A feat of strength

October 04, 2017 | GET MORE : Community

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This longtime Cincinnati resident's efforts to clean up her block has had a ripple effect on the community.

Not all heroes wear capes.

Meet Georgia Keith who, for three decades, has taken it upon herself to make sure the playground outside her front door is a safe place for kids to play. What started with Mrs. Keith and her husband picking up trash has grown into a group of 20 neighbors known in the community as the "Superheroes of Republic Street."

Mrs. Keith, 71, has lived in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood for more than 50 years. She was there in the 1980s when the playground was first dedicated by former Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche. She was there in 2001 for the unrest after Timothy Thomas was killed, and the subsequent years during which neighbors stuck together to fend off drug activity that crept into the park.

"I'd tell them, 'Come on now, this is a children's park,'" said Mrs. Keith, a retired school community coordinator. "And soon enough, they'd be saying 'Uh oh, there's Ms. Georgia, we can't do this here.'"

In recent years, Mrs. Keith has seen the neighborhood once again transform around her. This time, its historic architecture and proximity to downtown have made it ripe for redevelopment into one of the city's trendiest foodie and nightlife spots. The playground, now juxtaposed between half-a-million-dollar condos and subsidized housing, had aged into little more than an often-scalding-hot metal slide in a poorly-lit alley. 

That all changed last week. As part of its Community Possible Month of Play initiative, U.S. Bank donated $50,000 to nonprofit Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) to renovate the playground. Together, the bank and the nonprofit, which has provided affordable and inclusive housing in the neighborhood for four decades, solicited feedback from community members and tapped local, minority-owned TriVersity Construction to replace the slide with a brand new jungle gym, install lighting and put up a gated fence.

The idea was born on an Over-the-Rhine walking tour when OTRCH mentioned it was trying to raise a modest sum for a fence and U.S. Bank Community Relations Manager Terry Dickey asked "if we'd be open to doing more," said OTRCH Executive Director Mary Rivers. The work began a few weeks later, "and, of course, Georgia has been with us every step of the way."

For Mrs. Keith, an OTRCH board member, the renovation is an investment in the families left behind by the neighborhood's rebirth – many of whom fear being priced out of their apartment buildings. At the end of the day, she says, "Money doesn't make community. People make community."

That sense of community was on display at a ribbon cutting on Friday, as the "Superheroes" grilled burgers and hot dogs, a local youth nonprofit performed art and hip-hop, and Cincinnati Bengals and FC Cincinnati players greeted kids showing up to play after school.

Among them, Mrs. Keith's 5-year-old grandson, Keith.

"If my grandma was a superhero," he contemplated, in a squinty smile, "she would be Lady Wonder."

Pat Swanson is a member of U.S. Bank's public affairs and communications team.