CLEVELAND—Naudia Loftis got a call on Sunday night about 10 p.m. that a high school friend of hers had been shot and killed. But she was here on the east side of Cleveland at an anti-poverty march less than 24 hours later.
Loftis’ composure and resolve were remarkable, but she admitted that she was still in shock. She last saw Phillip Banks on May 6, her prom night. He was a year ahead of her in school, so he had already graduated. Loftis is just 18.
At the march, on the first day of the Republican National Convention, I asked her how she was processing her friend’s death and whether she was getting any grief counseling. She essentially told me she didn’t have time for shedding tears.
“I try not to cry,” she said. “I feel like if I sit and be sad about it, nothing won’t get done about it. So I feel like I need to go step out and do something.”
Hundreds of people participated in the march, led by Organize! Ohio. Many were from other parts of the country. But Loftis was born and raised here. When the out-of-towners leave, Loftis will be here organizing, focusing on fighting economic inequality, police brutality, and gun violence.
I asked her what she felt about conservatives who claim that black folks like her focus more on police brutality than on gun violence like the kind that took her friend's life.
“We’re forever here, but who’s showing it?,” she asked me. “We have this camp where we sit down with all of these kids and talk about everything that goes on, but who’s showing that? If the media is not showing what is positively happening, then, of course, everybody’s gonna think, ‘Oh, we not talking about that.’ But, of course, they gonna show when we retaliate when police brutality comes up.”
Loftis doesn’t feel the convention will benefit people who live in her community, and she wishes the city had never advocated for it to come here.
“It’s too many issues going on in Cleveland for them to be spending millions of dollars to fix downtown for other people to come here,” she said.
She described the block she lives on as filled with abandoned homes and empty lots. Loftis told me she participates in a group called “Peace In The Hood,” which brings young people together to figure out ways to deal with gun violence in their neighborhoods.
For Loftis, everything starts with teaching people how to not only get out of poverty but challenge economic inequality.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t know how to deal with that,” she told me. “When you live in poverty, that’s what you become used to. And once you step out of that, what are you supposed to do? And who is teaching you how to function outside of poverty?”
Roughly one in three people in this city lives in poverty, and the Brookings Institution ranks the Cleveland metropolitan area as one of the top 10 most impoverished in the country.
It is hard to project how much money the RNC will generate for Cleveland, but the 2012 convention in Tampa drew more than $200 million in direct spending.
Loftis doesn’t see any of that money reaching her part of town. In the fall, she plans on attending John Carroll University, in University Heights, Ohio, to pursue a degree in business. She wants to own her business someday because she feels her community could use a few. It’s her way of fighting poverty in Cleveland.
But first, she has to organize her friend’s candlelight vigil, which she says will take place Friday.
Terrell Jermaine Starr is National Political Correspondent for Fusion. You can follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.