t go. I think people did go to Stockyard some, but for whatever help, but it didn’t matter. So it was exciting to be part of it from the beginning, you know, like, and to help set the policies and to help set just the tone. And it was so resident-driven the first four years that this office was open. Now it’s called Metro West, and sometimes not to the- You know, I don’t think that the director of Detroit Shoreway was always exactly happy with that, or maybe even the council people, because we were like, it’s resident-driven. We’re gonna drive it. Of course, there has to be other things or there’s laws or- But, you know, we really tried to drive it so that all those things were happening but also encompassing the residents. Yeah, but a lot of times that doesn’t happen in CDCs. It comes from the top down. Like, the CDC will tell the community, well, this is what we’re doing for you. Thanks. We didn’t really want that.

Sarah Nemeth [00:54:25] [inaudible]

Rebecca Kempton [00:54:26] Yeah, yeah. And so, you know, it’s a fine balance. It’s hard, though, in all fairness, because sometimes, just like I said, we can be the three of us in some of those meetings. You know, if you don’t get the resident involvement, it’s easy for the residents’ needs not to be truly, you know, met, because you don’t know what they are. You know. I mean, you think if you’re in a position, you think, well, this will help, and this will help. If you’re not really being told and guided, how do you know? So it’s up to the residents, too. Apathy is a problem. You know, we’re like, the one of the lowest voting. The voter turnout for Ward 14, Clark-Fulton, you know, being that is one of the low. It’s the lowest on the west side, for sure. And I think even a few times, it’s the lowest in the city ever.

Sarah Nemeth [00:55:14] Wow.

Rebecca Kempton [00:55:14] It’s amazing. Believe me, I’ve knocked on a lot of doors. Just vote, please. Just vote. Just. Just please vote. [crosstalk] Yeah. I used to tell people, like, well, my grandmother was born, she didn’t have the right to vote. Like, hello, that’s just two generations away. It’s not like in some history book. Think about it. And they just look at me, you know, I mean, I would just- You know, and I would tell people things, too. Like, not so much city politics, but federal politics or whatever. I mean, I would try to. A person told me, you can’t say this. I’m like, what about your entitlements? You know, what about this? What about that? These are the people that are gonna make those decisions. You know, be informed. You can’t say that. I’m like, well, why? It’s the truth. No, you know? Well, it’s not, you know. Well, it doesn’t say, you know, to say that they haven’t entitlements. Well, they do, you know. Yeah, I see why Adam told you. I just always just say what’s on my mind. Oh, that’s bad. [laughs]

Sarah Nemeth [00:56:21] No, that’s fine with me. I was told that you were involved in the City Repair mural.

Rebecca Kempton [00:56:27] Oh, I was. Yeah. So, so then being part of that green space committee, which I didn’t go to those meetings that much because I went to a lot of other ones. The Neighborhood Connections received or had set money aside to try to foster this program, City Repair, that had been started in Portland, Oregon, that was just about people taking responsibility and taking back their public space. And there would be some money, we could do something. And so my block club was pretty active. We’re not quite as active now, but at the time, we were really active. And again, pretty driven. Like, we didn’t just, you know, just for sake- People will come to block club meetings, or they’ll come to big community meetings when they’re upset about something. So it’s crisis driven. Right? So we would have bigger meetings because people would say this or that. So one of the big things that was always upsetting was this alleyway that was between Newark and Hyde. And so because it was overgrown and, you know, it’s, like, a lot of alleys. This part of the city has a lot of alleys. The whole city doesn’t. And I don’t really know why the whole city doesn’t, but-

Sarah Nemeth [00:57:45] Yeah, it’s confusing driving.

Rebecca Kempton [00:57:47] Yeah, yeah. And they were used for access, and people used to put their trash there. And then years ago, it was, like, for the iceman and the milkman and all that. Isn’t that so cool? So. But, yeah, so we have a lot of alleys, and. And what happens is that people build privacy fences, and they live within their yards, and they put the privacy fence up, and they just don’t look at their neighbor, and they don’t look at the trash, and they don’t look at anything, so they ignore it because they don’t see it, you know, so it’s- And so when you have, you know, 18 people on a block that do that, after a while, you know, that’s where the thugs are gonna go, or that’s where the graffiti is gonna go, what have you. So. So this block club we were, you know, we did some cleanups. They were organized through the CDC or through the council office or whatever. And so we got to go to this- I was invited to go to this one meeting about City Repair, and they’re like, oh, just dream as big as you want a dream, you know? And. And it’s kind of fun, but it also seems like, really, I know we’re not building a roller coaster somewhere, so why? So, like, I’m. They always. They’re like, I’m no fun. You know, I’m too pragmatic. I’m like, I’m sorry. So. But, I mean, just listening and thinking about the possibility. So I brought the information back to the block club and said, you know, is there something that we could do? So then they said, well, maybe we could do something in the alley. And so we said, okay, so there’s always a lot of meetings. [laughs] Let me just say that. There’s always a lot of meetings. So, okay, so we go to another meeting and back and forth. And so we said, well, if we did do something in an alley, you know, what would we do? And we just- At first, it was just about cleaning it and, like, making it safer, and maybe we could trim the trees and maybe we could paint something. And it was just a discussion that was just ongoing. And then I remember that one of the residents on the street, she’s in her nineties - she’s lived there since in the ’50s - she said that there is a stream that runs through there. The stream runs actually north-south but there’s a stream. So we said that, and it just, like, oh, we could paint a stream on the alley to represent, you know, the stream that’s under there. And since this, in Portland and so many other places they were painting on the ground, it seemed like, you know, an amazing thing. Like, oh, yeah, we could do that. So we spent the next, like, four months planning and figuring out what to do and what. And how would we do it? Would we use stencils? Would we use this kind of paint? I mean, we had an artist that was working with us, so. [crosstalk] Yes, Michael Mishaga is a local mural artist, an artist, and he does mural projects. And so he was actually volunteering with Neighborhood Connections. He’d been brought in, and he just happened to be in our group. It was just like fate. It was wonderful. So he said- So we just talked about what this would look like, maybe. And then he drew a concept, or he painted a concept of, like. And it was just so perfect. It was just blue water with a lot of rocks that sort of looked dimensional. So sort of like if you looked down, you were kind of looking into it. So then we just, that was it. It was just so amazing. And the City Repair folks and Neighborhood Connections folks were working with the city and they were preparing and they were getting all the permits and things were moving along. And then we took a lot of initiative. We tried to- We wanted to get this street sweeper, but then they said we couldn’t have it. So then we, our neighbor’s son brought or borrowed from his job like a little Bobcat, like a little, you know, I don’t know what they’re called. You know, they clean stuff. You know, like they move. Like an earth mover. [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it’s a small, but it’s a mini one, you know? So he did it and we were able, with money from City Repair, I mean we just had to donate like a, pay for the transport of it and the gas. And so he was there all afternoon. And they actually, we widened our alley by almost a foot, almost a half inch on each side because you figure maybe 50, 75 years of sediment slowly, slowly, slowly had narrowed the space. We took out over 23 tons of trash and debris, which [crosstalk], yeah, which included, in all fairness, did include like tree limbs and stuff like that. And we were on a waitlist. We’re still on it with the city to get the - Six years later, we’re still on the list - to get the trees trimmed in the back. And so we- Part of our grant, we used to pay somebody that lives here locally to trim the trees. And we still wanted a canopy effect. We just didn’t want it so dark. So we were so excited. I just can’t tell you. It was so exciting. So then we tried to get the street cleaner again. Okay, we’re gonna get it. And the street cleaner comes and he tells one of my neighbors, well, I can’t fit down- They said, don’t worry. They stopped him in the middle of the street. They’re like, you have to go this way and go straight down. They stopped him in the middle of the street. I mean, it was just fabulous. So we were supposed to start- The kickoff was supposed to start on a Saturday with a party, and then the work would start Sunday or whatever. And it was a ten day project. On Tuesday afternoon, we were told, and I think it was Tuesday, but it was in the afternoon like that. What would happen if we didn’t get the permit? Excuse you? What do you mean what would happen? I mean, haven’t you been going all these meeting? Well, they’re a little hesitant to approve it. I don’t understand. By Thursday morning, Well, would you have a plan B? No, we don’t have a plan B. Thursday afternoon, they’re not giving us the permit. Why? Supposedly because it’s unsafe. People will drive down the alley and they might slide. Really? Or because they’re gonna drive down the alley and they’re gonna be paying attention to what’s on the surface of the alley instead of driving. So I was like, if you’re gonna lie to me, please tell me a better lie than this because this is not working for me. [laughs] They’re doing this all across the country. They’ve done it in something like 38 cities, seven states. Why is it not dangerous there? They did it in Minneapolis, which is similar. Like, their weather’s worse in some types, but, I mean, okay, a lot of similarities. So they’re like, well, we’re gonna have to figure out something else, you know? And the people from City Repair, Tom O’Brien, Adele DiMarco Kious, they were just- They were absorbing my negativity and the disappointment from everybody else. And really they were really putting up a good front. Like, it’s okay, you know? And, no, it’s really not okay. So we said, well, she said, well, do you think. I think it was Adele who originally had kind of said it, she said, well, do you think we could paint on private property? I think. Well, we’re not painting a river on private property, you know, or a stream, it was kind of like. So we. So if there was a stream, in theory, what would be next to a stream would be woods. Right? So we said, yeah, with no really, concept of what it was gonna look- I mean, we just knew that it was going to maybe be woods and some butterflies and some things, you know? And so we just started, and the artist came, and what the artists did for us most of all was they painted the backdrops and the backgrounds. Have you been in the alley?

Sarah Nemeth [01:05:51] I looked at pictures of it. Well, it’s really impressive.

Rebecca Kempton [01:05:56] It’s exciting. It’s so exciting. So they started, you know, they started with, we didn’t even have permission. We didn’t have- We had permission from, like, six people or something. And we really. Nobody knew, you know, what it was gonna do. So we just kept, like, talking to people. Well, I’m not sure. It’s like, well, it’s got graffiti on it now. Like, why would you really, you know, come on, you know, we’re gonna paint it. You don’t have to. And so slowly. So that would have been, like, on Saturday, and then Sunday, we got a couple more people, and then people came out and worked. I mean, it was amazing. A lot of people came out and worked. And then some people, the third day, like, this lady, she’s like, I can’t paint. And she brought out food. You know, she brought out rice and beans, and so she brought food. So then we just kept driving it. And, like, you know, my one particular neighbor who was just, I don’t even know how much we would have got done without him, he kept talking to people, like, come on, let us do it. Let us do it. And at the end, well, halfway, at the halfway point, we had everybody except two people. And then a little beyond the halfway part, then we got participation from every single person in the alley, because it was so beautiful, and it was so incredible. And so what they were doing is they were painting the backgrounds, and then there were other people that had volunteered, and they were just helping people, like, you know, you can do this. You can draw. You know, you can draw a straight line. And my one neighbor kept saying, oh, I can prime. I can do all the grunt work, but I can’t paint a tree or I can’t paint this. And I’m like, oh, well, can you. Can you do this? Can you put a straight line? And he was like, yeah. And they’re like, well, can you make one over here? A little curvy? Yeah. Okay, now fill it in, you got a tree. [laughs] And then, you know, they had kids doing it, and it wasn’t- We were criticized by another group that we didn’t have enough kids. There isn’t a lot of little children that live over there. But on the weekend, all the kids came out, and people’s grandkids came and different things. It was amazing. People came. There’s a few people that live on Newark that have lived there a long time, and they called their- They called their family members, and they were coming there, and they’re walking around, and they couldn’t believe it. And it was just, you know, people were happy. And, you know, We didn’t just let the kids just paint, like, everywhere. They could paint anything that they wanted, but we tried to keep it in relationship to what it was. And I would, like, see these kids, like, painting a flower in the sky, and I’m like, oh, my God. Oh, my God. And the artist, he’s like, Rebecca, it’s only paint. Don’t worry. Don’t worry, we’ll fix it. And then somebody would sit down with him. It’s like, okay, we’re gonna paint flowers. We gotta sit down, you know, and it didn’t matter that they didn’t have to be beautiful for me, but I said, I’m Norman Rockwell, it’s like, I like things to look great, realistic. [laughs] But it’s not just my mural. Right? And so it worked from there, and it was just amazing. It was just amazing. And then the following year, then we worked on the next alley, and then they wanted to continue on the theme, and I was a little- I’m like, are you sure? You know, like, it’s your alley. It doesn’t have to be like that. But they just loved it. And although there’s the second alley, there’s a lot of differences. It’s still the same thing. It’s like an outside space with, you know, trees and birds and, you know, and one side is supposed to be sunrise and the other side is supposed to be sunset. You know, that’s how come you get, like, the blues and then the purples and the stuff. So, I mean, like, the oranges and the yellow for, like, sunrise and then the blues and the purples for sunset. And, you know, you could- It’s never gonna be finished because it’s so vast that you can go and paint a butterfly today or, you know, paint little bugs, and it’s just amazing. And then the third year we started because I- Not just me, but I took it, like, personal. Like, why can’t we paint on the street? Like, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I mean, I need things to make sense. I’m like, I just need it. So a lot of it was egos at city hall. I mean, and that’s what it turned out to be. Certain people that helped make these decisions were not included in those initial meetings. And so they weren’t- They didn’t want to let it happen because it wasn’t their idea, because it wasn’t their idea or didn’t have their stamp of approval initially, or they were slighted. You understand? It’s your job. It’s not about your ego. [laughs] And so one of the- I worked with our councilman here, who is Brian Cummins, but the joining councilman at the time, Joe Cimperman, I was told that he had a lot of, you know, he drove a lot of stuff to do with the arts, you know, and his wife worked for LAND studio and stuff. And they’re like, well, try to get Joe on board. Try to get Joe on board. And I kept trying to get him to come over here and to walk through the alley. And we sometimes had varied differences of opinions about things, so we didn’t even- You know, I mean, you know, there was a respect, but we didn’t always agree. So. But so finally he was like, okay, well, you got 15 minutes ’cause I’m going someplace else. And so, I mean, it only took like five minutes because it’s so amazing. I’m like, look at this. This is community art. This is real, you know? And I showed him one of the neighbors. One of the neighbors has a chain-link fence, so therefore, obviously, we couldn’t paint their fence. And that first year - so that happened in the fall - so in the spring, I remember that I went through the alley to show somebody something, and they had taken a board, and they’d used two different colors of spray paint, or three, and spray painted the board. And then they attached their numbers for their address and then attached that board onto their chain-link fence. So now they were a part of it. See, that makes me cry now. And I’ve told the story and see it. Cause it’s like, yes! This is what we’re doing, folks. This is what it is. They wanted to be a part of it. And so when I, you know, I did that spiel and I showed him the board and he’s like, okay. So we walked the rest of the way, and it took a while, but we still- We did manage to get limited, limited access from the city of Cleveland as a pilot to, you know, to allow for only courts and alleys. They won’t allow it on any streets yet. [crosstalk] Yeah, you know, because it’s still dangerous, you see. But I- You know, and Joe and also Brian Cummins and he- They’re like, you know, let’s just. Let’s get some successes under our belt here and show some stuff. And then, I mean, I don’t know that I would get- I mean, I would support if somebody wanted to do it, you know, but it would have to be another group, another thing just to say that. But, you know, to move it out to a secondary street. I mean, I understand, not on Brookpark Road or, you know, not downtown or something, but on a secondary street, you know, like a residential street or something. Why? Why couldn’t we have it? You know, so. But let’s start. Some of the- It didn’t get in committee. It didn’t get full participation. Two of the committee members voted against it. One of the city council members, she voted against it because - Dona Brady - because she wasn’t going to have refusal of the design. And I’m like, I’m sorry. It’s residents. The public is in the public. [laughs] So I mean, it still passed without her vote. And I believe. I think that Zack Reed voted against it. I don’t remember, but I- Because he was just concerned because there’s been a lot of projects, like, we have garden, a lot of gardens in the city. It was a big, like, five years ago, like, gardens. And then a lot of gardens aren’t taken care of. So his thoughts was, if we allow something like this, how’s it going to be maintained or how is it going to be taken care of? But it’s paint. You know, if it doesn’t get maintained, it slowly- It slowly washes away. I mean, that’s what happens. It’s not like, you know, tomato plants and stuff that need to be cut down. So, you know, but it was very exciting. It was very exciting. And we, you know, we went to city council meetings a couple times and committee meetings. And then the day it was supposed to, we went one time, and then they pulled it right before it got voted on because it still wasn’t right. And I was just like, oh, my goodness. But so a couple of the neighbors and the artist, Michael Mishaga, he was very, you know, he went to a lot of the meetings with us, and we talked, but it shouldn’t be that hard. But it also felt good, you know, to be like, oh, we fought city hall and we won. [laughs] But city hall, you know, it is our city hall, so, you know, it shouldn’t always be a fight like that, you know?

Sarah Nemeth [01:14:52] It’s an amazing story. I love just looking at the pictures. Now I have to go see it.

Rebecca Kempton [01:14:58] Oh, yeah, you do. And make sure that you go, that you understand that there’s two. So. So there’s Hyde Court, and then there’s the one that’s between Hyde and Robert. And, like, I love them both. Like, sometimes I want to say, like, I love one before the other, but I, you know, because the one that’s in the first one. But, you know, I just, I love them both. And there’s this one space and the second one where my neighbor is, it’s right outside their house. And these little kids that were part of a daycare, I believe, they painted, and they painted these flowers. And this one kid, I think he painted, like, a thousand ladybugs. Like, really? Like, why are all these ladybugs? And I was like, oh. And I, and I kind of made a face at it. And my neighbor, I mean, she told me, she said, I love it. And I thought, okay, I don’t. And she said, she really put me in my place. And it made. She was so right. And I always look at it so differently now. She’s like, those kids did it, and it made them so happy. So every time I see it, I don’t care that the flowers are ugly. She’s like, I see it the way they see it. And I was like, you’re right. Like, okay, I deserve to be checked there. Cause it’s not like it doesn’t have to be perfect. Cause it’s theirs. She’s like, every time they drive down this alley or their mom wants them to walk down here or when they’re 17 and they wanna go tag something, they were going to remember that. It was a good lesson for me personally. And she’s absolutely right. And I look at it that way now, but I love it. I can’t wait till you see it. You’ll see.

Sarah Nemeth [01:16:36] Really impressive. So thank you so much.

Rebecca Kempton [01:16:38] Oh, you’re welcome.

Sarah Nemeth [01:16:39] This is great. Thank you.

Rebecca Kempton [01:16:40] Thank you.

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