FUNDRAISER FOR THE DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM: First Do No Harm: The Taking of 105th and Euclid
Please join me in my efforts to raise the funds to produce a feature-length documentary about the extraordinary life and times of my brother, Winston E. Willis. First Do No Harm: The Taking of 105th and Euclid More information on the story can be found on the Website and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.
It is commonly accepted in the city of Cleveland that the Cleveland Clinic is its most valued and most visible asset. The world-renowned medical center is a mega-billion-dollar medical-educational metropolis where medical miracles are performed by highly acclaimed physicians and scientists. There is, however, a darker side to this remarkable history, and their boastful claim that “every life deserves world-class care” belies a hidden truth that invites scrutiny. In as much as a significant portion of that history involves a member of my family, my brother, Winston E. Willis, with whom I lived and was employed by for many years, I believe I am uniquely positioned to share what I witnessed and experienced over several decades at his side.
Between the years 1968 and1982, Winston owned a large group of commercial buildings up down and around 105th and Euclid a.k.a. East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, where he established and operated 23 wildly successful businesses serving the East side community. This strategic strip of properties was situated directly in between the original Cleveland Clinic Hospital and Case Western Reserve University. Having seized the opportunity created by rampant white flight after the Hough and Glenville riots, when white business owners were fleeing en masse to the safety of the suburbs, Winston purchased and quickly refurbished abandoned buildings and built a first of its kind black business empire.
105th and Euclid was frequently referred to as “an inner-city Disneyland” and “the black folks’ downtown”. Providing the inner-city with goods and services previously unavailable to them in the ethnically-controlled city. Restaurants, movie theaters, clothing stores, convenience stores, beverage stores, penny arcades, bars, and an adult book store. In doing so, however, Winston was put on notice by city officials and the ruling class that he and his hundreds of black employees were not welcome in the University Circle area, the city’s so-called cultural oasis.
This was not exactly news to Winston. He was fully aware of what he was up against in the racially polarized city. Having lost his popular coffee house nightclub, The Jazz Temple, in a dynamite explosion several years earlier, and having experienced such animosity since he arrived in Cleveland in 1959, it was all very familiar. But he refused to shrink from the challenges, and he exposed the bigotry he was encountering at every available opportunity.
Cleveland has long been documented as one of the most racially-polarized cities in the entire country. As recently as the mid-to-late 1950s, black people were not accepted for treatment at the Clinic and were routinely remanded to Forest City Hospital. Moreover, there were no black physicians on staff at the Clinic until Winston posted a billboard outside of his Euclid Avenue buildings exposing that fact. Shortly after his billboard appeared, the Clinic hired its first black physician. Over the years, my brother also posted billboard statements about the Clinic’s negative impact on homeowners and businesses and services in the black community.
For decades, the Clinic and its accomplices, the city of Cleveland and University Circle, Inc. (UCI), cut a ruthless swath through black neighborhoods on Cleveland’s Eastside, destroying homes and businesses and steeping its residents in abject poverty and hopelessness. Which begs the question: What lies beneath the wide, visible footprint of this sprawling, ever-expanding campus? Answer: A skeleton in the city’s closet, and the ashes of a sizeable piece of the American Dream. Winston E. Willis’ 105th and Euclid. The famous intersection where, as reported recently in a local publication, “Winston E. Willis created a miracle on 105th and Euclid.” All under the resentful watch and scrutiny of the powerful local white establishment community.
“WINSTON WILLIS MUST GO”
Over the next few years, by way of a continuing pattern of courtroom manipulations, automatic stay violations, illegal seizures, and gun-point evictions, each one of his vast number of properties or business enterprises, as well as private property were illegally seized, taken or destroyed. Without any payment whatsoever. The assault was vicious and relentless. And with one singular and notable exception, Mayor Carl B. Stokes, six successive Cleveland mayoral administrations, (Celebrezze, Locher, Perk, Kucinich, Voinovich, White) either sanctioned, approved, allowed, or actively participated in the judicially-sanctioned racially motivated and illegal land takings and property thefts. But to his credit, Mayor Stokes deflected every take-over attempt against Winston’s properties that came to his attention, holding firm to well-settled laws of just compensation. During the years from 1968–1972, the Willis organization and Winston’s University Circle Properties Development, Inc., continued its growth. But the hatred for Winston Willis was so intense and the desire to remove him so imperative, that the end of the Stokes administration was the only signal the corrupt avenging posse had been waiting for to declare open season on him again.
For many years of his life, Winston believed strongly in America’s judicial system, but his experiences with racist local government officials and after facing off in court with corrupt judges and lawyers, he soon learned that a civil killing was in progress and that a judicial bear trap was being created for him. One that he would never be able to escape.
The long paper trail of violations of the law included: Foreclosure Fraud, Phantom Foreclosures, Property Theft Proceedings Disguised as Foreclosure Proceedings, Fraud upon the court, Fraud by the court, Falsification of Proceedings, and Grand theft.
For countless years, in Cuyahoga County courtrooms, the wrongful and illegal “foreclosures” were rampant. Following each and every illegal seizure of his properties, in courtroom after courtroom, Winston presented irrefutable evidence that the action was illegal and in violation of the law. Over a period of decades, no Ohio judge ever ruled in his favor, and his properties were taken under illegal proceedings, time after time.
“Since it is a mortgage that gives rise to the right to foreclose in a court of law, what then, was foreclosed, and what titles passed, from a mortgage that does not exist?” ~ Winston E. Willis
Finally, in 1982, having devised a conspiracy to wrongfully arrest and imprison Winston on a bogus “bad check” charge, and then subsequently hold him in solitary confinement for several days for no apparent reason, the illegal taking went forward. The city of Cleveland, the Cleveland police department, and others, under orders from then-Mayor George V. Voinovich, engaged in the massive unlawful seizure and immediate bull dozer-wrecking ball demolition of all of Winston’s Euclid Avenue buildings. Properties worth millions of dollars. Each one of those parcels were stolen/illegally taken, without a penny of payment or compensation to the rightful owner, Winston E. Willis, and handed over — “gifted” to the Cleveland Clinic.
And so it continues…
Several local and national publications have recently published articles documenting the Clinic’s rapid expansion and the destruction of traditional black business districts and residential neighborhoods. Cleveland Clinic Lacks a Prescription for its Community, and Cleveland Clinic Lets Slip That the “Opportunity Corridor” Isn’t About Opportunity At All also approach the subject. And in Politico’s How the Cleveland Clinic grows healthier while its neighbors stay sick, journalist, Dan Diamond presents a lengthy in-depth investigation of Cleveland Clinic’s ever-expanding physical footprint and its negative impact on the surrounding communities. As revealed by Diamond, the community that surrounds the hospital “remains mired in poverty.”
Brother, Unsung Local Hero, Friend
Today, counted somewhere in this community’s 34.5 percent poverty rate citizenry, is my 79-year-old brother, the former millionaire, Winston E. Willis. Living in the shadow of his former business empire, keenly aware of all that was illegally taken from him, as well as what lies beneath the mammoth steel-and-glass superstructures on Cleveland Clinic’s sprawling 8 Billion Dollar campus.
It is utterly inconceivable that today Winston is one of the city’s invisible cast-offs. Never seen, heard or acknowledged. Yet, even in his dotage, he exhibits the same fierce determination he had as a young man. He has by necessity, become a legal scholar, the result of decades spent in the trenches of the legal system fighting to defend and protect his constitutionally guaranteed property rights, with knowledge of this nation’s laws that have provided him absolutely no remedy or protection.
In my conversations with him, he often expresses how it pains him to see that so many other Clevelanders are living under the same threat today that he fought so hard against so many years ago. The article in Politico touched him deeply and emotionally, and he agreed wholeheartedly with what a local East side resident Mrs. Shelley Wheeler said:
“Cleveland Clinic is just eating everything up that they can…At some point, Cleveland Clinic is going to come…When, we don’t know. I’m trying to save my house.”
Over several decades, I have been at my brother’s side in courtroom after courtroom where he was denied his constitutional rights and where laws were literally broken from the bench by sitting judges. But even in the face of such corruption, he has never given up his fight. In 2007, after a grueling and lengthy process, we were successful in preparing and submitting a petition to the United States Supreme Court, where Winston’s case was accepted and docketed, only to be mysteriously denied several months later.
After we had exhausted every available legal remedy, I came to realize that my focus would have to be simply telling my brother’s story and placing it in the court of public opinion. And for over twenty years, I have devoted my life and most of my time to that end. Writing about him triggers a deep appreciation for the big brother he has always been to me. According to family legend, he adored and attempted to take possession of me from the moment our parents brought me home from the hospital. In my own memories of our Alabama childhood, he is ever-present. A bright and adventurous older brother, an intellectual wise beyond his years, and me, the inquisitive, pesky little sister who dogged his every step. Those days of our lives in pre-civil rights era Montgomery Alabama were very similar to those of brother and sister, Scout and Jem, depicted in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Winston has always been my protector, my defender and my strongest ally, and at times my closest confidante. He has remained an integral part of my life, and the bond created in childhood has grown even stronger with each new chapter of our lives. Sadly, in recent years, our roles have been reversed. Approaching his 80s and in fragile health physically, it falls to me now to carry on his fight, and I do so willingly and without reservation.
In addition to providing editorial and clerical assistance in his legal efforts, I have written extensively about Winston’s extraordinary life and times. Blogs, essays, treatments, a theatrical screenplay, and a documentary script. Every submission was met with the comment: “This is a powerful story and it must be told.” But no one has stepped forward to tell it. So I know that I must.
THANK YOU FOR STANDING WITH US!
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