Unexamined fear is fuel for flight

It's remarkable to me now that when I arrived in Cleveland in 1958, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights were still fairly solid bastions of rigid political conservatism, blatant racism, anti-Semitism and jingoistic patriotism.

I know less about Shaker than CH, where we soon moved from our initial West Side rental. CH council and mayor then were solid Republican. Jews were dissuaded from buying homes in Forest Hills. The banks redlined blacks into new ghettos only. In fact, a person could paint his house only white in Forest Hills, this after getting permission from the local "association" to paint it at all.

Our first home was 3007 East Overlook Road, with four small second-floor bedrooms, ideal for four fast growing children. Our easterly neighbor, gentleman widower from the Deep South, manicured his lawn almost daily, slowly pushing a noiseless reel-type mower while wearing a rumpled business suit, vest, necktie and smoking his pipe.

One day, my early-teen sons brought home two young black friends from Roosevelt Junior High, then on Lee Road. The neighbor was mowing when the boys came out to throw baseballs around on our lawn. He watched for some minutes, then went inside. Next day, a "For Sale By Owner" sign appeared on his lawn and a few weeks later he was gone. Today I find it remarkable that just seeing four young mixed-race boys playing together could have generated that much instant energy for human flight!

Today, after two more CH homes, and now in a Shaker Square area apartment, I see our Heights communities continue to become more diverse, socially equitable and vital. No longer majority bastions of old class interest, but now more socially unwalled communities, together having problems, together solving problems. Now vital 21st-century American communities where diversity may live and thrive.

I think back to my former neighbor, in every way a decent person but fixed by lifelong cultural bias, and who would only flee when he saw an apparent terrifying reality happening close by. I think how much he, and the many others similarly terrified, have lost by their instantaneous fear-driven flight out of such gracious, and nature-blessed communities as ours.

I believe we continue to lose when we do not critically examine our deepest personal and cultural fears. When we fail to consider who or what planted them. And when we do not consider for what purpose they were planted in the first place.

Walter Nicholes

Walter Nicholes, a 50-year resident CH, now retired and living in Shaker Heights, believes the Heights communities are remarkable for their diversity.

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Volume 4, Issue 5, Posted 9:45 PM, 04.11.2011