Greater Cleveland community joins in effort in Tremont to stamp out bigotry
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, October 2007) On August 30th, residents from throughout Greater Cleveland gathered at W. 11th and Starkweather to march through the Tremont neighborhood to W. 12th and Mentor to join with residents of the Tremont and Near West Side neighborhoods in a show of unity to condemn acts of arson and racial bigotry. Organizers of the event called the march and vigil “Tremont Unite.” Signs of marchers going south on W. 14th through the heart of the Tremont neighborhood carried slogans such as “End Racism Now”, “We stand against hate” and “Bigotry – Not in my Name – Tremont for All.”

A representative from Pilgrim Church blessed the Rogina Weakley family and Vanessa Glover Freeman family, both of W. 12th and Mentor, victims of what are believed to be racially motivated hate crimes. The Weakley family’s house was set on fire in the early morning hours of July 31st and the garage of the Freeman family was set on fire in the early morning hours of June 30th. Racist graffiti was reportedly painted on the garage days before the first fire.

Clergy from neighborhood churches led a call to celebrate the “unity and diversity of all people.”  Representatives of Greater Cleveland’s Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious communities were in attendance at the vigil. A post erected in the vacant lot where the Weakley house once stood had inscriptions in English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew saying “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”

Amy Weahry, a Merrick House organizer who helped to plan the vigil, estimated the crowd at over 300 people.

Children from W. 12th Street and Mentor took pieces of paper around to those in attendance hoping to get autographs of many of the famous people visiting their street. Among those in attendance were Mayor Frank Jackson, Council President Martin Sweeney, NAACP President Stanley Miller, and Gail Long, former executive director of Merrick House. After the vigil, many of those in attendance remained for a potluck.

“I want to thank everyone for coming out,” said Rogina Weakley, whose house was burned down in the July 31st arson. “I haven’t decided yet, but I am leaning toward coming back into the community,” she added.

Tremont West Development Corporation Board of Trustees member Marcia Leslie said, “I hope she does stay. What we are doing here is we are saying we are going to help her make a decision to stay.”

Leslie said when she first viewed the charred remains of the house after the fire “honestly it took my breath away.” She said she thought, “How could a person be so arrogant, that they didn’t care about life?” In speaking to those assembled, Leslie spoke of her disappointment that something so painful could happen in the Tremont neighborhood that she was so proud of and celebrated to her friends as a place of diversity and tolerance. She told the crowd that she could feel their love and thanked those in attendance for taking the time out of their lives to be present at the vigil. “You are here in a show of solidarity. You have restored my faith in humanity and my fellow man. In a show of solidarity, I lift my hands to you and say thank you.”

Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman said the builders of Tremont have offered to help rebuild the Weakley’s house, if the family decides it wants to stay in the neighborhood. He said that there are plans to introduce a resolution to include ten principles of racial diversity in the bylaws of Tremont West Development Corporation at its next annual meeting. Cimperman said there were “good leads” that investigators were following for both arsons.

Tremont West Development Corporation Board of Trustees President Sammy Catania said, “We want her (Rogina Weakley) to say in the neighborhood.” He added, “The neighborhood will do whatever it takes to make her feel comfortable here.”

Sister Corita Ambro of St. Augustine Church said she thought the vigil was “beautiful”, and said as a result “I think she (Rogina Weakley) feels supported.”

David Quintana, a Tremont resident and staff member of the Cleveland Mediation Center, who helped organize the vigil, noted the diversity of the crowd containing people of different nationalities, races, religions and various professions. “All spectrums of society are represented here today,” he said. Quintana said he became involved in organizing the event after witnessing how badly the house was burned shortly after the fire. He said. “I don’t understand how the family came out alive.”

In addition to Quintana of the Cleveland Mediation Center and Weahry of Merrick House, the core group instrumental in organizing the vigil included Michelle Davis of Tremont West Development Corporation, Tabatha Walton of Cleveland Mediation Center and Tricia Gilbert, an Associate Pastor at Pilgrim Church.

Many of those in attendance from Pilgrim Church wore t-shirts that said “Diversity, Faith, Family.” Gilbert said a theme at Pilgrim Church is “ all are welcome.”  Gilbert said, “I hope the Tremont community continues to stand behind what we did tonight.”

(See related photos here)


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