Houses of worship are places that revel in storytelling. They often make meaning of the stories of everyday people—tying those stories to the sacred stories in which their faith is invested. Such was the case back in the autumn of 2019 when the members of Trinity Cathedral joined in partnership with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress to present the exhibit “Undesign the Redline.” It was a way to tie a very local injustice to a faith that demands that “justice roll down like waters.”
“Undesign the Redline” tells the story of how government practices of “redlining” in which financial institutions were allowed to discriminate against black and brown people in the housing market, and thus segregate neighborhoods by race—Black and Brown people living in urban settings with crumbling infrastructure, and White people often moving to suburbs with newer housing stock. People in redlined areas were unable to secure loans or mortgages. The practice had its origins in the 1930s, and those red lines, drawn by the U.S. Government so many years ago, continue to reflect the parts of our city where some of the worst economic suffering still exists.
The people of Trinity Cathedral thought this was a story worth telling. Their location, close to downtown and close to CSU, meant they would be able to reach a broad cross-section of Cleveland’s people. From October to December, hundreds and hundreds of people came to see the exhibit. Some Black and Brown visitors to the exhibit found their experiences affirmed and their understanding of this discriminatory practice clarified. Some White visitors were often shocked to hear about the government’s systematic efforts to encourage segregation. Day after day, as volunteer docents led tours and talked to visitors, people’s eyes were opened to the blatantly unfair practices that kept Black and Brown and White people segregated from one another. People left the exhibit feeling educated, convicted, and aware of the depth of pain caused by unfair housing practices.
During fair housing month, we work to right the wrongs that have gone on for far to long in the housing market. One of the most important things that congregations can do is be open to the very troubling stories about how we got here. To some people in the Cleveland area, this is very old news that they themselves have lived. To others, it is a new and disturbing story. No matter where people were on that spectrum, Trinity Cathedral worked to help people understand the redlining story. Knowing the origins of the story is the only way we will ever find our way to a more just and peaceful plot for all.