Showing those with the money those with the heart
Deposit on an area’s future
Summit Lake activists show bankers area, how it is now, and how it could be
By Carl Chancellor
Beacon Journal staff writer
It was a different kind of drive-by that took place Friday in Akron‘s often-troubled Summit Lake community.
For the better part of an hour, a dozen bankers, sitting shoulder to shoulder with neighborhood activists and United Way officials, craned their necks looking out the small bus’s windows as it weaved through streets pocked by boarded-up houses and overgrown vacant lots.
Community activist Duane Crabbs, who runs South Street Ministries, stood at the front of the bus acting as tour guide, explaining to the uninitiated the good, bad and ugly of the 58-block Summit Lake neighborhood.
Crabbs, a former firefighter who moved to the neighborhood with his family nearly a decade ago, ran down the facts about Summit Lake: nearly 70 percent of the property is rental; it has the second-highest crime rate in the city; most households are run by single parents; and four out of every 10 residents dwell in poverty, making it the city’s second poorest neighborhood.
However, it wasn’t Crabbs’ intent to scare his sightseers. He, along with folks such as Michael Starks, Summit Lake Neighborhood Association’s community organizer, were out to convince the bankers that investing in the community makes sound business sense.
“There are some real problems, but there are opportunities that exist as well,” Crabbs said.
As the bus turned on to Coburn Street, Crabbs proudly pointed to the well-kept, moderately priced single-family homes that were built on the neighborhood’s northern edge in the late 1990s. He said the homes give a hint of the community’s potential.
Starks, who was raised in the Summit Lake community, said another strength of the community is its diversity: roughly 65 percent black, 30 percent white and 5 percent Asian.
As if on cue, the bus pulled up to a brightly colored Buddhist Temple, which serves the neighborhood’s Laotian community.
“We also have the city’s only Islamic mosque,” Crabbs added.
The tour also included stops at the Summit Lake Community recreation center, P.R. Miller’s eclectic art studio, a small manufacturing company, Lincoln Elementary school and Open M, a local nonprofit organization that offers hot meals, a food bank, a free clinic and after-school programs for students.
Katie Rennard, United Way‘s vice president of resource development, said her agency’s role in Friday’s tour was of a facilitator.
“We wanted to inform donors of the wonderful things going on in this community,” Rennard said.
It was the United Way that sent out invitations to the bankers representing FirstMerit, Fifth Third, Key, National City and Charter One. She said the United Way, which funds a number of efforts in the neighborhood, wanted to “use its clout” to bring business leaders together with community leaders.
“I absolutely see the positives,” said Mark Rusher of Fifth Third Bank.
Rusher said the tour was the first time he had had the opportunity to see the Summit Lake neighborhood first-hand.
“This was more than a joy-ride for me. Fifth Third is here to be a big part of the community,” Rusher said. He said he would be looking to provide people with the opportunity for home ownership in the neighborhood.
“I know there are buyers out there looking for loans, but they are often afraid to reach out to banks. That’s why banks need to be more proactive.”
Denise Hicks, an assistant vice president with FirstMerit, said she had her eyes opened.
“I was very impressed,” she said.
Hicks said FirstMerit has experience with community development projects in other poor Akron communities, and sees no reason why the same can’t happen in Summit Lake.
Starks, who knows more than a little about being down and out, said that for too long there has been a sense of apathy in Summit Lake.
“Somewhere along the line, Summit Lake was disconnected from the rest of Akron,” Stark said. “People feel discouraged, they feel there is no hope on the horizon.”
However, Stark said he senses an attitude change in the community.
“That’s the key. You revitalize a community by getting into people’s minds, getting into people’s hearts. You do that by keeping hope alive,” he said.
Stark, Crabbs and others are hoping that Friday’s tour helped put a different light on Summit Lake.
“We have a ton of heart. We just don’t have the resources,” said Crabbs, talking to the group of bankers.“If you can bring the infrastructure, we can bring the heart.”
Carl Chancellor can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.