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From entertainment queen to grandmother of the garden, this woman is getting Clevelanders to eat healthier

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Posted at 11:30 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 11:30:58-04

CLEVELAND — Vel Scott is known for creating a bustling nightlife for Black Clevelanders in the 1960s. But now this grandmother has transitioned her life’s work into helping others change their eating habits and creating a more healthy lifestyle.

In 1963, Scott and her husband Don Scott bought a bowling alley in University Circle and converted the basement into what would become The Red Carpet Lounge.

“We just brought in all kinds of acts from around the country to the nightclub. Our Fridays and Saturdays were just very full,” said Scott.

She would serve up soul food as Clevelanders would dance the night away.

“That's what sort of put us in the entertainment piece. And food was always the center of what we did,” she said.

While the dynamic husband-and-wife team continued to thrive professionally, some alarming news was revealed about Don’s health.

“My husband was diagnosed during the 80s with hypertension and congestive heart failure, and we knew we had to make some changes,” she said.

Scott took it upon herself and altered her recipes, experimenting with the dishes she served up at her establishments.

She traveled to West Africa to learn more about spices and how to cook healthier. The things she learned helped her husband reverse some of his health challenges in just a few short months.

“His diagnosis actually catapulted me into sharing the information I had gained,” she said.

By 1998, she started Vel’s Purple Oasis— a community-based urban farm in University Circle.

It’s the place where folks of all ages learned how to grow and eat healthier options.

“I had a diagnosis of cancer and I was able to understand that I had to change my habits,” said Dionne Thomas-Carmichael, a friend of Scott. “Vel has really incorporated and helped to inspire me to eat really more fruits and vegetables.”

Scott brings the farm to the table where she brings residents to her community kitchen and gives them cooking lessons. She also promotes exercise like group pilates.

“The Black community has the highest morbidity, highest rates of cancer. Highest rates of diabetes. It’s up to us to change our attitude and our eating habits," Scott said.

Like Carmichael, many people have given Scott the credit for empowering them to take back their health, starting at the kitchen table.

“People have told me that 'My blood pressure has been regulated,' or 'I’m a diabetic and my numbers are good,'” said Scott.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.