By Carlton R. Collins
The Heights Movement
During the presidency of Barack Obama, it was once remarked that Black men have never been so high in position, but so low in condition in the history of America. That is most certainly the truth today in a world that has been set ablaze with controversial statements such as Black Lives Matter. We are finally forced to sit still and deal with the under-believed realities that our society does not work on behalf of Black Americans in the same way that it does for our Caucasian counterparts. Whether we look at our criminal justice system, educational attainment rates, joblessness, social mobility, or wage and wealth disparities, the proof is in the numbers and the truth has been before our eyes for generations. We have this same history here in Cincinnati, and we must look no further than our permanent ranking in the bottom five of cities with the highest percentage of childhood poverty while remaining in the top ten of cities with the greatest income inequality.
Undoubtedly, 2020 has exposed major flaws in our society, but we all have concluded that this time it is different, that this time something is fundamentally broken. But there, too, is an understated optimism that is permeating Black communities, even while the destruction of Black bodies continues to come across our screens whether it is from police brutality or the novel coronavirus. This hopefulness is rooted in our ability to now bare witness to our deep wounds and commitment to the restorative power of collectivism, justice and love. This is that purpose-filled moment that, to quote James Baldwin, “…once you realize that you can do something, it would be difficult to live with yourself if you didn’t do it.” Considering that we are demanding our humanity, protection under the law, and wholeness be fully recognized in a country that has never valued who we are more than how we serve, it should be understood why we must rebel against the status quo. Surely, we must all grasp that things cannot remain as is, right?
We stand at a crossroads in our society where we must decide whether we can return to civility while considering the application of justice and where we must boldly reimagine what equity encompasses and who it makes room for. That is what The Heights Movement stands on and that is why we continue to grow. We simply endeavored to create a platform for growth for our beloved Village of Lincoln Heights, the eldest Black-run municipality north of the Mason-Dixon line. So, these five young men dreamed as big as we possibly could with everyone we could and conjured ideas of beautiful works of art, community gardens, playgrounds, recreation and youth programs. Then the soundtrack to our lives played once more – this time on the first day of school.
This day was no different than any of the other 299 days out of the year that we hear gunfire echoing over our heads, courtesy of Cincinnati Police Department and its open-air gun range. For it has been nearly 80 years that we have heard its cadence and that we have experienced its suffering. Our children do not quiver when they hear gunfire from the playground of Lincoln Heights Elementary or flinch when they hear the rapid booms of fully automatic weapons – we were born into this. We have occupied this land (and formerly much more) since the 1920s and yet no one ever considered the inhumanity of this facility or how it threatens a community that it does not protect and has no interest in serving any purpose but to terrorize.
We are living through one of the worst modern-day illustrations of callous disregard to the economic, educational, emotional, mental and psychological health of a Black community in America. Please forgive us if we no longer believe it acceptable for our children, and anyone who believes that this should be allowed to persist must ask, “Would you want this for White children?” This is our moment for a reckoning where we must be brave enough to walk in the shoes of others. And we must be honest enough to feel the frustration of a child or parent struggling to hear his or her teacher over the repeated hail of gunfire each school day because your parent chose to keep you home in a “safe” space during the pandemic.
Through it all, we are making history, by recently launching My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Lincoln Heights, an official chapter of the MBK Alliance in partnership with the Obama Foundation, the first in the Cincinnati area. (Grandma, we made it!)
Additionally, we dedicated an 80-foot mural, Black Excellence in Zone 15, thanks to generous partners, incredible artistry, and old-fashioned sweat equity.
We simply want to change the narrative about our community and forever transform what the next generations believe is possible to attain while pursuing achievement. That is what we venture to enhance for our children, all the ones we coach, mentor, teach and those whom we stand in the gap for.
In the words of the Dr. Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” The Heights Movement is alive, hopeful, and ready to do the work necessary for a more sustainable future.
It is said that we export three things very well in Lincoln Heights: genius, hustle and tenacity. It is our reverent realization that we come from determined ancestors, who learned to band together to tackle every issue as one with common purpose. Lincoln Heights was once the second wealthiest Black community in America during the 1960s, we were a model of progress and the power of collective economic growth that we can return to. There is no doubt that Lincoln Heights can once again rise from the ashes of despair and return to former glory… one child at a time as we rewrite the soundtrack to our lives.