'It's Heart Work': New Podcast Tells Stories From The West End

Jan 25, 2021

A new podcast seeks to tell and preserve the rich history of Cincinnati's West End. The Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library calls the "West End Stories Project" a twist on the traditional oral history program.

Keloni Parks is the force and the voice behind the podcast. The West End Branch librarian wants to collect all kinds of stories, starting with "West End residents or people who spent a lot of time in the community in the middle of the 20th century." It will eventually expand to include the second half of the 20th century.

The West End is going through a lot of change, much of it led by the new FC Cincinnati soccer stadium. Parks wants to preserve people's stories before they're gone, much like so many buildings over the years.

"I've lived in so many places that don't exist anymore," she explains about her own life growing up around Mt. Auburn. She recalls watching as one of her former homes was torn down. "That really bothered me and it still bothers me. I have a feeling inside right now just even thinking about it. I can go back to those streets ... but there's an absence."

The death of author and West End historian John Harshaw Sr. in 2019 spurred her desire to start collecting stories before the people who lived them are gone, too. Harshaw is remembered as the keeper of the West End's legacy. Parks is picking up that mantle.

"I hope for it to be an ongoing project," she explains. "I want to get up to the 1990s so I have a lot more interviews to do. There are people who I'd really like to interview and people are always telling me different names of people."

Some participants walk through the doors of the West End Branch and end up telling their stories. The pandemic delayed the project and forced Parks and the podcast team to do recordings in ways they hadn't anticipated to ensure safe health practices.

Each podcast features a conversation between Parks and a community member. Parks laughs as she remembers her first interview with a musician named Nathanial Leroy Davis, who recounted an incident at a Boys & Girls Club talent show.

"He said that the Isley Brothers performed and they stole his song, 'The Cow Jumped Over the Moon,' which is an Isley Brothers song," she recounts. "He says he doesn't blame them, he wasn't doing anything with it."

Parks says she's hopeful the project will expand to other neighborhoods and open up avenues for finding even more stories. She points out there are many African Americans across Cincinnati with ties to the West End.

"I feel like the West End is a neighborhood that is a great unifier because it was one of the only places where African Americans could live in Cincinnati," says Parks. "I'm hoping that maybe there will be 'The West End Presents this story' or information about a certain neighborhood so that all these different narratives can be tied together as it relates to the Black experience in Cincinnati."

And, she wants to interview her father who lived in Lincoln Courts, another one of those buildings that no longer exists.

"I feel like it's really heart work. I do it out of love for my father; out of my own curiosity. I want to know from the people that were there."

You can find the West End Stories Project here or wherever you get your podcasts.