Brenda Metzger, a headstrong, firecracker and Neighbor Up member, who lives in the Central neighborhood, is going back to school — decades after graduating from high school.
She sat down at the Ka-la Healing Garden Center on East 73rd Street earlier this month and told her story. As she talked, about 15 teens from the neighborhood worked in the garden tending the plants.
“Look around,” she said. “That’s what sent me back to school. I have all these young people in my life in this neighborhood. All this potential. All these future taxpayers. They’re going to pay taxes. I love it!”
“I kept pushing these kids about how important education is, but I had made it all the way to an associate director on a high school diploma,” Brenda continued. “So I went back to school — boy, did I go back! I hadn’t been to school in 35 years.”
Brenda, now 56, started at Cuyahoga Community College in 2013 after meeting a Tri-C assistant dean at a Neighbor Up Network Night. She earned her associate’s degree earlier this year. And last week, she took her first class at Cleveland State University where she’s studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in urban studies.
“We keep trying,” she said. “We keep trying. I want to be able to work and do more for the community, for the kids in the neighborhood. I want the kids to understand that anything you get in life, you work for it.”
Raised in Cleveland near East 119th Street and Harvard Avenue, Brenda learned the value of hard work and education from her parents.
“They required us to read 10 books each summer,” Brenda remembered. “We were all well-read.”
Brenda graduated from John Adams High School and built a career working with youth and senior citizens. She lived in Johnson City, Tennessee, Boston, and Orlando, Florida. In 2002, she and her husband Herbie moved to Central.
“Our neighborhood was in chaos,” Brenda said. “You name it, they were doing it — drugs, prostitution. But I’ve always had the idea that you don’t wait for someone to do something for you. You do it yourself. Don’t wait on the government. You live here! And it’s all about collaboration. You can’t do anything by yourself. We try to bring everybody in.”
Brenda and Herbie worked with their neighbors and with Tanya Holmes, who started the Ka-la Healing Garden on the street. They also worked with Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Cleveland Police Commander Patrick Stephens and business owner Pernel Jones, who also lives on the street.
Some small grants from Neighborhood Connections funded some of their work, including a kids day at the garden.
They connected with KaBOOM! to bring a state-of-the-art playground to a vacant lot on the street and turned the space into a park.
Their 6th Annual Read a Book, Read a Poem event was last weekend at the garden center. Young people get to pick a book and keep it, but first they have to read Brenda a paragraph from the book. Once they do that, they also get a bag of school supplies.
“I’m just happy,” Brenda said reflecting on how she and her neighbors made their street a better place to live. “I have bad days of course. I miss my husband. (Brenda’s husband Herbie passed away in 2007.) But it’s better here now … I’m not stupid. I know there’s still work to do, but it’s better.”
“I have been threatened,” Brenda added. “I told them, “I’ll be here when you’re not.” Those people who made those threats are now either in jail or dead, and I’m here. I wouldn’t move for all the money in the world. I have too many good memories here. There’s too much potential here.”