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'I've had enough': Woman finds refuge from Cleveland racial disparities through nonprofit's storytelling platform

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Posted at 7:22 AM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 07:32:59-04

CLEVELAND — As a Black woman living in Cleveland, the fight to be seen, valued and heard is one Dr. Tisha Carter, better known as Dr. T, came to know all too well.

“At a certain point I just thought is it me? Am I crazy?”

The lifelong fight became brutal in her job search lasting more than a decade.

“I went through a doctorate program, still applying for jobs, still nothing,” she said. “I have three degrees. How is that even possible?”

Then, came the fight for her health.

“I had numerous miscarriages and even a stillborn and I really think it’s due to the inadequate healthcare that I’ve received,” Dr. T explained. “I saw multiple doctors at multiple health systems here in Cleveland and had horrible experiences with each one of them.”

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Dr. Tisha Carter.

While her spirits were lifted through prayer and support, Dr. T says it was a writing prompt for a Literary Cleveland internship that set her free.

“It was out of my frustration [that] I was just like I’ve had enough,” she said. “I just was like okay this is my platform like I need to let other women know they’re not alone because I felt alone…Once I sent in that submission, hit that submit button, I was like I don’t even care if they don’t pick me. I just wanted them to hear what I had to say.”

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Dr. Tisha Carter.

At the time, Cleveland nonprofit, Literary Cleveland, was focused on diversifying its team specifically looking for those who had been marginalized. The group also operates as acreative writing center that empowers people to explore other voices and discover their own,” as its website states.

“Our identities are made up of stories, our communities are made-up of stories even the way that we greet each other, how are you, is an invitation to a story,” said Matt Weinkam, Executive Director of Literary Cleveland. “When only people with power and privilege are the ones able to tell the stories, things stay the same…the more you give power and amplify the voices of the people from the bottom up, the more we can change and transform the city.”

Weinkam says their mission is rooted in transforming the city of Cleveland, which remains overwhelmed with various disparities. However, storytelling has the power to shape communities, cultures and give a voice to those often marginalized and unheard. However, according to a 2019 studyinto diversity in publishing, a majority of employees at publishing houses are white, straight and non-disabled, CIS-women.

“Cleveland has a 66% literacy rate, one of the most segregated cities, one of the poorest cites of its size [and] worst outcomes for Black women,” he explained.

Weinkam went on to say, “all of that makes it more challenging,” as it pertains to people feeling safe, confident and supported enough to advocate for themselves. Yet, through workshops, providing equal publishing opportunities, anthologies and literacy advocacy, Literary Cleveland has pushed back to create safe spaces; a space for Dr. T, who is now a Literary Cleveland collaborator, mom and black woman surviving in Cleveland.

“It’s crazy how many women have walked the same path, have had the same experiences… I plan to keep the convo going until I can’t anymore,” Dr. T said. “We’ve got to do better… my hope is to have some systemic change. Will that happen? I don’t know.”

Cleveland Book Week

Literacy Cleveland joined Cleveland Book Week alongside Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and Great Lakes African American Conference for the first time this year for a greater community impact.

The event takes place September 9-18.

According to a press release, “each partner has an established record of social justice programming, community engagement, and artistic excellence. The three organizations have been meeting since March 2021 to design the 2022 Cleveland Book Week together. As a result of these efforts, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded $12,000 to this venture.”

“That’ll make us be able to collaborate better, share resources, bring in writers that can attend all these different programs and really serve more people,” Weinkam said. “Anisfield-Wolf has been around for 70, 80 years awarding these books and that legacy in the community, the work they’re putting forward, that’s really rare. So, to have something like that in Cleveland is a real asset.”

Literary Cleveland will kick off the 2022 Book Week with the Inkubator Writing Conference, returning to the downtown Cleveland Public Library in person on September 9-10. The organization will hold free writing workshops, panel discussions, craft talks, readings, and more They are also accepting applications for a four-month “Inkubator Fellowship.”

Click here, to apply.