The Story Solution
Establishing a semi-permanent location has made Cincy Stories even more personal. With so many people with varying levels of need coming to the storefront, Ashwell and Braley have already gotten to know people who are homeless, have drug addictions, live in abusive situations, and lack jobs. Both men keep cards from health and human services agencies handy to direct visitors to the appropriate resources.
“We’re going to meet people with needs we can’t meet,” Ashwell said.
Braley said he’s been amazed to see young professionals in the storefront sitting next to people who grew up in the neighborhood—some who are drug dealers or have been incarcerated—sharing stories from their lives.
“As a pastor and a Christian, it’s a very missional thing,” Braley said.
Since opening the storefront in Walnut Hills, Braley and Ashwell have befriended some young men whom most would consider a nuisance. After the Cincy Stories crew served biscuits and gravy one morning, several of them asked for some trash bags.
“When we asked why, they said they wanted to clean up the streets because now that their stories are being heard; they feel like the neighborhood is theirs, as well, and they wanted to take some ownership of it,” said Braley.
Kevin Wright, executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, said the Cincy Stories approach offers a possible solution to the frustration lifelong residents face with revitalization efforts. Wright explained that people who have lived in an area their whole lives can start to wonder whether they’re going to be displaced or alienated when development and investments change the physical and demographic makeup of their neighborhood.
“I think Cincy Stories is allowing people to feel valued and respected, and feel like their voices and who they are is an important part of the neighborhood and will continue to be an important part,” Wright said.
As a community developer, Wright has witnessed how when real estate values increase and draw new businesses and populations, people face the challenge of getting to know others from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds whom they haven’t interacted with before.
“That’s a real problem, and that’s why I think Cincy Stories is important,” he said.
While Wright hasn’t shared any of his own stories, he’s attended live events and seen people connecting with one another.
“It’s a simple thing, but it’s very powerful,” said Wright.
With Cincy Stories continuing to grow and evolve, the project could eventually reach Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. Braley admitted that it’s a long-term goal and will take more money and staff, but he’d like to see the effects of storytelling spread across the city.
“Jesus is obviously the inspiration for this,” Braley said. “The marginalized people and the people on the outskirts: He loves them and just listens to them, and that’s why they’re drawn to him. We want to replicate that.”