For the past seven years, one of my responsibilities here at Community Solutions has been compiling data fact sheets for different geographies – counties, cities, legislative districts, neighborhoods, and wards. I’ve produced thousands of these fact sheets over the years, but in 2021, I got to have a different perspective. I took a temporary leave from CCS to run for public office—City Council in Cleveland’s Ward 13, where I have lived for the past 11 years. I laced up my walking shoes and knocked on doors on every street in my ward, talking to voters about the issues they cared about.
I’ve produced thousands of these fact sheets over the years, but in 2021, I got to have a different perspective.
As we release our latest set of fact sheets (prepared by my talented colleague Alex Dorman), I can’t help but reflect on the importance of this kind of data for our local policymakers and advocates, given my new vantage point as a former candidate.
Data sets the context; people tell the stories
Having run the numbers on demographics and social indicators in my neighborhood many times before, I started my campaign with a good baseline for the issues facing my ward and the city overall. I remember a day when I had gathered some neighbors to do a street clean-up on Broadview Road, and I decided to stop into a food pantry and talk to the volunteers there. I asked them how things had been going for them during the pandemic, and they responded that the need had at times been more than they could keep up with. They were down volunteers and had more people coming for help with food than in the past.
Our fact sheets reveal the number of people in each ward who are eligible for assistance from a food pantry (more than 12,600 in Ward 13). It is one thing to read that number on a page; it is quite another to see lines of cars wrapped around the block at a local church telling the story of the insecurity that many of our neighbors have faced over the past 2 years. I encourage people to use these fact sheets to ground themselves in data and facts, use it to spur questions, and continue to get out in the community and listen to the stories people are telling to get a full, true picture of what is going on in our neighborhoods.
Remember that wards are not monoliths
Any Clevelander may resonate with the experience of riding through a neighborhood and feeling the environment around them change from one of relative affluence to one of abject poverty. This happens practically block by block in Cleveland. As a result, even the wards with the highest median income are also home to people who are struggling to make ends meet. That usually means that they will need to travel further to find assistance. On the flip side, even the wards with the highest poverty rates are also home to rich community assets and people who have much to offer their communities. When you remember that each number on the page of these fact sheets represents real people—neighbors in every corner of the city—who have the lived experience of looking for a job without a high school diploma, or giving birth to a premature baby, or trying to figure out virtual school without home internet access, it makes the data come to life.
I encourage people to use these fact sheets to ground themselves in data and facts, use it to spur questions, and continue to get out in the community and listen to the stories people are telling to get a full, true picture of what is going on in our neighborhoods.
As always, my hope for these fact sheets is that they help contextualize the issues facing our community and help policymakers plan for a future that is more equitable and prosperous. May all of our best ideas be grounded in data and evidence.