Updated: Aug 19, 2021
Sometimes you can use a carrot. Sometimes it takes a stick. The city of Beaver Creek, Ohio learned that lesson the hard way. I have never heard of this case before watching the nonfiction film, Free to Ride, by Jamaal Bell. It detailed the lengths that some people will go to for a better life, and the equal lengths that others will go to in order to prevent that progress.
It was reported in the Dayton Daily News by reporter Joanne Huist Smith that "Beavercreek could lose millions of dollars in transportation funding if the city fails to act on Federal Highway Administration recommendations to revisit bus stops near the Mall at Fairfield Commons. At stake is at least $10.7 million in federal funding the city is depending on during the next five years to fund $19 million in road projects."
You see residents had to walk over an Interstate overpass to get to a bus stop that would take them to jobs that were located outside of their residence and in the city of Beaver Creek. There was all kinds of nonsense about the possibly needing air conditioning bus shelters or that the added route would bring crime. Although the local transit authority did everything they were supposed to, Beaver Creek declined their application. You guessed it, until along came that stick. According to Smith, "the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Civil Rights on Thursday ruled that the “African Americans have faced discriminatory impact as a result of the city’s decision to deny the RTA’s application to install bus stops along Pentagon Boulevard in the City.”"
Although this case took place some years ago, the pattern and practice has not changed. We still need civil rights divisions at the local and federal level to ensure that the rights of all citizens are protected, but especially African Americans who have consistently had our rights violated.
In addition to his thought-provoking film, Jamaal made me consider what was at the root of the motivation behind Beaver Creek's actions. We talked about access, economics, voting rights, scarcity, competition, redlining, investments and so much more. The conversation definitely warranted two episodes. And Jamaal definitely gave me a lot to think about and process.
It can be easy to write people off who struggle to overcome the barriers erected by poverty, but there is skillset not often appreciated possessed by people who have to make little go a long way, and who know by lived experience the value of being able to grind it out. That perseverance, innovation, drive, and creativity should make them highly sought after employees. Instead if looks like tardiness when public transportation isn't reliable, it looks like excuses when you can't work late because the last bus leaves an hour earlier.
Then taking the next step to consider how those barriers of poverty were erected is a whole other discussion and how we can go about dismantling those barriers is our ultimate goal.
I hope you enjoy my extended conversation with Jamaal Bell on Season 5, Episodes 7 and 8 of Soapbox Diaries.
Catch Part 1 and Part 2 of Compelled at: https://www.soapboxdiaries.com/podcast
Watch Free to Ride on YouTube
Watch A Reading of the Letter from Birmingham Jail on YouTube. Find out more about The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.