Preserving Black history and saving lives: What the libraries are doing in February (and beyond)

When you live in a city with a history as long and as rich as Cincinnati’s, it’s not surprising some stories can get lost in translation. Especially, as the city began to grow and change, specifically in the West End.


What was named by city planners as an “urban renewal,” caused a thriving African American community to be pushed out and pushed aside. Documenting the history that defines the West End are Keloni Parks, branch manager of the West End, Cincinnati Public Library, and her co-producer Kent Mulcahy. With inspiration from John Harshaw’s book Cincinnati’s West End: Through Our Eyes came the “West End Stories Project,” a podcast designed to keep the neighborhood’s history alive.


Parks grew up listening to her dad tell stories about the West End and going to visit her aunt who lived in the Stanley Rowe houses. While we laughed and reminisced about our shared high school that is now an apartment building (School of Creative and Performing Arts), I could not help but feel the weight of the situation.


“I think that the West End is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to just illustrating the African American experience in Cincinnati. It was the only place they could live at the time,” says Parks. “We want to shed light on this history. People haven’t forgotten what happened.”


With new episodes airing the fourth Thursday every month, Keloni and Kent encourage current and future listeners to share any stories they may have about Cincinnati’s West End. Did you or your family live in the “lost city” of Kenyon-Barr? Could you shed light on where the community expanded once other neighborhoods became available to them? Contact the library by phone at 513-369-6900 or email [email protected] for more information.


As we enter into February, the library is also bringing its second installment of their virtual Black Maternity Matters series. Presented by the Black Events and Exhibits committee and partnered with Cradle Cincinnati Connections, their purpose is to educate and support mothers — especially Black mothers — during a time when they may not be receiving the care and attention they need.


Alli Jacobs, teen librarian at the Walnut Hills branch, stresses the importance of a program like this because Hamilton County is in the worst 10% of counties in the country in regards to infant mortality.


“We acknowledge the fact that there is a different level of care that a white woman receives versus a Black woman, ” Jacobs states. “So we are really trying to connect them to resources so they can get the infant care and safety that they need.”


She hopes that through this series women will get a sense of community and have a chance to quell any fears they may have about being pregnant, being a new mom, and being all of those things during a pandemic.


February 10 is the next installment in the series and it will focus on “Keeping Your Baby Safe During Its First Year Of Life — Infant CPR and Safe Sleep.” Jacobs encourages all moms to join the event not only for the vital information, but also for the chance to win some great participation prizes, like a nursing bra, a pack ‘n play, and a number of books on pregnancy. It’s free and confidential, so there’s no need to be afraid of asking questions that feel embarrassing.


To register for any of their monthly installments on this series to contribute to their cause — either as a speaker or through product donations — follow the series on Facebook or call the library to get registered.

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Read more articles by Amy Briana Counts.

Amy Briana Counts is an aspiring young writer in Cincinnati. When she's not writing you can find her climbing rocks, traveling out west, and being "mom" to her cats, Fred and George.