As submitted to the Village Voice of Ottawa Hills. A similar version was Printed in the December 2012 Edition..
I was invited to write for the Village Voice about my experience volunteering to help in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, NY. While there’s certainly a lot of devastation from the storm, one thing’s for certain, the area will rebuild and most of the people, who lived here before the storm, will do so again.
The same can’t be said our hometown of Toledo, OH-which cannot be divorced from the Village of Ottawa Hills which leads it and the seemingly larger disaster that’s happened here over the last 30 years– one that has caused a mass migration of almost an entire generation.
This exodus didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t a hurricane, earthquake or even terrorism, but the implications its had on the demographics our community are more profound than any of those other disasters we often hear about, combined. It threatens an entire way of life that we were all raised in-almost an entire generation that largely will not return.
I was in the class of ’98 and from my grade, I can count talented scientists, lawyers, doctors, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, marketers, investment bankers, casting agents—enough had all they stayed they would have made Toledo a really interesting place. These are your children–other communities are now largely enjoying the work Ottawa Hills put into raising this generation. What happened to where we grew up?
There’s been a lot of explanations for the ‘brain drain’ or demographic crisis in Toledo. It’s certainly about the economy and jobs! It’s too cold in Toledo! It’s the unions! Our kids weren’t trained to work in factories! All of these explanations fail to explain why all of you live in Toledo right now, many the proud owners or descendants of prosperous businesses.
I would like to offer up a different explanation. The mass migration of my generation from my hometown was simply caused by bad ideas. To put the issue more clearly, people of my generation, no matter what their political beliefs, are not flocking to intolerant places that are stubborn in their ways anymore, they are running away from them.
Back to the task at hand-I was invited to write about my service work in the hurricane recovery. Its been said it takes a village to raise a child—I now 32 years old was a child of Ottawa Hills. Working for free and helping other people makes me feel good in ways that drugs, sunny days and making piles of money simply can’t top. I didn’t discover this from any overt attempts from our teachers at Ottawa Hills, but they certainly played a role.
You see, in the pre internet 90s at OHHS, no matter who you were, you were given a caste and no matter what you did, as long as you attended our school system-arguably the best in the area, there was nothing you could do to change it. While this is somewhat common in, well life… this caste was reinforced by yes our fellow peers-that’s to be expected. But what surprises most people who didn’t grow up in the village is when I tell them our caste system was enforced 360 degrees by almost every single one of our teachers, parents & community leaders for as far as the eye could see.
Whether you were cool or whether you were a loser, there was simply no escaping it unless you escaped the village entirely. What does this have to do with Hurricane Sandy or anything else? Living through Ottawa Hills schools, despite the fact that I came from privilege financially, I was able to identify with disadvantaged people and minority groups because whether I was the oppressor or the one being oppressed, there’s not a student who went through our school system that doesn’t understand that arrangement first hand.
My classmates who were coddled & celebrated at OH, were not prepared for the world that faced them out there and that’s unfortunate. Others who were devastated by some of our vindictive parents, conspiring teachers (who can forget the bully that carried the hockey stick & called himself a math teacher), and well the way we treated each other, became the people they are today largely based on these impressions, for better or worse.
Those who were in between, as I like to think I was, saw it all—either contributing to the oppression or fearing when these weapons would be thrust upon you. There’s not enough room to get into the cut-throat competition, overt racism, athletic idolism, rampant cheating & vapid materialism that colored my childhood—again, not just from my friends and classmates, but from their parents and those they hired to teach and watch us in their schools.
I would not have accomplished everything I have today without Ottawa Hills, but at the same time, I would never send my children there, nor subject them to what you all describe as a community.
I find it fitting that I was invited by Yarko Kuk to write about my community service experience involved Hurricane Sandy. It was in fact, riding around with Yarko while shadowing him as an Ottawa Hills Police officer, that showed me how serving the community can actually feel good. But its beyond Officer Kuk—its truly a person’s upbringing that truly sets the stage for future service to the community.
When my parents moved to Hasty Hills in 1980 from out of state, there was actually a housing shortage in Toledo at the time—now despite their huge investments over the last thirty years, I hope they will be able to find someone to sell it to, so they can move on. My point here is, and yes, maybe it could help their property values, is that there is a tremendous amount of community service that needs to be done in Toledo.
I’m not talking about writing checks, or posing for more pictures on the pages of the Village Voice, I’m talking about genuine community building where the people of Ottawa Hills, as leaders in the Toledo area, actually organize around the notion, that if you make the area a more welcoming place, it may not only personally make you feel good, but it also could save your retirements and your property values from plummeting further into the gutter.
It all starts at Ottawa Hills Schools. It’s still our biggest asset and it’s the place where we all come together to build the next generation. Keep in mind, to send three children to private school in some major cities FOR ONE YEAR could almost pay for a reasonable house in Ottawa Hills now—but in order to attract that type of student, instead of threatening to cut Chinese language for more faded glory on the Football field, give your students a reason to learn Chinese by establishing a legitimate cultural exchange progamme.
The disaster that our community is enduring did not happen overnight and it will take a tremendous amount of will and determination to turn the tide. While those suffering from Sandy do genuinely need your financial assistance, they fortunately have something we all could learn from here—a strong, generational connection to their land and to a way of life that says no matter what happens, they will rebuild and be here for the next generation to want to come home to.
For more go to The Village Voice of Ottawa Hills