CLEVELAND — As a black woman living in Cleveland, the fight to be seen, valued and heard is one that Dr. Tisha Carter, better known as Dr. T, has known all too well.
“At one point I just thought it was me? Am I crazy?”
A lifelong struggle turned brutal in his job search that spanned more than a decade.
“I did a PhD program, I always applied for jobs, still nothing,” she said. “I have three degrees. How is it possible?”
Then came the fight for his health.
“I had many miscarriages and even a stillbirth and I really think it was due to the inadequate health care I received,” explained Dr. T. “I saw several doctors in several health systems here in Cleveland and I’ve had horrible experiences with all of them.”
While her spirits were lifted by prayer and support, Dr T says it was an incentive to write for a literary internship in Cleveland that set her free.
“It was because of my frustration [that] I was like I had enough,” she said. “I was just like okay this is my platform like I should let other women know they’re not lonely because I felt lonely…Once I sent this submission , hit that submit button, I was like I don’t care even if they don’t choose me, I just wanted them to hear what I had to say.
At the time, Cleveland’s nonprofit, Literary Cleveland, was focused on diversifying its team to specifically seek out those who had been marginalized. The group also operates as “creative writing center that allows people to explore other voices and discover their own,” as its website states.
“Our identities are made up of stories, our communities are made up of stories, even the way we greet each other, how are you, is an invitation to a story,” said Matt Weinkam, executive director of Literary Cleveland. “When only people with power and privilege are able to tell the stories, things stay the same…the more you empower and amplify people’s voices from the bottom up, the more we can change and transform the city .”
Weinkam says their mission is rooted in transforming the city of Cleveland, which remains overwhelmed by various disparities. However, storytelling has the power to shape communities, cultures and give voice to those who are often marginalized and ignored. However, according to a 2019 study in diversity in publishing, the majority of employees in publishing companies are white, heterosexual, non-disabled, CEI women.
“Cleveland has a literacy rate of 66%, one of the most segregated cities, one of the poorest cities of its size [and] worst outcomes for black women,” he explained.
Weinkam went on to say that “it all makes it harder” because it’s about people feeling safe, confident, and supported enough to stand up for themselves. Yet, through workshops, offering equal opportunities for publication, anthologies and literacy advocacy, Literary Cleveland pushed back to create safe spaces; a space for Dr. T, who is now a Cleveland literary collaborator, mother and black woman survivor in Cleveland.
“It’s crazy how many women have gone down the same path, gone through the same experiences…I plan to keep the convo going until I can’t anymore,” Dr. T said. do better…my hope is to have systemic change. Will it happen? I do not know.”
Cleveland Book Week
Literacy Cleveland joined Cleveland Book Week alongside the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and the Great Lakes African American Conference for the first time this year for greater community impact.
The event will take place from September 9 to 18.
According to a press release, “Each partner has an established record of social justice programming, community engagement and artistic excellence. The three organizations have been coming together since March 2021 to co-design Cleveland Book Week 2022. As a result of these efforts, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded $12,000 to this endeavor.
“It will allow us to collaborate better, share resources, bring in writers who can attend all these different programs, and really serve more people,” Weinkam said. “Anisfield-Wolf has been around for 70, 80 years, rewarding these books and this legacy in the community, the work they do, it’s really rare. So having something like that in Cleveland is a real bonus.
Literary Cleveland will kick off Book Week 2022 with the Inkubator Writing Conference, returning to the Cleveland Downtown Public Library in person September 9-10. The organization will host free writing workshops, panel discussions, craft talks, readings, and more. They are also accepting applications for a four-month “Inkubator Fellowship”.
Click here to to apply.