Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

John Edwards walks neighborhood plagued by home foreclosures in Cleveland

When John Edwards announced that he would take three days away from campaigning and fundraising to shine a light on the problem of poverty in America and the possible solutions, I knew I had to be part of this.

The Edwards campaign has made a real effort to encourage citizen journalism, so bloggers were welcome on the Road to One America Tour. I strongly support Senator Edwards, and I applaud his efforts to create a movement against poverty in America. Over the past few months, my outrage has grown as wealthy Republicans and pundits, who never lift a finger to help the poor, continue to attack Edwards for his laudable efforts on behalf of those less fortunate. I knew it was time for me to stand up for this honorable man and his efforts to fight poverty, by acting as an honest witness.

Yesterday, I joined Senator Edwards for four of the stops on his Road to One America Tour. It was an eye opening and a heart opening experience. Seeing the depth of compassion that John has for those who are struggling and hearing the stories of the people that he visited made me more determined not to turn a blind eye to the struggles of those in this country for whom the American dream dissolves into a forgotten nothing in the cold light of day.

This is the first in a series of diaries about yesterday's tour stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania. For the first stop, we visited the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant in Cleveland, Ohio, where 38 homes in a one block radius face foreclosure.

I arrived in the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant a few minutes before Senator Edwards was scheduled to arrive. I was not surprised, however, when I soon learned that he was running on presidential campaign time, and would be a little late. I waited with a mix of journalists and neighborhood residents.

Before long, I was befriended by Ulysses Glen from the Eastside News, a local paper. When he found out that I was not from the area, he was kind enough to introduce me to some community leaders.

The first person Ulysses introduced me to was Zach Reed, the Cleveland City Councilman for that neighborhood. Mr. Reed was kind enough to grant me an interview about the problems local residents face with home foreclosures and predatory lenders. He told me that many of the residents of the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant are elderly African Americans, many of whom have lived in their homes for 30, 40, or 50 years, and many of whom are now facing foreclosure. Some help is available from the city government, but residents often are not aware of it, or are afraid to ask. Mr. Reed also gave me his thoughts on Senator Edwards. The full interview is in the video below:

The next community leader I met was Khalid Samad, a community activist in an organization called Peace in the Hood, which works to reduce gang violence, broker cease fires between gangs, and get gang members involved in positive activities such as entrepreneurship and school. Mr. Samad gave me a bit overview of some of the issues his organization faces, and its history.

Mr. Samad was a member of the youth gang unit for 11 years. As an activist, he has traveled around the country brokering peace deals between gangs. The organization was started in 1993 after the National Gang Summit, but the roots of Peace in the Hood go back even further.

In the 1980s, gang violence rates were so high that the United Nations considered declaring parts of Los Angeles war zones. Mr. Samad and others helped to bring together faith-based and nontraditional faith-based groups, such as Nation of Islam, Hebrew groups, the United Church of Christ, and the Lutherans to work on calming the violence. They started in two cities with the biggest gang problems: Chicago and Los Angeles. After initial successes in these cities, their efforts expanded to 10 or 15 more cities, and these efforts culminated in the National Gang Summit in 1993.

Mr. Samad told me that as a result of the efforts of anti-gang leaders, statistics in major cities for homicide and other gang related crimes fell 25 to 30% in the early 90s.

Though their initial efforts met with some success, the law enforcement community and the political establishment didn't embrace their efforts. It was mainly a grassroots movement, and it has been difficult to sustain a lot of it. Mr. Samad told me that to have continued success, more support is needed in areas like job training, help for ex-offenders, particularly in getting their records expunged, and people to do the needed work. They also need help with afterschool programs and job training.

I wish that I had had more time to speak with some of the these community leaders. I learned a lot from them, but I had to cut short my interview with Mr. Samad when Senator Edwards arrived.

John Edwards had come to visit the area because it is one of the hardest hit by predatory home foreclosures. Edwards met with local Cleveland ACORN members Mariah Crenshaw and Debbie Suber, who are in danger of losing their homes to predatory lenders.

In fact, local residents told Senator Edwards that there are 38 homes in foreclosure in a one block radius in that neighborhood.

According to information given to the media by ACORN members, Ohio saw a 64% increase in the number of foreclosures in 2006 over the number filed in 2005. ACORN says that Cleveland has the 14th highest foreclosure rate in the country. The area that Edwards visited was in two of the cities hardest hits zip codes, 44105 and 44120. There were 313 foreclosure filings in these zip codes in the month of April.

John Edwards walked the neighborhood with local residents and heard their stories. After gathering information from them, he addressed the media about the foreclosure and predatory lending crisis both in Cleveland and in the rest of America.

Speaking along with Senator Edwards was Mariah Crenshaw, a resident of Mount Pleasant who has lived in her family home for over 30 years. She inherited the home from her mother, but after facing a divorce and an illness at the same time, she found herself in financial trouble. She is now one of many neighborhood residents facing losing her home, and is leading neighborhood efforts to fight back against predatory lending and keep their homes.

Edwards spoke to the media about some of his plans to protect homeowners from predatory lenders, combat abusive payday lenders and help families to save, and promote economic diversity in schools. He then answered questions from the media.

Edwards's proposals include passing strong national laws to prevent predatory lending, creating a home rescue fund to help families in danger of losing their homes, and helping families in bankruptcy renegotiate their mortgages. He would also put a cap on interest rates that payday lenders can charge. Edwards also spoke of the need to promote economic diversity in schools.

Edwards spoke out strongly about the need to protect people's homes across America. He noted that some residents of Mount Pleasant are receiving assistance from the city, but said it should not be just a local problem. The federal government needs to come to the aid of homeowners, as this is happening all over the country.

A pamphlet I received from Cleveland ACORN members indicates that homeowners facing foreclosure should call them at 866-67-ACORN.

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Blogger Daniel Solis said...

a very moving story, thank you for sharing this.

July 26, 2007


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