The path that brought us to Toledo was a winding one. In a way, you could say that we were brought here by civil servants with a vision.
After returning from one of our Saturday trips to Toledo, while browsing the city’s webpage, I came across the Engage Toledo Ambassador Academy.
The academy’s goal is to bring Toledoans from the city’s various neighborhoods together to learn the ins and outs of how the city is run.
The idea being: The greater grasp residents have of how their city functions, the more empowered they will be to participate in shaping its future.
Engage Toledo had been conceived years ago by city visionaries as a way to bridge the gap between city departments and residents’ need for access to city services—now there is a call center and even a mobile app.
While helpful, actually navigating the architecture of city services remained a black box.
Residents still needed to be taught the levers of city government and how to operate them.
The academy aimed to equip us with this information.
In the process, I began to see the city as something I could help define, rather than simply a place that defined me.
Additionally, I was beginning to gain a clear picture of what civic engagement could look like.
Prior to this, my view of a city was more something that happened to you, something hoisted upon you, rather than something that you could play an earnest part in molding.
I had never felt empowered enough to believe that my voice could truly count.
I decided right then and there that we would put down roots in Toledo.
Before I even moved to Toledo, the city had given me something priceless: a belief that residents could understand the architecture of city services and serve as active agents of change.
I started the eight-week academy as an Ann Arbor resident and ended it having purchased a home in the city—officially becoming a Toledoan.
During this transition, I learned so much about the place I now call home.
I learned how all of the pieces fit together.
I learned about the people and departments that keep our city going.
These people were really no different from me; they were simply human beings rolling up their sleeves and working toward the betterment of our city.
I could do the same—all of us could.
Whether situated in the public, private, or non-profit sector, we were all Toledoans, we all had a role to play, and now, equipped with knowledge of our city, we possessed the ability to go forth as ambassadors and transform it, enhance it, and, where necessary, build it anew.
Despite the city’s material challenges, this feeling of determination and self-reliance is something that I often feel within its borders.
Maybe I pick up on this vibe because Toledo’s roots as a blue-collar Midwestern town will always be a part of the fabric of the city.
Either way, I realized a while ago that this is the city’s most precious natural resource: residents’ belief that we can construct a solution to any problem that we face.
This is the diesel fuel that powers the city.
This is what makes it beautiful though scarred.
On different days, I give different reasons for moving to Toledo.
The more time passes, the deeper my perspective grows.
If you ask me today, I would say that we were on a journey.
A journey that would bring us to the realization that the substance that makes up a city is as much internal as it is external.
We were looking for a city of healing for our daughter, yet we discovered that cities themselves are places in need of healing.
We were looking for the city of our dreams, yet we learned that, beyond dreaming, we possess the power to create.
We were looking for a city of vision, yet in the process we developed our own civic sight.
The path that brought us to Toledo was a winding one, and on it, we learned that the path home is just as important as the destination.