Waiting to Exhale

Keep power from the mighty and the mighty from the small. Heaven help us all.¨ -- Stevie Wonder, ¨Heaven Help Us All¨ The neighborhoods that Sugar ´N Spice diners hail from mig

May 17, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Keep power from the mighty and the mighty from the small. Heaven help us all.¨

— Stevie Wonder, ¨Heaven Help Us All¨

The neighborhoods that Sugar ´N Spice diners hail from might not always be ideal, but the restaurant is. It´s practically a racial utopia.

During this weekday swing time between late breakfast and early lunch at the Bond Hill fixture, a white, 50ish waitress talks shop with a black female customer down the counter who appears about the same age. Natalie Cole duets on ¨Unforgettable¨ with her dead father overhead.

Across the horseshoe-shaped counter, a black man dressed for the links chats up a woman sitting at the window. The black woman asks Ron Singleton, a young black professional man who enters with two white men and Lisa Bowling, a young white student, about his mother´s health.

Soon after, a well-dressed white woman greets the same black woman with a casual pat on the arm.

It´s all about love at Sugar ´N Spice. More importantly, it´s about mutual respect.

Cincinnati could take a lesson from these people and this place.

I asked Singleton, Bowling and the others in their party just whose responsibility is it to deliver us out of this mess. I wanted to know what were regular, work-a-day folks thinking about our eventual emergence from riots, protests and a boarded-up downtown, skepticism toward the police and the rest of it.

A WCPO-sponsored survey conducted by SurveyUSA says that more than half of Cincinnatians polled feel it´s everyone´s responsibility to revitalize the city — everyone´s and not that of city council´s, Mayor Charlie Luken´s, City Manager John Shirey´s or any downtown business owner.

Bowling, a 19-year-old North College Hill student, agrees.

¨I feel that it´s everybody´s responsibility,¨ she says as her lunch is delivered. ¨Everybody lives in the city, so everybody is contributing to what´s going on in the city.¨

Right now Cincinnati is caught up. All sorts of councils want people to feel safe enough to return to the bars and clubs here. White people who care want relationships to improve, and many blacks want better leadership. Everyone else, I think, just wants it all to blow over.

Singleton says it´s a matter of conversation. We don´t talk honestly, he says.

¨It all starts with talking, and we just need to start talking. Even when (the riots) happened, we talked about,¨ Singleton says of his lunch companions.

¨We talked about it,¨ says one of Singleton´s white male friends at the table. ¨We have different perspectives, and I didn´t understand (Singleton´s) perspective. That was a big help, hearing his perspective.¨

But even before the April 7 shooting death of Timothy Thomas by Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach, Singleton says many more of the city´s fundamental problems went unaddressed.

¨The biggest problem as I see it is the city´s been in denial,¨ he says. ¨We need to admit we´ve been in denial. When this happened, I listened to a lot of talk radio. White people and black people called in and people were really shocked.¨

Further, Singleton says he saw firsthand the politics of race during the ensuing protests. Thomas´ death quickly became secondary and those protesting it were presented to the world as ¨thugs.¨

¨When the riots broke out, attention was called away from Timothy Thomas and was focused on the riot,¨ he says.

Singleton, who participated in several marches, says Cincinnati Police intentionally corralled otherwise peaceful protestors to riot-prone areas so everyone could then be lumped together as lawless, roving packs of thugs.

For his part, Singleton isn´t hopeful for Cincinnati´s future. History has made him cynical.

¨I don´t feel hopeful,¨ he says. ¨When you´ve got the head of the police department not admitting to a problem, of course the people under him won´t admit to the problem. If there´s no change (at the top), it won´t change.

¨I´m holding my breath this summer.¨

That makes two of us.

contact Kathy y. wilson: [email protected]v