Carl Robson discusses his experiences as a doctor in Cleveland and elsewhere as well as his deep interest in Ethiopian culture and people. He has lived and worked in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood for several decades. Additionally, he discusses his philanthropic endeavors such as providing housing, jobs, and educations for numerous Ethiopians as well as running an Ethiopian restaurant here in Cleveland.


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Robson, Carl (interviewee)


King, Kris (interviewer); Overman, Mary-Kay (interviewer)


St. Clair - Superior Neighborhood



Document Type

Oral History


77 minutes


Kris King [00:00:00] Okay. I'm Chris King, and I'm here with Mary-Kay Overman. We're here to interview doctor Carl Robeson. This is July 12, 2006. Well, as I said, we're very happy that you could come and be part of this interview. And so we're going to be just asking you a series of questions and hoping that you can elaborate on your answers and give us some background about you and your practice and what you find is the most important thing about your practice and where your location is and the community itself. So I guess what we'll do is start off with your background. Where were you born?

Carl Robson [00:00:46] Morristown, New Jersey.

Kris King [00:00:48] You want to tell us a little bit about your background in your family?

Carl Robson [00:00:56] My parents were basically social work type people. My dad was a chemistry major in college, got his masters in chemistry, and then never did chemistry a day in his life. He started running community centers, and my mother's training was in social work. And they were running a community center in Morristown, New Jersey, when I was born there. And then when I was a year old, moved to Rockford, Illinois. And then I remember Montague House was a place they were running there and then to Chicago. And he did a variety of things. And that's where I went my early years in school and then a suburb of Chicago. I graduated from high school and went to the College of Wooster. And when I was going there, figured out that maybe I would try to go into medicine. So I applied to case Western Reserve University and went there. It was then known, of course, as Western Reserve University. It had not yet joined Case, graduated in 66 with an MD degree, and went to Dallas, Texas, where I did what they don't have anymore, a rotating internship. Now, they could just call it residency right from the beginning, but that was an old fashioned rotating internship through all the specialties, internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics. And then this was Vietnam era. And being a conscientious objector, I had decided to do alternative service. As it turns out, I wouldn't have needed to because I wasn't going to be drafted at that point. They were stopping the draft, but I went ahead and spent two years on an Indian reservation in North Dakota with the US Public Health Service. By that time, I'd been married, had first child there. My wife was interested in horses. We brought one back with us to Ohio. She was from Massillon, and her father, a surgeon there, had Lou Gehrig disease. So we thought we'd come to this area. I hadn't done...

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Carl Robson [00:03:14] ...care. You'd see the patients when they were well enough to keep an appointment, but I didn't see them when they were hospitalized. We had a separate walk in system. You didn't see them when they were sick. They couldn't reach you after hours. So I didn't feel really like a doc. It wasn't really the complete, fulfilling experience to be able to provide comprehensive care. So I went into my own private practice in 76, but I was satisfied with the neighborhood, so I didn't go far. I found I didn't have any money to set up a private practice, but I found space that wasn't being used in Eliza Bryant Nursing Home up on the third floor. So I opened a practice there on a shoestring and worked in emergency rooms to help supplement the income till the practice build up. And ended up staying there about eight years and finally found the building I was in until very recently at the corner of E. 62nd street and St. Clair. And that was for sale at a fairly reasonable price from the Croatian Migration Society, Milkovich and Bosilovich. There was a third one, a member of that group, who had passed a little before that. And to me, it was sort of like, you know, you play monopoly. You've got boardwalk and Park Place on one end, and around the corner you have the low rent district, Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue. This was sort of like Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue. But I got the building there on the corner, and the first thing I did was remodel the one half of the downstairs for a dentist and a podiatrist, and they moved in. And then I fixed up the other half for me and started practice there in 1984. And I was seeing any and all comers, you know, a lot of my. I mean, my patients from down the street on Addison Road, where I'd been for the past eight years, of course, followed me up there. A lot of my patients were African Americans, and I didn't have too many of the neighborhood Slovenians, Puerto Ricans, people from Appalachia, originally in the practice early on. But gradually it became more and more mixed as I stayed there and rented out the floors upstairs, the apartments. I was living in Hinkley at the time, where I had been raising two kids, and we had a little room down there. My wife had pursued her interest in horses. In 1982, my mother dragged me to Ethiopia. She had been there a few times on national education association tours to Africa. Ethiopia was always her favorite country. Then it fell to a communist dictator, and she found a tour. All the American tours stopped, but she found one in 1982, saw it advertised from two to 20 people they would take. And she persuaded a girlfriend of hers to go along. April 71. And then she called me up and asked if I would come and take care of these two old ladies on their trip. And I told her I really wasn't interested because I hadn't even really seen that much of the United States yet. What was I interested in going to Ethiopia for? But I went, and it was just a phenomenal experience. Within two days, we were in this town called Lalibela. That had these eleven churches carved out of solid rock in the around 1200. And they were practicing this Ethiopian Christian orthodox religion that had been there since about the year 300. And it looked unchanged. I mean, it was just like walking into the Bible. It was just an unbelievable experience. And I became really fascinated with the country, read a lot about it, became kind of a hobby of mine. On the plane on the way back, I befriended this Ethiopian girl who was just leaving home. She just graduated from high school, and she was going by herself to Arizona to go to college. So I saw that she got there okay, changing planes and kept in touch. And when things got difficult for her, I offered her a place to live in the apartment in the building. She transferred to Cleveland State University and worked part time in the office. Then worked at Tony Roma's various places and worked her way through school. And I had this continuing interest in Ethiopia then. And with a friend of mine who'd been a medical missionary in Ethiopia for 17 years, we arranged to bring some more students, Ethiopian students. And of course, we put them in that building that I was working in. And there was a hall up on the third floor. When a fellow named Knauss had built the building in 1904 as a two story building. That's what was planned. But all the people in the neighborhood persuaded him to build a hall, make a third floor and build a hall, a recreational hall, because really there wasn't any church in the neighborhood. And, you know, there's no tv or anything like that then. So he did. He complied, and he built this big hall up on the third floor, which was always managed by the people who had the bar, which was one of the the storefronts downstairs. And this hall was still there. So we preserved some of the hall. We put a couple apartments on each side of it. And then I decided to, just for fun, we decorated it Ethiopian style. We built a little Ethiopian tukul hut inside. And I called it Menelik Hall. After this famous emperor of Ethiopia. Who had had a big hall where he used to feed thousands of Ethiopians. And that just started a long series of students living in the building. And then we started buffet suppers, Ethiopian buffet suppers, about once every two or three months. We charged $10, developed a mailing list, invite people, come and socialize, and have an Ethiopian buffet supper and a slideshow on something to do with Ethiopia. And it was a lot of fun. People looked forward to it. Things weren't going so well with my marriage. Jean and I got separated, and I moved into an apartment in the building. And then around that time, Doctor Reynolds, my Ethiopian missionary friend, brought a nurse from Ethiopia to my office to see if she could get a job there while she studied to pass her boards in Ohio. And her name was Sunaid. I gave her a job, and then some years later, we got married. And, I mean, she's been a phenomenal helper on there. She's a workaholic as it is. Her brother managed to come in 1989. We'd been having the dinners for a couple of years then, and he thought that we ought to open a restaurant. And I said, mike, restaurants always go belly up. That's not a good business to be in. So the shoe store next door, it used to be Mandel's shoe store for 40 years. Before that, it had been a bowling alley, Bundy's recreation center. When it was built in, I don't know, 1917 or so, it was for sale. So we bought that and spent two years tearing out all the drop ceilings to get back to the original tin ceiling, putting a kitchen in, and made it into an Ethiopian restaurant. And then Mike managed it for a good number of years. And we got special visas for Sunaid's sister. Two of her sisters and her mother and her cousin's maid came, and they were working in the restaurant, which we opened in November of 91. And Sunaid and I were living in an apartment in the building. Eventually, I was able to purchase the shop behind the big building, now that the original building is on the corner, 6129 St. Clair. The restaurant was next door, 6125. And then right behind that, off 62nd street, was a shop where we moved. We remodeled it and made it into a house that we're living in now. There was another little house behind that that had been moved there after the big explosion. When was that? 1944. 61st, 62nd street, when East Ohio Gas Company's defective tanks blew up and then later purchased one more building, a little apartment building, a three suite apartment building at 1052 East 62nd street. So I've got a conglomeration of buildings on the corner there. Anyway, we moved into that one that we remodeled. This had taken some years to do, I think we moved in there in the late nineties, and we'd struggled along with the restaurant the whole time. Mike finally burned out because he was going to grad school full time while he was running the restaurant. And I think Sunaid's sisters did too. You know, they variously left for other jobs, and we hired some more people. The Ethiopian community in town is not very large. It's about 250 people altogether, I would estimate, and really hasn't increased. Some come, some go, but we were lucky enough to be able to find at least waitresses who were living here in Cleveland, who were Ethiopians. And we struggled to get cooks, you know, as our cooks left, we would get. We actually brought a cook from Ethiopia one time and another Ethiopian from Denver. Somehow we managed to stay open. And I was right, it's a difficult business. I don't think we've ever made any significant profit. It's been a nice place. A lot of people in Cleveland like the place. We put a lot of people through school working there, and it's more or less paid its own way, but it hasn't done much more than that since it opened than in 91. Sunaid and I had a daughter, Ainsley, who was born in 92. And meanwhile the practice was busy. I stayed busy, seeing, I don't know what the average number of patients per day, but it became a really busy practice. About, probably 50% were on Medicaid welfare, maybe 15% Medicare, and then the rest all had private insurance. And it was really very satisfying. This was a private practice. I was on call all the time, and I hospitalized my patients at Mount Sinai for 20 years, tried to keep that place open, stayed there. I was one of the last guys out when it finally ceased to be a hospital anymore. That was, what, about 19? This was about 2000, right around that time, and then switched over to St. Vincent Charity Hospital, where I'd been hospitalizing my patients since then. But it's been a very gratifying practice, because I see the patients not only when they're well, but when they're sick, there's just a lot of continuity, put them in the hospital, take care of them. And it's just been very gratifying, I think, for patients as well as for me to see the full spectrum of their care. And this is a full family practice, so I'm taking care of newborns all the way up to people in their nineties. And a couple of them 100 or more. The charts have gotten a lot thicker over the years. I've seen patients and their kids and their grandkids and sometimes great grandkids, but it's been very rewarding, and I think the patients have really appreciated the continuity of care, too. In the past few years, it's been difficult to stay there financially because the insurance company payments have not increased, I would say, for the past six or seven years, whether it's state Medicaid insurance or private insurance. And yet the overhead has dramatically gone up because the, the cost of health insurance for me and the employees, the cost of malpractice insurance, utilities, salaries, everything has dramatically increased. And I found I was living on what meager retirement fund I had tried to set up. So I finally had to, last year, bail out, and I went right back to Hough Norwood, now NEON, still in the area, to see if they could hire me, which they did, and they let me stay right there in my office, seeing all my same patients. But this time, I had a salary, and they could make it work because they have some special billing status, a federal qualified health center status, and they're allowed to charge and receive probably three, four times as much per patient visit as a private physician is. So they were able to pay me a salary and keep the place going. And then they recently moved me around the corner to 55th street, right across the street from the building I started in 69. They've got another building there. So that's where I've been the past few weeks since we moved. And I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with my old office now. I'm looking for suggestions. Any ideas?

Kris King [00:19:40] Your old office. Now, if I can keep this straight.

Carl Robson [00:19:44] Is in the building 6129 St. Clair, right on the corner of St. Clair and 62nd.

Kris King [00:19:52] You're out of that now, and you're over there. This NEON, as you call it, is this that clinic that's on Euclid Avenue? Is that at the free clinic?

Carl Robson [00:20:05] No, not the free clinic. They have several buildings around town. Now. They have one. Their main building is the one at 8300 Hough that I moved into in 1974. And the original one, a Newton D. Baker center, is pretty much falling apart. It's beyond repair. But the one I'm in now is right across the street from that. In addition, I think they have a facility on Euclid Avenue near Shaw High School. They have one somewhere further out around miles. They have one Collinwood and 123rd and Superior. They have about five centers scattered around town.

Kris King [00:20:56] Now, this Hough Norwood. So you're at the Hough Norwood Clinic now, right. That's where you. This is processed by NEON?

Carl Robson [00:21:06] Yeah, it's. It's. Its name has changed. It's the same outfit.

Kris King [00:21:10] Yeah.

Carl Robson [00:21:10] They're now called NEON.

Kris King [00:21:13] Can we go back to some of your earlier history?

Carl Robson [00:21:17] I mean, it's fantastic.

Kris King [00:21:19] You read like an encyclopedia. It'd be great to have you as a professor because you could take good notes. I like to go back to you. Born in Morristown. And your father was a doctor?

Carl Robson [00:21:41] No.

Kris King [00:21:42] Well, he was in chemistry, but he got interested in working in community centers, right?

Carl Robson [00:21:44] Yeah, community planning. For most of his career, he was a director of what was called Midwest Community Council on Chicago's Near west side, which was primarily, I think, an African American community. And this led up to about the time of the days of Martin Luther King. There are some interesting stories from that era. Around that time, he also got interested. Oh, he'd done other things. He ran a community newspaper for a while, tried that. But he met a physician from India and got interested in rural healthcare problems in India. He somehow he managed to arrange to build a hospital in India and a clinic, a satellite clinic, and start operating a van, a mobile clinic, so to speak. He got donations through his church in Hinsdale, Illinois, the congregational church. And he went to India, to this area around Mysore, talked to some wealthy plantation owners, and somehow persuaded these guys to donate money for this project, too. Now, how do you do that? How do. You don't know the territory at all? He went there. He was very persuasive. And then he got a hospital in McHenry, Illinois, to agree to do residency training for Indian physicians who would go back and staff this hospital. He persuaded a lot of drug companies to donate pharmaceuticals, and he got this thing up and running, and it just boggles my mind how he was able to do that, not even being from the country himself. But he did that. He was, you know, he was always interested in, as my mother was, in social service of one kind and serving the underserved and whatnot.

Kris King [00:24:22] So that's probably how you.

Carl Robson [00:24:24] I think that was pretty strong in my background. Yeah. Yeah.

Kris King [00:24:28] You mentioned about going to this Indian reservation.

Carl Robson [00:24:32] Yeah. In North Dakota.

Kris King [00:24:34] Right. Would you tell us a little bit more about that experience?

Carl Robson [00:24:38] Well, the public health service lost my application, and as time got near for me to finish my internship, and I hadn't heard from them, and I knew other doctors were getting their assignments. You know, I had applied for a reservation, perhaps in Alaska. Alaska or the northwest or the southwest. All these kind of exciting Indian places to go. And they lost my application. So at the last minute, they got together and gave me what was left over, which was a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota, near the Canadian line, which wasn't considered a very exciting place. Then I got there. It was a rainy day. It was very desolate. It's just out in the prairie, some little rolling hills around there they called Turtle mountains, which were barely hills. And I just thought it was just going to be interesting, but not very exciting experience. It was fantastic. We had 10,000 Chippewa Indians, five physicians, a hospital, and the North Dakota skies just grow on you. And the Indians were a lot of fun. They didn't speak their old native language, except for hello and goodbye. They just spoke English, which made it actually very easy to communicate for us, rather than, say, being on a Navajo reservation. And yet they have all the same kind of reservation problems any other Indian group have. And you really have rural poverty, a lot of alcoholism. They were just finishing cleaning up the tuberculosis on the reservation, and very friendly people. And I had a wonderful time, in fact. And that was general practice. For two years. I tried to arrange to stay on the reservation. I had agreed, worked out an arrangement with the tribal council. They were actually going to pay me a salary to be a private physician on the reservation. And if my wife's father hadn't gotten sick, probably would have stayed there and done just that. I know. It's just a good. A good two years. Yeah.

Kris King [00:26:57] And then after you were there, you came back here.

Carl Robson [00:27:02] Correct.

Kris King [00:27:04] And to set up your own practice, is that correct?

Carl Robson [00:27:08] Well, I knew that I could survive working in emergency rooms, so I came without a job, and I figured that we weren't that far from Massillon. I figured Cleveland would be my best choice to find emergency room work. So I just drew a circle on the map with a compass around Cleveland with what I figured would be about a 30 minutes commute. And then just on that compass line, we just started looking around town to find a place where my wife could bring her horses, live in a more rural area. Even though I was going to be working in Cleveland, one place I happened to look was around Gates Mills. I didn't really know the area at all. And I saw this nice little bungalow, and it looked empty. So I went to the house across the street to ask if it might be available, and a butler came to the door. He said, that, sir, is the doghouse. So I knew I was looking the wrong direction. We ended up in Hinkley, and I found a little place there with eight acres, about a half an hour commute. I-71 had recently opened up, or was just about, I think. Yeah, it had just recently. I don't know how long it been open. Lived there and just. I knew of some emergency rooms around town, and I worked in all kind of little emergency rooms. Forest City Hospital. Did you ever hear of that place? It used to be the old Euclid Glenville hospital before it moved to Euclid general. And a black physician by the name of Lambright and some others got together and opened up Forest City Hospital in that location as basically a primarily African American hospital. Not exclusive, but I would say that's what it mostly was. I worked in that emergency room for, you know, part time for a number of years, St. Luke's and other places. But I hadn't been in town more than about a month before. I talked to a young man who was a patient advocate at Mount Sinai, and he said, oh, there's this great government clinic called Hough Norwood. Why don't you try them? So I called them and landed a job with them. That's how I got started there, because that was perfect for me. It was just an area I wanted. I mean, it's underserved area, and that's what I was looking for. I didn't see myself working out in the suburbs anywhere.

Kris King [00:29:44] So you continue to work in this.

Carl Robson [00:29:46] And I just. And I haven't really gone anywhere since then. I mean, look where I am. I'm across the street from where I started in 1969, and I never went further than maybe a mile or two away from that spot. Just a little triangle, you know, from there to 8300 Hough, up to St. Clair, and then back around the corner.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:30:06] If I recall Cleveland history, 1969, that was right after the Hough riots. Wasn't that 68?

Carl Robson [00:30:10] Oh, yeah, that was an interesting time. Well, you know, at that time, it was a lot of fun. I mean, there were, you know, there were a lot of people walking around that part of town wearing dashikis. In fact, we had one guy came in with four or five women that were supportive, like his harem or something, you know. And people were changing their names, getting all these muslim names. And St. Clair out past, all around, what, between 105th and Superior? Between 105th and Euclid. All these muslim bakeries opened up, and you'd see people standing on the corners, like, there'd be these guys wearing the colors, you know, the red and the yellow and green little hats. And there'd be a small platoon on a corner, there'd maybe be a guy who really looked a little more like a wino standing in front of a taller person who would be a teenager, and then maybe a guy who was ten or eleven, maybe even have a six year old. They'd be in line on a small little platoon on the corner, you know, and he was barking out orders to them. And, of course, there was. That was a time when marijuana was pretty popular, and cocaine really didn't make it big yet until the Reagan years came along. And I remember one of the janitors at Hough Norwood was sneakily raising a marijuana plant out front. You know, he would carefully water this thing every day. It's the same janitor. When Ted Kennedy came to visit the Newton D. Baker Health center, which had to be, oh, I don't know, probably 1971 or somewhere around there, the director, medical director, and the administrator were standing by the front door at the end of the sidewalk, waiting for his limousine to pull up. And by mistake, the limousine stopped at the parking lot entrance and opened up, and Ted Kennedy got out. And the janitor, the same one who was carefully cultivating this, he was a little bit of an alcoholic himself. I don't think he even smoked this stuff, but he just thought it would be kind of fashionable to raise a marijuana plant. He ran to the door and grabbed Kennedy's arm, and he had a carpet, a linoleum knife in his back pocket that it was, I guess, he's going to protect the senator with. And he escorted him up to the building, and I think everybody was so surprised they didn't stop him, you know? But we had very interesting times back then.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:33:07] Would you say the neighborhood? I mean, obviously it's changed, but what are some of the changes you note, and are they good or bad?

Carl Robson [00:33:14] You know, there were. I mean, there were still, I guess, some rough elements. I remember one time at Forest City hospital, I arrived for my shift in the evening, and there was no physician there. And they said, well, he had suddenly left. I said, well, what happened? Well, he went out in the parking lot to. To see somebody who was just brought in by ambulance. And this was the era when people were wearing a lot of stacked heels, and he had this big stacked heel, and somebody in the neighborhood shot the heel off his shoe. There was a gunshot, wounded. Boom. His foot went down, the heel went flying off his shoe. I don't know if it was a random shot or a delivery. He totally disregarded whoever was in the ambulance, just jumped in his car and took off. And you'd, you know, you'd hear gunshots in the night. I guess you could still hear them from time to time, but maybe there were a few more.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:34:11] Now, were you around when Parker Bosley had that restaurant right on Sinclair?

Carl Robson [00:34:16] Yeah. Yeah.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:34:17] What was the story behind that? I know that that was.

Carl Robson [00:34:19] I mean, I don't really know. I know it was a pretty popular. Pretty popular place. And then it burned down, and I really don't know the circumstances. Yeah, yeah. I know. One time he called me up to see if I was interested in selling my place. I think he knew somebody. He said he knew somebody who would be interested in coming in there, but I don't. I think he was. He probably opened up around the time we did. Yeah.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:34:54] What about now?

Carl Robson [00:34:57] You know, across the street from our building is St. Vitus church and school. And we had one family of Ethiopians with three kids. And unlike most Ethiopians, these happen to be Catholics. Most Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians. But I thought, well, maybe we can get them into the school. And I hadn't thought about it. I didn't realize that at that time there were no black kids going to that school at all. This had to be around 1986, 87. 100% caucasian. So we went over and. What was his sister's name? Anne Marie, I think so. She was great. She took the three kids around the various classes, and she said, well, now, students, how many of you are from another country? A lot of these are Croatian kids. And a whole bunch of. Would raise their hand. And how many of you have learned English as a second language? Whole bunch of them raised their hand. And how many of you are Catholics? A whole bunch of them raised their hand, of course, said, well, here we have some students who are from another country. They're learning English as a second language, and they're Catholics, too. And here were these three Ethiopian kids. And so the kids. It's fine with them. The kids went right into school. And that was the first black kids in the school. It caused a little tiny bit of a stir. There were some parents who were upset about that. And one of them called the sister, and she said he was complaining about the kids being in the school. And she said, well, this is a Catholic school. These are Catholics. He said, it's not a Catholic school. He said, this is a Croatian school. Get those kids out of here. But for the most part, they were very well accepted. Anyway, that's how we integrated the St. Vitus school back then.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:37:15] Do you have anything to do with the new school?

Carl Robson [00:37:17] I haven't had any official connection. I've been over to visit it, but we haven't made any specific connection with it.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:37:27] Are you currently fostering anyone from state?

Carl Robson [00:37:31] You know, we have Ethiopians living in the building, and some of them are going to school, so [crosstalk], usually they'll. The portal of entry will frequently be Tri-C. Then they may go to Cleveland State or even Case Western reserve. One of our girls went to Case Western reserve. She got a scholarship there, and then she went to medical school. Case Western Reserve? No, no. She went to medical school in. Down near Dayton. What's the school down there? Anyway, so she graduated from medical school there.

Kris King [00:38:23] Wilberforce?

Carl Robson [00:38:25] No, no, not Wilberforce. I'll think of it in a minute. Anyway, we had a couple who've gone on to pharmacy school.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:38:40] Did they stay in the United States? Are they looking for citizenship?

Carl Robson [00:38:42] Yeah. Ethiopia has been a problematic place since the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 74, and it became a communist country, and it was really a difficult place. There was mass killing of students in 76, high school students and college students in Addis Ababa then. And there was a fairly big exodus of Ethiopians starting around that time. Any way they could get out? Some walked out. Some were able to get out legitimately, and that's when the biggest migration to the United States occurred. Also Europe. And probably there were very few Ethiopians living in the country before that time. And now probably there's about. I don't know if it's half a million, 400,000 across the United States. Most people who come, or who came initially, were hoping to stay long enough for the government to change and then go back home, because Ethiopians truly love their country. It's the only country in Africa that was never a European colony. And they have. Ethiopians are really proud, proud of their heritage and their country. But circumstances just haven't worked out then it's. Even though the regime has changed, the new one is still kind of an authoritarian. They have these votes that aren't real democratic votes, so it's still not real desirable for people to go back, although it's a lot safer than it was in the old days. So there's a variety of ways people come. I mean, some have come on visitor visas and then converted them to, you know, made asylum applications and been accepted. Student visas were common, except that the US government doesn't allow them very easily anymore, at least from Ethiopia.

Kris King [00:40:54] Is there any other place here in America that's a center for the Ethiopians like you are?

Carl Robson [00:41:00] Well, you can't call Cleveland the center. I mean, we've got a little mini center on our corner. The center, the big center for Ethiopians in this country is Washington, DC. That's like Addis Ababa, USA. And in that tri-state area around there, there are probably, oh, up to half the Ethiopians in the country will live in that area. There are places in Washington where you think you were in Ethiopia and going through airports and various other places, you hear a lot of Amharic spoken. It's the Ethiopian language. So there are a lot of Ethiopians there. In general, the number of Ethiopians in a community can be calculated by multiplying the number of Ethiopian restaurants in that town by 2000. It's amazing how accurate that works. Except I cheated in Cleveland. We opened one and we only have 250. But any place else you go, if you find there are, for instance, four Ethiopian restaurants in the town, you know, there's going to be 8000 Ethiopians living around there right now. Columbus, which started off with about, they had a lot of activity, I think, churches bringing in refugees and whatnot. So they developed a big Ethiopian community. I know there were 1600 Ethiopians there about 15, 18 years ago. That's grown to over 16,000 now in Columbus alone. So that's one of the biggest population of Ethiopians in the United states. There are a lot in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Chicago. Atlanta has a big group. New York City has a big group. Those are probably the largest areas where there'll be thousands of Ethiopians in each of those areas.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:42:56] Does Ethiopia have any of the other issues that you hear publicized about in Africa right now, the AIDS crisis?

Carl Robson [00:43:03] Yeah, I mean, they just reflect Africa for that. There's, I don't know what the incidence is in the overall population. Maybe 5% or so. Over half the hospitalizations are AIDS related. I mean, it's a humongous problem there.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:43:25] AIDS in your clinic experience in the past, you know, since 1974, did you say you're 16? Do you see how's that been here in this area?

Carl Robson [00:43:37] You know, I. Over the years, I've had several patients who are HIV positive. Not a lot, maybe an amount that might reflect the overall number in the community, which was one out of every 1500 people or so. And of course, most patients with HIV will end up in one of the. There are some really good treatment centers here in town, like the one at Metro, and I've had some patients who've been in that program, so I haven't. It's not like I've been seeing a lot of people.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:44:20] Your missionary friend in Ethiopia would see a lot more.

Carl Robson [00:44:23] Well, he's here in the United States now, as a matter of fact, he's retired. And so he didn't see any because he left Ethiopia in about, I think by 76, he had come back to the States. So what else can I tell you?

Kris King [00:44:51] Had you ever thought of any specialty rather than what you're doing as family practice?

Carl Robson [00:44:58] Oh, let me tell you, I got into family practice. See, I did a residency in internal medicine, and I was thinking of taking my internal medicine boards. And I'd always been a little bit dissatisfied going through medical school that there just didn't seem to be something of a more general practice orientation. But at the time, I was thinking of taking my internal medicine boards. They started up a brand new specialty in the United States known as family medicine. That was new in the seventies, didn't exist before. There were a lot of general practitioners, but there wasn't any specialty. So when they organized this specialty, they started off by rounding up a lot of people who'd had a good, varied experience and training and letting them take the exam and grandfathering them in as board certified family practitioners, even though they hadn't taken a family practice residency, because there had been no family practice residency, they were just starting it up. So I got together all my little miscellaneous training and experience that I'd had and found out that I qualified. So I, I forgot about taking internal medicine boards. I just went straight and took the family medicine boards in 78, and I've stuck with that ever since. And I never really had any interest in doing any other specialty. That was fine.

Kris King [00:46:42] What if your parents, they really did play a big part. And what you decided to do as an adult now you have two boys?

Carl Robson [00:46:57] I have one daughter now and then previously, I had two daughters and a son.

Kris King [00:47:07] Have any of your children wanted to file on your footsteps?

Carl Robson [00:47:12] Because interestingly enough, interestingly enough, they've all indicated a strong desire to stay away from medicine. I don't know. I guess it just didn't look like a very interesting thing for them. But when I was going to college, I used to work in Idaho in the summertime fighting forest fires to earn a little money. And one of my sons is now a firefighter. And so that was an interest he pursued. He works in Oregon at Deschutes National Forest, and he loves it. And it's probably primarily fire control, firefighting, fire prevention. And after he graduated from Wooster with lackluster grades, he has now gotten straight A’s in a natural resources management program for his second degree that he's been taking out while he's part time while he's been working out there. So that's the closest any kid of mine came to doing anything remotely like what I ever did, you know? But medicine, no, was not the giving.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:48:31] Back to the community.

Carl Robson [00:48:34] Yeah. My daughter now is 13, and she's got no interest in this. Ooh, no.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:48:44] What, does she go to school?

Carl Robson [00:48:46] She goes to Ruffing Montessori? No, I think there's a west side Ruffing, but she goes to the one that's up on Fairhill. Fairmont. Fairmont, yeah, by Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. She was going to Holy Rosary, Montessori, for the first several years, you know, in little Italy, and that's been a really nice experience. Another daughter of mine teaches Spanish in New Jersey, and interestingly, her husband is a lawyer. They both went to the College of Wooster, too. All my kids went to college at Wooster. And Ainsley is. But, you know, she'll look around, see where she wants to go, and then she'll go to Wooster, too. Are you sure it'll be her choice?

Kris King [00:49:38] It'll be her choice.

Carl Robson [00:49:39] No, I'd be happy to let her look at other places before she goes to Wooster. That's fine. My son in law, who is a lawyer, has just got back from his second or third visit to Guantanamo Bay, where he and his dad, who is also a lawyer, have been taking care of a couple of the prisoners down there.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:50:09] So does he have any thoughts on that?

Carl Robson [00:50:12] Well, he and his dad published on the Seton Hall University website a kind of a summary of the charges against the prisoners down there. And it turns out that probably 90% of them were not captured by US soldiers. They were brought in for a bounty fee. The US advertised locally around Afghanistan and whatnot. Said, you can earn a lot of money, enough to build a new house. Just bring us dangerous terrorists, and we'll pay you a big reward. And so a lot of people were brought in by some rather rough guys themselves and said, okay, here's your terrorist. And for instance, one guy was a refugee from China. He ran away from some persecution there, went to Afghanistan, was forced into military service in Afghanistan, where he worked as a cook. As soon as he could, as soon as he got a chance, he ran away and turned himself into the US authorities to try to get away from the Taliban. He was immediately arrested by the US, and he's been sitting in Guantanamo ever since. And you have a whole lot of people with similar kind of. You know, they're just kind of caught in the situation, and there really aren't very many scary terrorists down there, according to what they put, because a lot of this is public information. They compiled the data of what these guys were guilty of, and what they're guilty of is very kind of broad. While they were, this guy was carrying a Kalashnikov. Well, everybody does in that part of the country. You know, you go into a restaurant in Afghanistan and you see them all hanging on the pegs by the door, on the hat rack, you know, so it really looks like there just aren't that many big time desperados down there. I think once they sort it out, they'll find a few, but they'll find that 90% of these guys are just, just average guys who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mary-Kay Overman [00:52:45] You mentioned earlier when you were talking about the Ethiopian and sponsoring students that it's much more difficult to get a student visa. Now why do you think that.

Carl Robson [00:52:53] Under the former dictator, Mengistu was blatantly Marxist and was a brutal type guy, and the American embassy, which still existed there through thick and thin, was quite willing to give people visas to come to this country. Then when he left and Meles Zenawi came in, Meles, who had been a marxist in the field, there were two marxist groups. There was a civil war with the north, with Eritrea and Tigray, and Meles Zenawi was one of the leaders, was the leader of the Tigray forces. And he instantly converted from Marxism to democracy and said he was running a democratic government. And he had a totally different style. His style has been kind of sneaky that they say there's free speech, but if you say something the government doesn't like, after a while, a couple months later, maybe you'll be accused of some kind of corruption, whatnot. Lose your job, may end up in jail on other charges or be accused of anti-peace or something like that. It works out about the same. But because his stance was that he was not a Marxist or a communist, that he was friendly with the US, that this was going to be a democratic government, our government has been very unwilling to let anybody come ever since say this is a democracy, they have no reason to leave there. And somehow our government has been. The State Department has been a little bit concerned that, and maybe rightfully so, that the students are just going to come and stay and not go back. I mean, it shouldn't be their decision because the students then would have to deal with immigration authorities here if they decided to stay and go through another process. But still they seem to make that decision, and they've been a little rough on people. Ever since about 1991, there was a lady who came, we sponsored for a total hip replacement. She stayed in our building and went through physical therapy and then went back to Ethiopia then that was under the old government. Now under the new government, her daughter, who happened to be in Houston, Texas, was dying of some kind of unusual cancer. This was well documented. And her other kids asked that mom be able to come and spend some months with this daughter. And the US government flatly refused to let her come, even though she had shown before that she would go back home. And they said, no, we know this is a cover up. You're just going to be a nanny and you're not coming back, so we're not going to let you go. Really. It's been a very difficult thing. And I don't know if that part of it reflects the attitude, a changing attitude towards the Ethiopian government, thinking that they were different. But I guess a lot of it has to do with changes in the philosophy of the State Department over the years, too. Yeah. And this was before 9/11, too, that this episode I'm telling you about happened. So it's not just 9/11, it's been going on. We've had a hard time getting students approved, student visas approved for the past ten or 1214 years.

Kris King [00:56:53] So besides, you're working as a medical doctor, you spend a lot of time trying to get students here over to this country from each other.

Carl Robson [00:57:04] We've done that. You know, another interest of mine was a sister city project. I started up visiting Ethiopia in 1989. I was in this town called Aksum, where supposedly the queen of Sheba is from some years ago. You can take your choice. They just spell them the way they sound. Axum will work, or Aksum. Anyway, I saw a street called Denver street and I asked somebody, I said, what in the world is this Denver street doing in Aksum, Ethiopia? Oh, that's our sister city, Denver, Colorado. I said, hmm, that's an interesting idea. Well, there's this town called Bahir Dar. Bahir Dar literally means beside the sea. It's a town right on the shore of Lake Tana, which is the third largest lake in Africa. And it's the headwaters of the famous Blue Nile river, and it's the hub of a northern route historical tour through Ethiopia. And I thought, you know, this is a nice town. It's about 150,000 population. It's large enough, and yet it's not so large that the infrastructure that's not there has ruined the city yet. Like Addis Ababa, which is several million people. So it's something you could work with. Historical place, a beautiful town. And I thought, you know, they're on a big lake, too, just like Cleveland, so maybe we could get a sister city project going. And I thought about that for some years, took a few notes and made a file, and then it just sat. And there was an Ethiopian friend of mine and I, we had talked about it, and we knew a couple people from that town, and we were sort of dreaming and scheming that that might make a nice sister city, even though we don't have a lot of Ethiopians in this town, let alone any from that town. When the Ethiopian ambassador came for a visit to Cleveland about three years ago in March, through the. Was it called the ICC international community. Anyway, it was an organization run by John Lecky, and every month they would feature another country, and he featured Ethiopia. Brought the ambassador, and they had a program, and I gave a slideshow on Ethiopia. And I said, well, I'm not Ethiopian. But the Ethiopians I knew in town said, yeah, but you. You know more about the country. You can do it better. We can. Please do it. And I talked to the ambassador, and he was. He was talking about what he called Twin Cities, and he was trying to encourage this, what is really a sister city concept. He had a brief meeting with Mayor Campbell, and I happened to be there, and he only had time for maybe a sentence or two. And what he said was that he hoped that Mayor Campbell would be receptive to the idea of a sister city if we could work it out, because I had talked to him already about the possibility of setting one up with Bahir Dar, and he was very encouraging. So we put together a little committee and contacted a person I'd heard was a professor in town, from that town. Not in town here, but in the country. I called him, he was in Denver, and he got interested. He set up a committee there. We corresponded. We gave them a list of. Or we suggested that they give us a list of potential projects that would be good for the city, that we might help them with in areas related to commerce, culture, education, and humanitarian assistance. Give us three projects in each area. We got their list. We started working on these things, and then finally, we set up a time to make the sister city concept official. And that was two summers ago. So a delegation of eleven Ethiopians came from their city, and I put them up in the little house behind my place for three weeks. That was a lot of fun. And we put a tent up in a parking lot of the restaurant. And then Mayor Campbell came over and we had a few local politicos and a lot of friends and our delegation of Ethiopians and signed the sister city pact and made it official. I've been working pretty hard on that ever since. We're trying to get a sanitary sewer system in their town. The town has now grown to 230,000. It's growing fast. Yeah. Capital B A H A R. Bahar. Capital D A R. Dar. Dar means beside. Bahar means, see.

Mary-Kay Overman [01:02:35] Trying to get sanitation. I didn't mean to interrupt.

Carl Robson [01:02:38] Yeah. So we're. We're working on various things. Well, you know, I don't think we could hope to raise the millions of dollars that it would take to put in a solid waste and sanitary waste. But we're putting together the projects. I mean, there's already been proposals made to the city and the city has them sitting there but can't act on them because they can't really get the funding. They're doing a surface drainage project and we know of one potential humanitarian organization that has indicated some interest in doing some big time help for the town. So we're putting our proposals together for the sanitary waste project and I'd like to. I mean, I'm dreaming on. I'd like to. The Blue Nile that comes out of this lake goes about 30. Then there's a beautiful waterfall like a miniature Niagara Falls. And it would be great if they had a corridor national park similar to Cuyahoga National Park. And the environment is really degraded around there due to 5000 years of farming and cutting trees and population growth and whatnot. So we're trying to get some environmental projects. Everything we get going. We want to be environmentally friendly. But if we could get a good sanitation thing in place that will help save the lake and promote health of the folks. And if we could do some medical projects. They have a university in the town. We're working at building relationships with them and Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve. So a lot of things.

Mary-Kay Overman [01:04:32] Now does the Gates Foundation involved in Ethiopia. I know they're all over. They do that.

Carl Robson [01:04:36] Yeah. Well, we've thought of them and maybe once we get our proposals together and present them to the one organization we're working on right now, maybe we'll try to shop them around a little bit. And of course, that would be a place we would. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, I've kept busy with various. Yeah. My tendency is to do too much. You know, I've got to try to restrict it and not do so many different things because sometimes you can't get anything done when you try to do too much? I want to tell you about Walter Humphries. This guy is in his eighties. Came in to see me yesterday. I've seen him oh maybe ten or twelve times over the past two or three years. He's got severe hypertension. He's got probably one of the highest blood pressures I've ever seen. He stops his medicine, he can't afford to buy his pills. I would think he could get something on the Medicare program but he's on about eight or ten medications and he just can't afford them. So we give him all the samples we can, he buys a few of the less expensive ones, he takes them the best he can and then he comes in four or five months later with blood pressure screaming again. His renal failure, worse. Congestive heart failure. Totally out of medicines for a month. Yesterday he was in pretty bad shape so I hospitalized him at St. Vincent charity. The guy is a contractor. He does bulldozing and stuff like that. He didn't want to go in the hospital because he still had some jobs he's been working on that were not done yet. Remember this guy is in his eighties. He’s out there driving a bulldozer around. When he first came and I knew he was a contractor I asked him what he thought about my parking lot. Okay, theres a parking lot between my office and the restaurant. And there used to be an apartment building and a commercial building, an apartment building there. And I heard that the owner had arranged to have the thing burned down when he was in Florida. And fortunately the little old lady who was the only person inside made it out. Anyway. The building was, be that as it may, the building ended up demolished. And my parking lot there in place of that building has been sinking ever since. And I asked Mister Humphries, I had a pretty good idea it was because they just buried the trash of the building there instead of digging it out and filling it in properly. Being a contractor. He said, well he said doc, he said I'm the guy that did that parking lot. He said and you're absolutely right. Now he was pretty pliable I said. He said they didn't do it right. They had me just bury all that stuff right there. But it was so funny to actually just accidentally run into the very guy. You know, I probably had to fill in that parking lot three times and repave it over the past, oh, 24 years since I bought that building. It's been interesting.

Kris King [01:08:14] Well we really appreciate the fact that you took your time to come in and talk with us about your career and your family and your interest in Ethiopia. And you certainly are a busy person with lots of interests. It's admirable.

Carl Robson [01:08:33] I wish I was interested.

Kris King [01:08:37] You are. But thank you so much. But I was wondering if you had anything else that you wanted to tell us? Any other story or anything else.

Carl Robson [01:08:47] Oh, I mean, there are just a lot of stories, you know, and I don't know where to start, where to stop. You know, I'm usually not one to try to ask too much for help, and I'm not very good at that. I think my dad was a lot better than I am. You know, I don't like to ask people for money, and I don't see what I could specifically ask people to do. You know, we're trying to get together a medical shipment. At some point I may try to organize some kind of fundraisers to raise some money to send a container of medical supplies over to our sister city. I don't have any real specific things. You know, if people just work to do what they can, where they are, keep the neighborhood neat and clean, be friendly to their neighbors and do what they can, that's great. You know, that's.

Kris King [01:09:52] Speaking about the neighborhood, do you find it up to par these days?

Carl Robson [01:10:00] The street looks nice. They just repaved it. We've had a little trouble with some neighborhood gangs that seem to be a little bit more prevalent and noisy the past couple of years and a little more destructive. You know, and I, you know, I think Cimperman and some other folks have been working pretty hard on that and I think it's a matter of, you know, there's probably a few hardcore people in the group like that and a whole lot of other people that are just kind of following the wrong example. And, you know, I'm not quite sure what the answer is, but, you know, the old days, for a while back in the Kennedy era, there were some good inner city programs, but they were considered soft programs. And in the Reagan years, all that kind of stuff was canceled out. I mean, they used to have really nice, for instance, parenting programs. They would take young expectant mothers and enroll them in a program and teach them about raising kids. And those were some really nice programs. They would pay them a few bucks an hour for their time to come and just teach them about normal child development and how to raise kids. Summer jobs help, but you know, that. I heard that, I think it was last summer or the summer before there weren't enough money and Bush said that they would have to cancel the summer job program in the cities for kids and support for housing, whatnot. I think there's a lot more that could be done for development of inner city and inner city programs. There's just an awful lot of poverty in town. Just hard to overcome that vicious cycle, you know, of poverty and crime and apathy. And there just needs to be some thought and some programs to show kids that somebody cares about them developing the right way, give them some alternatives and figure out what to do. And we're still in the middle of struggling with all that stuff. I think the solution is going to be a little way off yet, and it can be a little scary around some parts of town, too. I mean, you really don't feel comfortable going out at night? I think our restaurant hasn't been a problem. I'm not really fearful from moment to moment in the neighborhood, but you wouldn't feel comfortable with kids out running around? You know, people let their kids go out and run around, but I would be really scared. So I don't know. We just still got a little way to go to work on things around here. I don't know. I don't have a good answer for that. We just hang in there and keep doing what we can.

Kris King [01:13:16] Well, I don't have anything more to do. Talk Emma, you're all done. Are you done?

Mary-Kay Overman [01:13:23] I am. Thank you very hearing.

Carl Robson [01:13:25] Yeah, I'm not sure if I really covered the information you wanted.

Mary-Kay Overman [01:13:29] That's what we want, so it's all good.

Kris King [01:13:31] Just like to talk to people that live in the neighborhood and work in the neighborhood to find out more about what's going on.

Carl Robson [01:13:39] Yeah, I wasn't sure whether you're interested specifically in the Ethiopian community or the neighborhood in general or what.

Kris King [01:13:46] You know, that we could use lane very well.

Mary-Kay Overman [01:13:50] I just had an Ethiopia student this year from. Her name is Emma Beth. Baby. She's in Lakewood. I taught her this year. She just came over. I don't know how small that can be. Her last name is ab e v e a. Baby. Emma Beth.

Kris King [01:14:09] I'm going to stop the recording. Oh, yeah.

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