'West End Stories' Podcast Preserves Memories from Former, Current Neighborhood Residents

"The process very much felt like we're running out of time. You know, these individuals are in their late 60s and 70s. We don't want to lose these stories,” podcast host Keloni Parks says.

click to enlarge 'West End Stories' Podcast Preserves Memories from Former, Current Neighborhood Residents
Photo: Facebook.com/CincyLibrary

To help keep readers plugged into Cincinnati life even as we continue to physically distance from each other due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, CityBeat is highlighting a series of local podcasts and their creators every week. Read the first installment here.

The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library recently launched its West End Stories Project, which is hosted by West End Branch Library Manager Keloni Parks.

Through interviews with former or current residents of Cincinnati’s West End, Parks aims to preserve the deeply unique history of the neighborhood, which has undergone many recent changes that many say have undermined the community.

Urban renewal projects such as the construction of Interstate I-75 and the West End’s FC Cincinnati Stadium led to many buildings being demolished in the West End. For many, the neighborhood, which has always had a predominantly Black population, is becoming unrecognizable, Parks explains.

“Due to segregation and other things like housing restrictions, a lot of Black people in the city have ties to this community. And when urban renewal and I-75 and things like that started happening to this community, it really devastated the Black community,” Parks tells CityBeat.

Parks says she was inspired to create and host the podcast following the death of historian and author John Harshaw, who was originally scheduled to give a lecture on West End’s history before his passing. The podcast is also personal to Parks, whose father hails from the West End.

Parks describes the project as oral tradition delivered in a digital format to be listened to by both current and future generations. 

“The process very much felt like we're running out of time. You know, these individuals are in their late 60s and 70s. We don't want to lose these stories,” Parks says. 

Though the podcast focuses on solely one neighborhood, each episode offers a totally unique experience told by a resident. By structuring the podcast around the memories of residents, it offers a multifaceted painting of the West End that fostered so many different experiences of the same places.

“There's a lot of similarities. I mean, a lot of people went to some of the same places for recreation, like going to the Regal. Maybe some people moreso remember the movies while other people more so remember the live shows,” Parks says.

The project was originally going to be a video series, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused Parks and co-producer Kent Mulcahy to switch to an audio medium to deliver these stories. 

The audio delivery of these stories is also an essential part of the preservation. As opposed to the testimonies being printed in an academic source, hearing the voices of the West End community brings the entire neighborhood back to life, Parks explains. 

Upcoming episodes include interviews with retired educator Ralph Moon Jr., University of Cincinnati professor and author Laverne Summerlin and photojournalist Melvin Grier. 

West End Stories is released monthly. It can be accessed on the library’s page, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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