Again, what has changed?

Cain Park's sledding hill last year: It's getting dark and most of the kids have gone home. But an hour earlier, the place was packed with kids and adults, white and black, having fun, and nobody seemed to care what color you were.

There it is again. It won’t go away—that tired old “I’ve heard Cleveland Heights has really changed” thing that people say, people who no longer live here. I’ve written about this before, but it keeps coming back.

Just recently, someone in a Cleveland Heights-related Facebook group posted a photo of kids sledding down the hill at Cain Park in the 1970s. One of the first comments was “Those were the good old days.” I figured the commenter must have moved out of state and has assumed that kids no longer go sledding there. So I said to him, “It’s also the present. It’s exactly the same today.”

He responded, “I’ve heard that it changed.” I said, “Not at all. I’ve lived in Cleveland Heights for my whole life. I used to go sledding at Cain Park when I was a kid. Then I took my kids there when they were little. And now my son takes his kids there. And I also go to many concerts there during the summer.”

He said, “That’s good to know. I always loved Cleveland Heights.”

But there are two things you need to know about that: One is that it turns out he does not live in Florida or Arizona or California; he lives in Lakewood. The other one is that I’m pretty sure that when I said sledding at Cain Park hasn’t changed, and he said, “That’s good to know,” he was relieved because he interpreted that to mean there really aren’t a lot of black people there, as he’d been led to believe,

Because that’s what people mean when they say, “I’ve heard that Cleveland Heights has really changed.”

When I attended Heights High, in the late ‘60s, the school had, maybe, six black students, out of 3,000 kids.

When my son started at Heights in 2002, he and the other white students were very much in the minority. I was asked to volunteer for many things at the school, so I was often inside the building.

I admit that I felt a little frightened for a while. But I figured out that I was not scared to be among so many black teenagers; I was scared to be among so many teenagers, period. But then I learned that these kids, black or white, were nice people. Most of them. These kids, black and white, always held doors open for me—which was kind of annoying, because it meant they saw me as old. But it was nice of them. And they called me sir. And, best of all, they laughed at my jokes. No, really.

The hallways, between classes, were noisy. But so were they when I went to Heights. There were occasional fights in halls and in the courtyard—but not as many as there were when I attended Heights.

My kids graduated from Heights in the early 2000s, but I’m still in the Cedar Lee area often. And my daughter-in-law teaches at Heights, and my son is the coach of the swim team, and manages Cumberland Pool in the summer. So, I’m still around the school and Cain Park and Cumberland Park a lot. And, yes, things have changed in the schools and in the parks—if you mean the percentages of white and black kids. But kids haven’t changed, as far as I can tell. Many carry cell phones today. But we would have, too, had they been available.

When you take your children or grandchildren sledding at Cain Park this winter, and you see the kids, all bundled up and covered up and wrapped up, and you watch and listen to them playing, see if you can tell which ones are black and which are white. Spoiler alert: You won’t be able to. So, then, what has changed? The attitudes of people who think something is different, and don’t like it.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 7:33 PM, 10.31.2018