In its February 1 edition, Catholic Health World, the national newspaper of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, published a cover page article about the "reverse ride-along" program in Cleveland, which is hosted by Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood and Inner Visions of Cleveland.
The program is a re-imagining of the traditional police ride along as it reverses roles and lets the community design the tour and highlight people, places and resources they would like to introduce to Cleveland's newest police officers.
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is one of the lead partners for the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.
Pictured below are members of the Cleveland Metropolitan Police reverse ride-along learning about neighborhood dynamics chatting with locals at The Keratin Barber College. Participants tour distressed neighborhoods and meet with people who live with the consequences of economic injustice and work for community betterment.
The full text of the article appears below or is available here.
By Julie Minda
Catholic Health World
When Barbara Anderson heard about a new "reverse ride-along" program in Cleveland a half dozen years or so ago, she was eager to participate.
In a typical ride-along, a community member spends part of a shift in an emergency vehicle, observing a first responder on the job. The reverse ride-alongs through the streets of Cleveland bring law enforcement officers, clinicians and others together with people who have deep knowledge of the economic injustice Clevelanders face after years of disinvestment and segregation.
Reverse ride-along participants talk about the aspirations, assets and challenges of residents of marginalized neighborhoods and the efforts of community members and nonprofits working to improve the quality of life and opportunities.
The participants meet up with more neighborhood residents for presentations and conversations at preplanned stops during the experience. Until his recent departure, Joseph Black led the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland's program area for health equity. He notes most of Cleveland's neighborhoods are poor and segregated. Many police and providers live outside the city boundaries. Black says, "The neighborhoods of Cleveland face economic injustice because of decades of racist and classist housing policy — including the idea of white flight."
Among the neighborhoods the caravans have visited are Lee-Miles, Glenville, Cudell, Central-Kinsman, Central, Detroit-Shoreway, Asiatown and Slavic Village.
Anderson had to be resourceful raising eight children in Slavic Village. Her family endured antagonism and violence as the first Blacks to move into the all-white neighborhood in 1982. A rock thrown through a window of the home struck one of their daughters in the head. Arsonists set fire to the Andersons' home so many times that the insurance company canceled their policy.
The family stood fast, staying in their home for decades even after a nearby factory closed. That closure left many neighbors jobless and set off a cascade of home forfeitures. Lots became overgrown and crime increased as the area deteriorated. A similar downward trajectory befell other Cleveland communities impacted by the loss of industry.
The hardship and racial injustice motivated Anderson's community activism. She has been instrumental in building community support in Slavic Village and other Cleveland neighborhoods, including by founding and running Another Chance of Ohio. The nonprofit operates a store in Slavic Village where all the clothing and merchandise is free for the taking.
Anderson now lives elsewhere in Cleveland. She says she volunteers as a facilitator on the ride-alongs because the immersive experience teaches first responders and health providers about the culture, community and day-to-day lives of people they may later encounter experiencing extreme distress as patients, or as crime victims or perpetrators. Ride-along participants get to know each other as people.
Jan Thrope is executive director of Inner Visions of Cleveland, a nonprofit she founded to encourage entrepreneurship and investments in economically depressed neighborhoods in the city. She came up with the idea for reverse ride-alongs and she partnered with the Sisters of Charity Health System's Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood to make them happen.
She says that during the ride-alongs, "there are moments of real talk, moments of sharing truth, moments that move the needle" in building relationships that positively impact the way program presenters and participants relate to one another.
Thrope, a retired social worker and chemical dependency counselor, was working in a homeless shelter in 2006, when Cleveland was ranked as the poorest big city in the U.S. The next year, Thrope began tutoring a 7-year-old boy from Woodland Hills, a neighborhood in south Cleveland. He told her there were many things that frightened him in his neighborhood — an abandoned home, a street shrine to a murder victim, dead dogs rotting on curbs.
Thrope began exploring Woodland Hills and other poor neighborhoods. She listened to residents about the impact of poverty and heard about how things might be improved. And she took documentary-style photos, which she published along with commentary in her two books on poverty and hope in the urban core of Cleveland.
Thrope began taking teachers, college students and social workers on outings to meet residents in Cleveland neighborhoods who were actively involved in making positive changes in their communities.
When Thrope went on a citizen ride-along with police officers, she realized the police never saw the neighborhoods at their best nor did they have the opportunity to get to know residents under normal circumstances. That's when she hatched the idea to drive police officers around and point out the strengths and potential of some poor neighborhoods.
What began as informal drives through select neighborhoods with police, police cadets and public housing enforcement officers kicked into high gear when Thrope connected with and enlisted the help of Black. He brought the reverse ride-alongs under the auspices of the foundation's Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood and expanded their ridership to include nursing students, medical residents and other clinicians from around greater Cleveland.
The Sisters of Charity Health System's St. Vincent Charity Medical Center has been an anchor in the Central neighborhood. The hospital closed its acute care services in November and the system now delivers ambulatory care services on the hospital campus.
Since 2017, Cleveland Central Promise and Inner Visions of Cleveland have hosted more than a dozen ride-alongs, reaching a total of about 500 riders. Cleveland Central Promise defines itself as a collaboration of organizations united to improve the health, education, safety and financial security of families in the Central community and beyond.
Black says the ride-alongs allow participants to learn the context of one another's lives and build connections that likely would not happen outside of this program. The program organizers set out to place ride-along participants and community members on equal footing and help them understand each other's point of view. Black says the experience is often as beneficial to the residents as it is to those on the caravans.
Lunching, gardening, painting
Each ride-along begins with participants boarding a convoy of vans, each seating about a dozen adults. During the approximately eight-hour experience, as the vans travel through the streets of multiple neighborhoods, Black, Thrope, Anderson and other facilitators provide commentary on the private and public housing, the community nonprofits, food pantries, churches and informal gathering places.
The caravan makes a couple stops, where Black and Thrope have prearranged meetups. The stops are suggested by community leaders and differ each time.
Participants have visited day cares, churches, substance abuse counseling services, community gardens, barbershops, a gang prevention program and a homeless shelter. Each meetup stop centers around a group activity. Ride-along participants have lunched, gardened, created murals and danced with community members gathered at stops.
After each stop and throughout the drives, a facilitator in each van debriefs with the riders to process what they experienced. The conversations at the meetups and on the vans can be very vulnerable, authentic, revealing and raw, say the facilitators.
Thrope recalls one ride-along where a group of young Black men at a stop talked with the visiting police officers. One young man said an officer's stance emphasized his holstered gun and was intimidating. The officer said he positioned himself that way to lift the weight of his heavy holster off his waist. He'd not been aware his stance came across as aggressive.
During another ride-along, conversation elicited a story from a medical resident who'd treated an impoverished patient. She'd been frustrated with the patient's inability to manage his diabetes and was thrilled when his blood sugar levels finally improved. With emotion the clinician told the group she found out later that the patient's food stamps had been cut off and his blood sugar dropped because he was starving.
Black says beyond talk of difficult life circumstances, residents also share what's good about their community — the deep bonds, life-changing social service agencies, youth pursuing their dreams. The seeds for longer-term relationships bud as community members invite their visitors back, a usual experience on the ride-alongs.
Dr. Chuck Garven has lived in Cleveland for 60 years. The retired family physician went on a ride-along in March. He wanted to learn more about Cleveland's neighborhoods because he's on a committee that is advising the Sisters of Charity system's leadership during the transition of its St. Vincent Charity Medical Center campus to a community health and social service center.
During the ride-along he met a young mother who said she felt many clinicians with patients from Central don't really care about the people there and that they were not committed to the community.
He says facilitators of his ride-along told him the stereotype of the heartless and unfeeling clinician is common among people who don't trust the health care system. Garven recognizes that he has on occasion relied on stereotypes in making assumptions about people unfamiliar to him. He says the ride-alongs enabled an honest exchange about implicit bias — a step toward moving beyond stereotypes.
"It's an opportunity for folks in the community to get to know each other, whatever their title, and build connections and relationships," he says.
The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood movement was catalyzed by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, which has served the Central neighborhood for more than 25 years, and remains one of the lead partners in Central Promise.
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