Was it anti-immigrant sentiment or simple vandalism and theft? Regardless of the motive behind the destruction of the local community garden, Cleveland Heights residents are united in their efforts to rebuild.
Cleveland Heights is home to several immigrant communities. Among these is a significant Nepalese community in the Noble neighborhood. Two years ago, Stephen Walker, a long-time resident who has been involved in a number of community development efforts, met some of the local Nepali children during his work with the school district. Walker told Scene that the kids expressed a desire to be more involved with the community. “They kinda said, ‘Well you know we like Cleveland Heights but we don’t really feel included,’ or at least there’s no inclusion for them, not as much as there should be.” Together with his friend Jay-Rod Johnson, Walker turned an empty lot of Delmore Road into a community garden to express the unity between the communities in the area.
Walker said they chose to express this sentiment through the creation of a garden because his conversations with parents revealed than many were natural farmers. After almost two years, the construction of the garden began in June 2019 and was aided entirely through volunteer efforts, including students from the local high school and middle schools. However, just a few weeks after the garden was created, Johnson came to check on it and found it vandalized. He called Walker, who was on vacation at the time, and the two sprung into action, immediately.
On Thursday afternoon, just a few days after news of the vandalism broke, more than two dozen residents met at the garden to begin the replanting process. Walker, Johnson and State Representative Janine Boyd spoke at the event. “We’re always inspired by community, because that’s what Cleveland Heights is,” Rep. Boyd noted. “To me, this is what we do. Whether we are citizens collecting signatures to put something on the ballot to improve government...or we are marching together for everything that we value....this is what we do.”
For Johnson, this experience has been a welcoming one- despite the tragic destruction of the garden. “I’m newer to the city of Cleveland Heights,” Johnson told the group, “and so this has kinda actually renewed my sense of community. I can say that I feel welcome, which is what we hope for the Nepalese families.” Johnson and Walker agreed that the turnout exceeded their expectations. Whether it’s relationships or garden beds, the community is clearly excited to continue their building efforts.