Hello! My name is Najee, and I’m the Community Reporter for Signal Cleveland.
Over the past six months, the Listening Team and I have been out in the Central neighborhood asking residents: “What’s important to you?” Before we dig into our findings, let me share with you how I got to be here.

I hadn’t had any previous writing experience other than personally keeping a journal, writing academic papers, and the occasional fan fiction. I can’t say that I had ever had a vision of becoming a journalist, but I’ve come to learn that sometimes in life things choose you.

After 2016, I came to a certain level of heightened awareness. This awareness stemmed from a polarizing election that left many of us feeling divided and some feeling lonely and fearful. I felt this fire to get involved and get active. Those feelings led me to years of canvassing for local elections and nonprofits, and actively covering local public meetings for the Cleveland Documenters. By attending public meetings, local clean-ups, and neighborhood festivals, I was able to meet people who were passionate about what’s going on where they live. I connected with people from all walks of life.

Through those experiences, I came to recognize what I believed to be a solution for a lot of distress I saw on the ground around me. That solution was community. 

Building trust

By creating a safe space for people to come together in good faith and express their views, we support something I strongly believe: Community is rooted in trust, and without trust, there is no community. My vision aligned with the vision of Signal Cleveland–to fuse community building with local news reporting–which brought me to the role of Community Reporter based in Central.

My job is to be constantly listening and engaging Central residents to make sure we are providing the best news possible. I also see this role as a community resource used to connect Central residents through storytelling.

We hit the ground in the Central neighborhood back in January. Click the arrows below to see pictures of some of the places where we canvassed and conducted our listening work:

  • A rectangle shaped table covered with a red table cloth and yellow giveaway bags for guests receiving hot meals at The Friendly Inn.
  • LaQueta Worley and Kellie Morris help students during spelling bee study sessions at the Cleveland Public Library - Sterling branch in the Central neighborhood.
  • Students attend spelling bee study sessions at the Cleveland Public Library - Sterling branch.
  • Woman seated at a table, dressed in pink with black hat hands out information to man in black jacket and pants outside East Tech H.S. reunion.
  • Woman sitting at round table wearing a purple turban talks with woman in blue sweater black jacket in community room at King Kennedy North Tower in the Central neighborhood.
  • A crowd bundled up in winter hats and coats take part in Clevelanders for Public Transit (RTA Ride Along)
  • Young people in red, City Year jackets gather in a gym.
  • Woman in red sweater talks with resident in green jacket at Central - Kinsman Neighbor Up Nights
  • People seated in a circle at a community meeting in the Signal Cleveland newsroom
  • Cafeteria tables ready for hot meal service at St. Vincent Charity Medical System Campus in the Central neighborhood.

We used paper and digital surveys to get a better sense of who community members are and to better understand what is important to them.  We had a diverse array of respondents. They selected from a list of issues and told us which ones most impacted their community. Over and over, people singled out safety, education, health and housing.

People who said  that their primary issue is safety voiced a variety of concerns.

Several pointed to gun violence as a key worry––they hear gunshots and know that people are dying, and that makes them concerned for their own safety. Others asked, “Where are the police when you need them?”

Many said safe streets are directly tied to “recovery and economic opportunity.” Some added that inflation and lack of job opportunities are obstacles to them living in a secure neighborhood.

I got a chance to talk with two of the more than 100 people who completed our surveys. 

“The children can’t do it by themselves”

Betty Worley is a lifelong resident of the Central neighborhood and the mother of my team member La Queta. 

Betty’s grandmother purchased their first family home in 1945, and generations of the Worley family have lived in the community ever since. When Signal Cleveland asked her, “What’s important to you?”, she said education is a big concern for her. 

“Education is truly the key to a very successful, quality way of life,” she said. “You have to be able to have an informed way of life to make informed decisions about life.” 

Central neighborhood resident Betty Worley in yellow shirt and green head wrap smiles for the camera.
Central resident Betty Worley is concerned about education and the well being of young parents and their children. Credit: Betty Worley / from her personal collection

Worley is worried that parents aren’t making good decisions for their children, and that may keep them from becoming productive adults.

When she was growing up, her parents demanded straight A’s. Worley delivered. She had structure and routine, something she feels many children these days don’t have. Worley believes that’s because a lot of mothers and fathers have not had a chance to mature and grow themselves.

“Parents need to stabilize themselves so they can stabilize their children,” she said. “Parents need to have a hunger for knowledge and pass that down  to their children. The children can’t do it by themselves. You have schools and teachers having to spend more time parenting than teaching.”

Making moves for the future in the Central neighborhood

Abigail Wolf moved from the Cudell community to the Central neighborhood in 2019. She  is working on her Computer Engineering degree from Cleveland State University. Wolf said the neighborhood allows for an easy commute for both her and her two kids to their schools––her son attends Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School, while her daughter is a student at Marion-Sterling School.

When asked “What’s important to you?”, Wolf said she likes where lives but is concerned about safety. 

“My son was mugged for his bus passes on the way to school. I live near one of the worst corners in Cleveland, [East] 28th Street,” Wolf told Signal Cleveland.  “We have a lot of people that come into the neighborhood, who don’t live in the neighborhood, that are doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”

Wolf said her son is OK physically, but it was an emotional time for them both.

Wolf also noted other factors that have contributed to feeling insecure.

“Honestly, it’s not just crime making our neighborhoods unsafe,” she said. “We are having some pretty serious infrastructure issues. We have one light pole that’s basically supplying our power that’s been held up since April with a rope. So it’s kind of like, when is it gonna go? That’s really gonna affect the vulnerable people in the neighborhood––people on ventilators, people who need their medicine refrigerated.”

Abigail Wolf in black sunglasses and plaid shirt moved from the Cudell neighborhood to the Central neighborhood in 2019
Abigail Wolf moved from the Cudell neighborhood to the Central community in 2019. Credit: Abigail Wolf / from her personal collection

When asked what she thinks could be done to improve safety,  she said she believes more lighting and regular police patrols could help, not just officers coming out when there is an emergency. “In Cudell, I knew the police officers, I knew them by name, they knew me by name. They would wave and we would talk,” Wolf shared. “In Central, I never see them out of the police car. I never see them interacting with people. They are only there for a call. I think that gives them a bad reputation in the community. People won’t call when they need help.”

More to come

Community listening has introduced me to feelings of hope and joy in the Central community. In any space I’ve entered, I’ve been welcomed and treated like family. By continuing these conversations with residents, we leave space for residents to have control over their narratives as they share what really matters to them. I’m grateful to have been chosen to amplify the untold stories of Central.

Signal background

Suggested Listening

Community Reporter (he/him)
Najee has been a Cleveland Documenter since it started in 2020. He joins Signal Cleveland from a role as an organizer with New Voices for Reproductive Justice. He leads the Central Community Listening Team.