#OurCGStories blog series highlights Cleveland Foundation staff and interns who participated in our Common Ground day of community conversation on June 30. In today’s blog, we hear from Jason Guo, 2019 Cleveland Foundation Summer Intern, who attended a Common Ground Conversation at One University Circle:
Why did you choose to attend that Common Ground conversation?
At the beginning of the summer, I was challenged to get out of my comfort zone and take advantage of the many opportunities here in Cleveland. By attending Common Ground, I wanted to embrace the unknown of a new event where I didn’t know anyone else attending.
What’s your favorite memory from the day?
My favorite memory from my Common Ground event was the diversity in race, age and socioeconomic status at my table. As a student from Case Western Reserve University, I never felt as though I had truly been a part of, or knew much about, my community. At my table, I met a woman who lived four houses down from my residential hall on campus as well as a woman who ran an art gallery that’s a short five-minute walk away from campus. The different ways we perceived Cleveland and the University Circle area were all so unique due to our own experiences; I had the privilege to learn about how Cleveland has evolved over the last 40 years and how the neighborhoods continue to be malleable.
What are some of the community issues you discussed at your conversation?
The issues we talked about, from the Opportunity Corridor to the perception of the neighborhoods around University Circle, gave me a chance to understand just a glimpse of what Cleveland has been, what it is now, and how it will change in the future. One of the most interesting pieces I gained from our discussion was how the name “Opportunity Corridor” varied based on who was saying it. From the viewpoint of the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University, it was a huge opportunity to make it easier for visitors and others to arrive in University Circle without having to go through the local routes. However, the Opportunity Corridor could make it even harder for the local businesses there to attract customers and foot traffic. Most people will not stop along Opportunity Corridor to visit local businesses and restaurants, especially since the purpose of the freeway extension is to help get people into University Circle, not necessarily stop along the way.
In your opinion, why is Common Ground important for our community?
When I think of community development, I think of groups of people from many different walks of life coming together to talk about the joys and faults of a community. Common Ground provides the space, the possibility and the tools for community members to come together over a delicious meal and find that their ideas to better the community are shared among many different people. Common Ground is, in a way, a “Community Innovation Lab.” It provides the opportunity and makes it approachable with a free meal. It frames the conversation so that discussion can be focused and productive. And lastly, it creates the possibility of action afterwards through micro-grants, action clinics, and networking events.
What surprised you about your Common Ground experience?
I could not believe that after a two-hour discussion, the community members at my table and I had brought to life the idea of a “walking tour” to help break down the stereotypes of the neighborhoods surrounding University Circle. If we are able to get residents, community members and students to see the potential in neighborhoods such as Glenville, Hough and the Buckeye-Shaker area beyond University Circle, we can begin to push back against the negative connotations. I’m very excited to see where this project will go. We are in the planning process for our first event and hope to set a date in the near future!
Why should someone consider participating in Common Ground?
After participating in Common Ground, I finally felt like I had a voice and was a part of the Cleveland community. I have been a student at Case Western Reserve University for the past two years, but until this past summer at Common Ground, I was just a visitor in a city that I called home for nine months of the year. However, Common Ground gave me the opportunity to see and be part of how community change and action come about.
I don’t think that anyone should just “consider” participating in Common Ground, I think people should just “participate.” Common Ground gives you the space to go as you are, bring what you have, and take with you something new. It is a space where, even if you are shy and nervous, you can have the opportunity to share about your own experience and learn what community truly means.
After Common Ground 2019, Jason started a series of walking tours in the Glenville and University Circle area. At the conversation he attended, Jason and other participants visualized this project. They received a Neighbor Up Common Ground Action Grant to develop the tours as an opportunity for residents to learn about the surrounding Glenville neighborhood and its assets.