CLEVELAND — When Cleveland was named the poorest big city in America in 2006, Jan Thrope, a community activist who was working at a homeless shelter at the time, was disappointed.
“Dead last, that we were the worst?” she said.
She recalled something a homeless man once told her.
“He said you, 'Know what?' None of you get it. None of you get what I need. What I need is a pair of underwear,” she said.
That comment sent Thrope into motion.
“From that moment, I decided that I was going to start walking through the community. People aren’t broken. What’s broken is our connection to each other," she said.
Thrope forged a new way to address the complex issue of poverty, and it started with walking the streets.
Victoria Trotter, a local business owner, was the first person Thrope met on her journey. "Nobody is supposed to save our community. It doesn’t need saving. What it needs is access to resources that make a difference,” Trotter said.
“It became so clear that the reason we hadn’t found some solutions to poverty is that we were talking to the wrong people,” said Thrope.
She decided to change the narrative and created “Inner Visions of Cleveland.”
Thrope started hosting ridealongs, bringing people from the suburbs to the inner city.
“Inner Visions was founded as a way to do deep listening, to discover people with a vision and passion for changing the community and then providing them with the support,” Thrope said.
Conversations between people who would never have been in the same room together led to ideas that addressed poverty and systemic racism.
Thrope designed her own source of crowdfunding. People who participated in the ridealongs would pay $25 to vote for the best ideas to tackle racism and poverty. The top idea took home the prize.
Often, prizes would be around $2,000, allowing inner city residents to get a start on their ideas.
The funding provided residents with the seed money they would not have otherwise had for projects in their community.
Gwendolyn Garth, who received some of the funding, was able to open up an art gallery for Black artists, which is something she says she wouldn't have been able to do without that money.
"Words can’t convey what’s in my heart," said Garth.
You can learn more about Inner Visions of Cleveland here.
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.