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Innovation center in Lincoln Heights aims to empower residents to create a more prosperous community

'We want to give them skill sets and pathways'
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Posted at 7:00 AM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 14:08:22-05

LINCOLN HEIGHTS, Ohio — When Daronce Daniels was a little boy, his grandparents’ house on Behles Avenue in Lincoln Heights was a source of strength for his family.

Now Daniels and a team of collaborators are transforming the modest, one-story home into a resource to strengthen the entire community.

Named for Daniels’ great-grandparents, The Howard and Kerlia Daniels Learning and Innovation Center will offer space for Lincoln Heights residents to work, study and gather. Daniels said he envisions a place where teens, young adults and those looking to change careers can hone their skills, develop business ideas and even sell what they produce. The goal is to open in August.

“This building is going to kind of be that apex,” Daniels said. “We always talked about the spirit of innovation and how can we create jobs here in Lincoln Heights, and we just saw this as a great opportunity.”

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Daronce Daniels

The team behind the project views the innovation center as a way for residents of Lincoln Heights to address the community’s persistent problem of poverty. A total of 46% of Lincoln Heights residents live below the federal poverty line, according to U.S. census data, compared with a statewide poverty rate of roughly 13% in Ohio.

But the village of Lincoln Heights also has a proud history. It was the first predominantly Black self-governing community north of the Mason-Dixon line, a place that The Isley Brothers musical group, poet Nikki Giovanni and Houston Texans running back Carlos Hyde all once called home. The village has a current population of about 3,300, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 87% of residents are Black.

Daniels is part of a group called The Heights Movement that has been working to encourage new investment to the community.

RELATED: How five young professionals are working to bring growth to Lincoln Heights

The innovation center aims to be an important part of that growth by providing residents of Lincoln Heights a place to develop products and build businesses that will create jobs and reduce poverty.

“Whether you are a maker in the sense that you’re physically making things with your hands, like the printing or the 3D printing or the cooking, or if you’re looking into creating where you’re using media and media outlets, such as photography or animation, graphics, video, spoken word, any type of artistry where there’s recording taking place,” said Steven Easley, the CEO and founder of Easley Blessed Media, who is helping to develop the center, "we want to give them skill sets and pathways to how do you progress in life – how do you get on a career path.”

Preparing the next generation

Demolition inside the house began in January, led by Black-owned businesses Work of All Sorts LLC and Supreme Fixes LLC. Robert Ervin, the owner of Work of All Sorts, said he grew up near the house and used to buy candy from the home-based shop that Daniels’ grandmother had there.

“We can’t wait to see what’s to come,” Ervin said. “I think bringing that in and giving the kids something to do, something to look forward to, it’s going to be great all around.”

Daniels’ grandfather, Elbert Daniels, still owns the house and an adjacent lot that provides room for expansion and a community garden.

The team behind the project has a goal of raising $500,000 to bring the innovation center to life. They’re working to sell sponsorships of up to $10,000 to companies that want to have their names on specific rooms that offer specialized training and tools. One room will focus on accounting and investing, for example.

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Demolition on a new innovation center in Lincoln Heights began in January 2021.

Daniels and the others behind the project also want to forge relationships with local corporations that can provide mentors for the young people who make use of the space and volunteers to help staff the center.

Steve Harrell leads the My Brother’s Keeper organization within the Procter & Gamble Co. He said that he and other men at P&G understand the vision behind the innovation center and are determined to figure out how they can support it just as they support each other within the company.

“If we’re about empowering each other, then we have to go beyond all boundaries, because there’s no way that you cannot keep all brothers,” Harrell said. “We’re still exploring what that looks like. But for sure it’s going to look like us leveraging the talents within Procter & Gamble to provide access and exposure.”

Much work remains, but supporters of the project say it will fill an important void left in Lincoln Heights when the community’s YMCA branch closed years ago.

“We saw what happened when the Y was shut down, and we saw a generation that was kind of lost and just didn’t have direction, and we lived through it,” said Carlton Collins, an educational consultant and director of special projects for The Heights Movement. “We’re now in the position where we can give somebody another leg up. We can help somebody, and, more importantly, we can make sure that the next generation is prepared and adequately prepared not only for career, but also for entrepreneurship.”

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A floor plan for The Howard and Kerlia Daniels Learning and Innovation Center.

The key is ensuring that the young people of Lincoln Heights learn about the many paths available to them, said Kandice Tucker, Daniels’ cousin and a supporter of the project.

“Having an innovation center in Lincoln Heights brings awareness to other options,” Tucker said. “If all an individual can see is what’s in front of them and they don’t get to see beyond that, it becomes extremely difficult to think you could attain that.”

That’s how the people of Lincoln Heights will restore the community’s luster, Daniels said.

“That’s the dream,” he said. “We feel like all the solutions to solve the highest problems are in Lincoln Heights or the roots are in Lincoln Heights. So bring it all back to solve it is originally the idea.”

More information about The Howard and Kerlia Daniels Learning and Innovation Center is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

Monique John covers gentrification for WCPO 9. She is part of our Report For America donor-supported journalism program. Read more about RFA here. If there are stories about gentrification in the greater Cincinnati area that you think we should cover, let us know. Send us your tips at moveupcincinnati@wcpo.com.