Fifty years after the Cuyahoga River caught fire, Case Western Reserve University School of Law Student Allison Meyer is demonstrating how Clevelanders continue to persist no matter the struggles they encounter.
Her storytelling platform, Never, Ever Give Up
, has been making waves since its launch in fall 2018. A display of handwritten “Letters of Hope” are submitted by local residents sharing the most challenging situations they’ve had to face.
Meyer’s own struggle to overcome her mother’s untimely death in a 2016 traffic accident spawned the project that recently received $2,000 in prize money from Cleveland Leadership Center’s Accelerate 2019 incubator contest.
“I had a hard time talking about it, as I’m sure a lot of people do about traumatic things that happen to them,” she explains. “I started to ask people ‘what is the hardest thing you’ve had to do’ because I thought I needed to find people that had been through exactly what I had been through. I found that I could really talk to anybody, have conversations about people that have been through hard times and get on the other side of it and what it’s like to carry the scars into the future.”
Meyer began collecting stories and started an Instagram account to share them. This inspired her to eventually create a physical display to show off Letters of Hope.
Crowdfunding efforts along with the Accelerate 2019 runner-up win gave Meyer’s project the boost it needed. The interactive display currently resides at Hart Crane Park on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, where visitors anonymously can submit stories of their hardships in a bright, yellow mailbox and read about 130 others who have overcome difficult times.
The location was chosen, Meyers says, because the anniversary of the river fire was a perfect demonstration of Cleveland’s perseverance throughout the decades.
“The courage it takes to share about your hard times, might just be the very thing that helps someone else find hope,” the Never, Ever Give Up web site states in big, bold letters as soon as it loads. That is exactly how Meyer explains the project’s goal.
“For the writers, it’s an opportunity to get your weight off your chest, to put your story in words. When it’s on the page, you can look at it and realize just how strong you are,” she says. “Not everybody has a person or a space where they can talk about this stuff. It’s anonymous and an opportunity for you to test the waters and hopefully make it easier to share next time.”
For those who visit the exhibit and follow Instagram, Never, Ever Give Up represents the strength and resilience of Northeast Ohioans and offers a sense of connection between one another.
In addition to be displayed prominently during the exhibit, which will last through August 31, letters also are read at community events.
Meyer recently partnered with local storytelling group Let It Out on Saturday, July 13 for an Afternoon of Hope, an open mic event in which more than five brave participants shared their stories in a safe, open setting close to the Never, Ever Give Up installation at Hart Crane Park.
The Letters of Hope mailbox also was opened, and submissions were read to the small, intimate crowd. A second unveiling of Letters of Hope will occur on Sunday, Aug. 4 at the Never, Ever Give Up display in the same location.
Following the close of the Hart Crane Park exhibit, Meyer hopes to find a new home for the mailbox and letters. She hopes the messages received throughout the project will inspire others.
“You never really know what someone is going through,” Meyer says. “You never know the whole story. Maybe [people] will think about what others are going through and lead their lives with a little more kindness.”
To submit a story visit www.neverevergiveupcle.com.