News: The Pace of Change

A life of turmoil was the foundation for Renaissance House

Jymi Bolden

Having overcome addiction, Robert Pace is now working to help other men recover.

Five years ago Robert Pace saw the need for transitional housing in Cincinnati, a place where men who are addicted, homeless or mentally disabled could rehabilitate and move toward independence.

Last year he purchased a home in Avondale to house men struggling to recover. On Jan. 1, the Renaissance Transition House opened.

Pace is no stranger to hard living. Thirty-one years ago he stood in front of his father as he lay dying on an Avondale street, shot by a bail-bondsman. The Cincinnati Enquirer photographed the shocked 11-year-old boy as he watched his mortally wounded father.

Six months after his father's death, Pace began drinking. He started with Thunderbird, a fortified wine. By age 26, when he became sober, he'd moved on to Wild Irish Rose, drugs, fighting and encounters with the law.

"I didn't have a father," he says.

"I didn't have someone to put me in check."

Pace longed to be like his older brother. When his brother began using heroin, Pace soon followed.

"I'm not blaming my older brother for my alcohol use," he says." It was a self decision."

The last time Pace saw his older brother was in 1983 in Los Angeles.

"When I saw him, I didn't recognize him," Pace says. "The drugs tore him up so bad."

One year later, his older brother was murdered — stabbed in the heart; it took a week to identify the body. Pace decided it was time to make a change in his own life. He's now been clean and sober for nearly 18 years.

"The memories are still there," he says. "I would have never done the things I did if I were sober. I see the world differently now. I feel differently about people now. I have more love for myself, my family, my God and my community."

Pace's experiences might be extreme, but he knows the problem of substance abuse runs deep in American society.

"There's not one family in America that has not been affected by drugs and alcohol," he says.

The Renaissance Transition House provides a structured living environment for up to eight men. Six live there now. Residents sign a contract committing to breaking their addictions.

"Drug abuse and alcohol are absolutely not tolerated in this house," Pace says. "We only take those who are serious about becoming clean and sober."

Rules of the house require residents to have jobs or do something constructive during the day. They attend 12-step addiction programs, as well as household meetings.

Residents must perform volunteer work. That's an activity Pace hopes clients continue after leaving Renaissance House.

"When you are successful — especially successful black people — and come out of the inner city and move to suburbia, it is important that you give back," he says.

Stereotypes about the people who need transitional housing are often untrue, according to Pace.

"I have had stockbrokers, real estate brokers, business execs come into this house," he says. "There comes a time when you have to humble yourself and say, 'I need some help, too.' "

Pace hopes to convince professional people to form organizations that will address needs in Cincinnati communities.

"We need to teach people how to control what goes on in their communities," he says. "The first ones to suffer when services are cut are the poor. We must provide child care, medical care, residency for abusers and safe street programs where children can play without being bothered by dealers, prostitutes and molesters."

He wants to create block clubs to empower people to take responsibility for the cleanliness and safety of their neighborhoods.

"We can't depend on the city to do these things for us," Pace says. "We have to be the ones to make a change. The community's well-being ultimately rests with us."

Pace is helping organize Cincinnati Freedom Summer, a series of programs organized by civil rights groups and African-American churches to register voters, organize neighborhoods and work for change in the city.

"There are a lot more people in need these days," Pace says. "Systems can and will be put in place if people are willing."

Renaissance House is an example. Residents pay rent while living there, but almost all of the furnishings were donated. The combination of Pace's initiative, community support and volunteer assistance is meeting a problem.

Before the year's end, Pace would like to open a bigger transitional home. ©

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