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Funding for Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine will help prepare for the future, reclaim history

Written by Susan Meikle, university news and communications, meiklesb@MiamiOH.edu.

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Students in Miami's Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine residency program work on a building renovation. (photo by Scott Kissell)

Miami University's Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine has received $45,000 in funding from the John E. Fetzer Institute to implement several projects that build on the center's collaborative residency program and the Over-the-Rhine People's Movement.

Thomas Dutton, architect and professor of architecture and interior design at Miami, is founder and director of the Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine (CCE). The "uniqueness of the CCE is its relationship with the Over-the-Rhine People's Movement," said Dutton. 

The Over-the-Rhine People's Movement is a coalition of individuals and organizations that engage with community members and students to "foster respect, empathy and healing and build social capital across racial and economic divides," according to Dutton.

The Fetzer Institute, a private operating foundation established by broadcast pioneer John E. Fetzer, helps to create programs that bring love and forgiveness to the center of daily life.

“The Over-the-Rhine funding supports those who desire greater civility in our public lives, who seek a return to sharing human connections through community, who exhibit an openness to love, forgiveness, and compassion, and who hunger for deeper and more meaningful relationships," said Linda Grdina, a program officer at the Fetzer Institute.

The projects — involving students from Miami University and Northern Kentucky University and Over-the-Rhine community residents and leaders — focus on the themes of "Preparing for the Future" and "Reclaiming History."

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CCE residency program students prepare a wall installation. (photo by Scott Kissell)

Preparing for the Future 
  • A weekendlong residency program for professionals will target teachers and school administrators, many of whom do not live in the inner-city neighborhoods where they teach.  "Participating in a structured residency-based experience may result in increasing cultural understanding and developing a deeper empathy for their students’ lived experiences," Dutton said.

“The program will be developed based on the success of the Center for Community Engagement's student residency program.  Miami students will be actively involved and serve as mentors for the weekend residency program,” Dutton said.

Participating organizations include the Center for Community Engagement, the Urban Teacher Cohort of Miami University, Rothenberg Preparatory School of Over-the-Rhine and Northern Kentucky University.

Reclaiming History

The 40-year history of the Over-the-Rhine People’s Moment to address social need, build social capacity and foster social healing has largely been ignored by the divergent narratives that circulate about Over-the-Rhine: "One narrative is about the area’s poverty, black-on-black violence, and homelessness; another is about its upscale development, increased tax revenue and the purchasing power of new white residents," Dutton said.

Thus, to raise awareness of the past while reorienting for the future, Fetzer Institute funding will also be used to:

  • Collect oral histories: Students from Miami and from Northern Kentucky University will work closely with the Peaslee Neighborhood Center to conduct oral history interviews;
  • Create two 30-minute videos;
  • Create and conduct agitprop artistic installations (art with a political message) in the form of films, short videos and exhibits;
  • Develop a walking tour and accompanying guide that documents the neighborhood and the People's Movement history. 

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John Blake, CCE's coordinator of community projects; the CCE is located on the ground floor of the blue building. (photo by Scott Kissell)

Project partners, along with Dutton and the Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine, are John Blake (Miami M. Arch. '00), community projects coordinator of the CCE and instructor for the architecture department's Design/Build Studio; Bonnie Neumeier, a long-term resident of Over-the-Rhine and co-founder of many of the organizations of the Over-the-Rhine People’s Movement; Jenn Summers, education coordinator of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Over-the-Rhine; Tammy Schwartz, director of Miami's Urban Teaching Cohort, College of Education, Health, and Society; and Lorita Shrider, an alumna of the Over-the-Rhine residency program (fall 2009) and current resident coordinator of the program.

Miami's Over-the-Rhine residency program, established in 2006, has received honors regionally and nationally. Several universities have sent teams to the Over-the-Rhine program to "learn more about what we do," Dutton said.

The program "is becoming more and more known across the country as an excellent example of a long-term community/university collaboration, built on trust and relationships that take time to mature."