Police officers call the blocks north of Indiana Avenue, west of I-75, "Beat 620;" statistically, it leads Toledo in shootings and homicides. It’s also one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Unless someone’s blasting, you don’t hear much about it.
But that’s not the whole story -- it never is.
Positive things are going on around-the-way -- if you just look. (Journalism rule No. 1: Get the hell out of the office. Nothing good happens there.)
Last week, while riding around the neighborhood, I bumped into 20 students, ages 14 to 18, painting a mural and some concrete platforms around Roosevelt Pool at 910 Dorr St., near Smith Park. The last time I read about Smith Park in The Blade was in connection to the Smith Park Mafia, an alleged gang also known as the Lil Heads.
The late rapper Tupac Shakur said -- and I’m paraphrasing -- that unless young people are shooting up the streets, no one pays attention. The same could be said for this neighborhood. But these kids weren’t beefing or banging. They were turning drab concrete into vibrant rushes of color that would showcase a shimmering neon-hued mural, including a sunset that lights up a rendition of the I-280 Bridge.
I learned later that they were part of the Young Artists at Work (YAAW) summer youth program, sponsored by The Arts Commission. YAAW employed more than 60 students this year for six weeks, paying the minimum wage of $7.85 an hour.
When I went back to Roosevelt a few days later, the mural was almost done. The place had a different vibe, and it was definitely working for neighborhood resident Diante Allen, 20, who was chilling with his 4-year-old son, Tayvion.
"It looks and makes you feel better,’’ Diante told me. "The colors give it a whole different feeling than a bare wall. It makes you feel like you’re somewhere else, like on a beach."
Public art like the Roosevelt Pool mural transforms an entire space, and takes whoever is there along for the ride. It can light up an entire community or city, and even boost economic development, as Philadelphia has shown with its internationally known city-sponsored Mural Arts Program.
The Roosevelt mural will include parts of a poem written by the apprentices entitled: "Toledo: the Radiant City of Change." That would make a pretty good campaign slogan, except that politicians would find a way to corrupt the message. They always do.
These young artists have created a mural and public art that people will enjoy for decades. That’s news -- good news -- for a hardknock neighborhood that could use some.