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West Dayton Stories is a community-based story-telling project centered on the people and places of Dayton’s vibrant west side. WYSO brings together community producers to tell stories reflecting its proud history, current complexities, and future hopes.

amaha sellassie: Undesigning Boundaries

amaha sellassie
Love'Yah Stewart
West Dayton Stories community producer amaha sellassie is a sociology professor and activist who has studied the effect of redlining on the people of the West Side and works to remedy it.

The Great Miami River and Wolf Creek are natural boundaries that once defined the borders of Dayton’s West Side. The artificial boundaries of I-75 and US 35 further shaped it. But there’s another boundary created by the practice of redlining, the intentional denial of opportunity to residents of an area based on race. A national exhibit, Undesign the Redline has brought attention to the continuing legacies of redlining in the Miami Valley.

Sociology professor and activist amaha sellassie has studied the effect of redlining on the people of the West Side, and works to remedy it. He talked with fellow West Dayton Stories community producer, folklorist and urban gardener Omopé Carter Daboiku.

Hear the full conversation
amaha sellassie talks about redlining and reinvestment in West Dayton with fellow community producer Omopé Carter Daboiku

Conversation highlights:

On how Dayton was redlined
In Dayton, in particular, because of the way the river runs that separates East and West, that the redlining maps, which was an intentional design in the 1930s to create areas that are prime for investment and development, and then left other areas underdeveloped, West Dayton was redlined and therefore, severely underdeveloped for, you know, I would argue it's just now starting to be redeveloped.

1937 Dayton map illustrating redlining
This 1937 map of Dayton illustrates the natural and imposed boundaries separating West Dayton from the rest of the city.

On the impact of redlining on West Dayton
Dayton and areas across the country that were redlined now have lack of opportunity when it comes to housing quality, transportation, access to food, healthcare, education. And so the disinvestment has wound up being underdevelopment. So now I see Dayton is starting to reinvest in the West Side. And I think it's important that that development is driven by the community themselves. That not only is our culture maintained, but that we're determining the direction of those resources coming back in, that it meets our needs and our vision for what we have for the West Side.

West Third Street
Desmond Winton-Finklea
West Third Street

On whether reinvestment in the center city will draw people back to the West Side

I think investment in the downtown has, you know, sparked excitement. So I think it's, you know, like how, how the West Side is developed, I think is important. As far as, you know, gentrification is a great concern, right? And so, it's real important to make sure that people are not displaced as development goes forward. And I think it’s a challenge too, because you know, some people will say, we can't have any developments and I'm like, no, we shouldn't have to live in squalor and broken up, abandoned buildings, like we deserve nice things. We deserve restaurants. We deserve grocery stores. We deserve, you know, places to go and things to do, just like every other community. But I think the key is to me, it's like, who's driving that, who's owning that, who's the decision-making on how these things go? We can keep power within our local community while still, you know, expanding out.

Northwest Plaza in West Dayton
Desmond Winton-Finklea
Places like Northwest Plaza in West Dayton are ready for reinvestment.

On learning more about and moving forward from redlining
I think the key is that we have to understand that like, it was an intentional design. It was structural. They call it structural violence, actually, where it's like how structure or the arrangement of resources in the community impacts the life expectancy and the development of a community. And so to me, that gives us hope. And I say that because if it's been intentionally designed, then we can reimagine it. We can undesign it, right? And so to me, that is the hope. That's why I don't like saying food desert. Right? I like to say food apartheid. I want to acknowledge the structural mechanisms. So, yeah, it's a good chance to have a conversation so we can heal these wounds, right? I think we need to understand we have a shared future together, or what King will call a “single garment of destiny,” right? So, like, how do we use understanding how we got where we are now to be that conversation of what is that shared future that we want to create together?

West Dayton Stories is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and is supported by CityWide Development Corporation.

Jocelyn Robinson is a Yellow Springs, Ohio-based educator, media producer, and radio preservationist. As an educator, Robinson has taught transdisciplinary literature courses incorporating critical cultural theory and her scholarship in self-definition and identity. She also teaches community-based and college-level classes in digital storytelling and narrative journalism.
amaha sellassie is a peace builder, social healer, freedom fighter, network weaver and lover of humanity. He’s an Associate Professor of Sociology and director of the Center for Applied Social Issues at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.
Known affectionately as Mama O, Omope Carter Daboiku is a 2012 migrant to the Miami Valley. Originally from Ironton, in southern Ohio, she identifies as an Appalachian of mixed ancestry. Trained as a cultural geographer, Mama O has 30 years of experience as an international performance artist, educator, and published writer. The founder of the local Dunbar Literary Circle, her storytelling is included in Dayton Metro Library’s new Dial-a-Story service, and she’s working with arts education ally, Muse Machine, to produce writing and theater resources for virtual learning.