Rev. Sharon Dittmar - June 11, 2014


A letter I wrote to several thought partners and city leaders in response to exceptional Enquirer coverage on teens in the city.

Dear Editor:

This is one of the most important series I have ever seen. Thank you so much. My congregation is discussing this in some small groups and I will be using it somehow - blog, google+, something.

Fourteen years old is an age when people can still see these children as children. Two years from now people will want to "lock" them up if they get in trouble instead of listening to the heartbreaking reality in which so many reside.

I have ministered in Avondale for sixteen years. I know children like this and I see where they live.

Here is where I hope we can leverage some meaningful change. This summer the I71 interchange begins at MLK. For almost eight years I have had my eyes on the plan for development.

Will this interchange (going through Avondale) be used to spur development and support local residents or will we repeat some Cincinnati history (rip out a neighborhood and move our poor, local residents out of the development and its benefits). I have looked and looked and so far I have seen little that speaks to me of real inclusion and creation of a vibrant mixed neighborhood.

Last spring at a planning meeting we learned that the most popular ODOT plan involved taking big rigs down city street in order to reach the industrial neighborhood in Avondale (there is one) and eliminating its current route from highway to industry.

Due to protest the plan was changed. But for a city that says it wants jobs and business, how could no city leader look at that plan and realize what we in Avondale realized, it would have choked local business. This ignorance of the neighborhoods concerns me.

I would happily work with any business/redevelopment/government program, etc. that wants to uplift the lives of local residents with this development. We need a new interchange for everyone, not just for the "haves" speeding to work and school, but everyone.

It is not about being a bleeding heart. It is looking into the eyes of these children, residents of our city, and human beings and asking ourselves if their quality of life is really the best we have to offer as adults with power, residents of our city and human beings?

Do we want children to grow up afraid to play outside, attending their best friend's funeral at age 13, dying while waiting for a manicure? Many of these children will grow up challenged to finish high school, exposed to criminal activity and violence and without the skills to fuel the economy and employment situation we say we want.

To say any less admits our defeat and that, I am not willing to do. We are the ones to make a difference. They are counting on us.

These 14 year olds are our legacy. My pain is that I see them, but I have not yet found a way to enable others to see them, to understand that we can make policy and programming changes that make a difference.

The young man who said that incarceration does nothing, is correct. The number one predictor of repeat crime is not race or age, it is previous time spent in jail.

Where are the funds for diversion programs and mental health and drug treatment instead of incarceration? Where is the more intensive funding for public education.

Our public education system in the State of Ohio has been ruled unconstitutional multiple times because it is based on property taxes. Do our urban neighborhoods have as much money as our suburban? Of course not, and we wonder why urban test scores are lower . . .

Most of all I am frustrated with ministry. I care, but caring is not enough. Frankly, I need you who understand business, and finance, and policy and have the leverage to influence business, civic, financial, and governmental leaders.

Please help me help them help us. Because the society we have chosen to create breaks my heart.

These are our children.

Reverend Sharon Dittmar

First Unitarian Church, Cincinnati