By Jack Delisio
I was born and raised in Cincinnati and even went to college in my hometown as well. I decided to stay in Cincinnati for VVC mainly because I have an incredible family and community of support here already and I felt I was not ready to leave that behind for a different city. That being said, once I decided to do VVC, I was nervous about not having much left to learn about my hometown and the issues that people face here every day while experiencing poverty and other forms of oppression. I had even participated in an immersion retreat during college in Cincinnati focused on urban education, gentrification, and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. “What more could I possibly have to learn?” I thought. I feared that VVC would be a repeat of my previous experiences, presenting new material to those not from here but the same old stuff to me.
However, that has definitely not been the case. I have already learned so much and I expect to learn more and more as my year with VVC continues.
This year is unique to the previous parts of my life in Cincinnati, and gives me a new perspective from which to see my hometown and its people, because I am now an adult, out of school, and living intentionally in the West End community. I grew up in Westwood and lived in Norwood/Evanston while a student at Xavier University. These neighborhoods are both fairly ethnically and economically diverse, but my experiences there differ from this year. Now that I am an adult and out of school, my parents are no longer there to avert my eyes from suffering, my classroom walls are no longer there to “protect” and isolate me from my surrounding community, and the multitude of distractions available on a college campus are no longer at my fingertips.
This year, my neighborhood is my classroom and my neighbors my professors. For this whole year, I get the opportunity to be a student of the West End, learning from real people about their real lives and real stories. VVC offers me the chance to have a much more intimate, personal, and real-life encounter with my neighbors here in the West End and build relationships with these people, the vast majority of whom experience poverty and other forms of oppression. Walking around the neighborhood and to and from work every day, I cannot ignore or escape seeing the realities of people suffering in poverty and discrimination. And when I get home, I am not isolated and distant from my neighbors but I remain connected to them, because I have chosen to live counter-culturally and live in solidarity with my neighbors. I have chosen this year to live not just according to what I want and what makes me comfortable, but to live intentionally more in accordance with what my neighbors and I both need.
And there is SO MUCH to learn from the West End community. There is a great deal of important history and social justice issues to learn about just as they affect this small neighborhood. And there is even more to learn from becoming an intentional and active part of the West End, which VVC has given me the opportunity to do. By going to the same gym, attending the same community events, and walking the same streets as my neighbors, I receive a more in-depth, complex, and intimate relationship with my fellow West End residents. I can more clearly and personally see the dignity, potential, and gifts of my neighbors and the ability of communities to heal themselves. I can also see more clearly how big picture changes to the neighborhood, funding allocations, and city plans affect my neighbors, because they affect me, too. Through these experiences, I learn more and more every day that, regardless of whether or not someone is experiencing poverty or another form of oppression, I am completely and utterly equal to my neighbor. We do not always have the same life experiences, but we are surely equal in our value and dignity, because we live next door to one another.
These are choices that I have never made before. I am living a lifestyle I have never lived before. I am living in a neighborhood where I have never lived before. And because of all of that, I have a new perspective that I have never had before and I am constantly learning.
About the Author:
Jack Delisio is a Cincinnati native who loves Skyline Chili, the Reds, and goetta. Jack thrives on making connections with people, using weird voices, and learning from different people and cultures. On a given day, you can find Jack educating retreatants on issues of social justice as the Ozanam Center Coordinator, making curry, journaling, or going on adventures in the West End.