CLEVELAND (WJW) – TRI-C English professor Brianna Zgodinski always wanted a blog. The only problem? She never really had the ideal topic or focus.
Then, the pandemic hit.
After reading her student’s writing, describing deep social isolation, she got an idea.
“I started a project called “Let’s Go Meet the Neighbors,” with the goal of getting people to just be more engaged in their community,” said Zgodinski. “I highlight people just to show that most people aren’t scary, and most people want you to talk to them.”
The blog and it’s social media accounts, called “Let’s Meet Cleveland”, feature people like Nakiaa Robinson, a local nurse with an awesome roller derby name, as well as Tara Murphy-Seibel, who casually mentioned she worked as an illustrator for Cleveland comic book legend, Harvey Pekar.
Zgodinski said “Let’s Go Meet The Neighbors” started with video features. One of the first videos followed David Van Horn, a bicyclist who believes his art cart can help break the ice and get people in Cleveland’s St. Clair-Superior Neighborhood to tap into their creative side.
“A bunch of people came to his stand…and they didn’t know each other, but they were all laughing and talking. He’s right, it is. I think art is an icebreaker,” Zgodinski said.
Zgodinski knows how to break the ice, too. She asks each profilee a series of in-depth questions, like “What’s something about you that might surprise other people?”
“One woman that I just profiled, she’s a lawyer, a very respectable lawyer in Cleveland. She said her mom gave birth to her alone in her home. That’s amazing. Another person said she ran away to the circus. She dropped out of high school and ran away with the circus…literally,” said Zgodinski.
Brianna hopes that with each blog and social media post, Northeast Ohioans find others with similar interests or causes, and maybe, thanks to her curiosity, those feeling isolated find people and places to help them get plugged in.
“I ask them about spots in Cleveland that maybe are secret to them, but they wish more people knew about. I ask them, “Who are some people in Cleveland that you admire?” said Zgodinski. “Constantly trying to, with the questions, form even more connections and form a greater network of people who are connected.”
Zgodinski says she wants the blog and its social media accounts to truly represent the demographics of the area. One perspective she’d like to see more of is men of color; specifically, Black and Latino men who can share their passions, challenges, and experiences while living in Greater Cleveland.
Zgodinski named thee social media accounts “Let’s Meet Cleveland” because she hopes to expand the “Let’s Go Meet the Neighbors” project to other cities like Akron and Toledo.
FOX 8’s Jazmin Bailey looks at a new way people are finding connections in Northeast Ohio with the help of a local professor in our Voices of Unity series.
Watch the story in the video above.