Welcome to My Neighborhood: Dayton, Ohio
Every community has its special places. Let 12-year-old Trevonne Groves, Jr., be your guide to his Dayton.
Everyone loves to have an insider guide. We asked three students in towns where Teach For America places corps members (Dayton, Ohio; St. Louis; and Donaldsonville, Louisiana) to show us the places that are special to them in their communities.
Education can feel like a force that pushes a person to look elsewhere to find opportunity or adventure. These three students showed us the beauty, the places, and the people worth seeking out right in their home communities.
Trevonne Groves Jr., 12, pops up on my phone before I even land in Ohio for our tour of Dayton. “I am so happy to tell people about my life!” he texts. “Me and the photographer need to hook up because I love taking pictures.”
Photographer Dustin Franz and I arrive in Dayton a few days later and meet Trevonne at his immaculate home in suburban Trotwood, where he lives with his mom, Rachelle; his stepdad, Antoine; and six siblings, five younger and one older, all of whom were elsewhere for the day. Sitting at the kitchen table, empty save for a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies, he opens his laptop and cues up an extensive slideshow: “Look at Dayton from My View!”
He shows us a photo of rockets at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he visited during a STEM camp earlier in the summer. Another slide shows the Dayton Dragons, a minor league baseball team, and another, Dayton Leadership Academies, where he started sixth grade in August. (Dayton native Tess Mitchner-Asinjo (Bay Area ’98) is his principal, and Emily Roper (Southwest Ohio ’17) was his fifth grade teacher.)
To see all the sites, we need to get started. Dustin and I gather our things and follow Trevonne and Rachelle outside into a blazing hot July morning. Cicadas chirp above the sounds of construction nearby. First stop: Trevonne’s neighborhood.
The Trotwood Community is strong, Trevonne says, and they recently proved it. Late at night on Memorial Day, tornadoes ripped through the region. His family huddled in the basement while the roaring force threw open their front door, shattered windows, and tore off siding. Down the street, a home collapsed, trapping three older women in a small room in the basement. When the storm passed, Trevonne’s stepdad joined a band of neighbors who climbed through rubble in the pitch-black night to free the women. “He was lifesaving,” Trevonne says, shrugging as if there was no other choice.
First Dayton Little League
Next up on Trevonne's tour, a quiet residential street on Dayton’s west side dead-ends into the First Dayton Little League Recreational Complex, where grass grows wild around four well-tended baseball fields, cinder-block dugouts, and painted wooden bleachers weathered to a soft red. Trevonne’s team won the city championship at Kettering Fields, a newer park near downtown, but First Dayton, where he practices and where he learned to play, is where he feels at home. From the batter’s box, he repeats his coach’s advice to crouch low. “How low can you go?” he says, repeating a team mantra. “To the flo’!” He smiles wide and swings an imaginary bat, lacing an imaginary home run into the wildflowers.
Before moving to Trotwood in 2017, Trevonne lived on Nicholas Road on Dayton’s west side. His cousins lived a few doors down, helping to form a shape-shifting troupe of neighborhood kids who rode bikes along side streets and played laser tag in a shared backyard larger than a football field. On weekends, they’d climb over a nearby chain-link fence into a day care’s small playground. “Nobody caught us!” Trevonne says to his mom, almost in disbelief. Rachelle cocks her head and smiles. “Oh, they didn’t catch you? ‘Cause they told me.”
Trevonne directs us next to historic Dayton—a must-stop for any responsible tour guide, he assures us. It’s where the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, operated a printing press and a bicycle repair shop before building an airplane that could actually fly (and land). And it’s where Paul Laurence Dunbar, Orville Wright’s high school classmate and the son of former slaves, wrote poems and stories reflecting the wholeness of Black lives that would propel him to international fame. As a young man, Dunbar published Dayton’s first Black newspaper, The Tattler, printed on the Wrights’ press. “Were they friends?” Trevonne asks. Dunbar’s home and the Wrights’ workshop are museums now, operated by the National Park Service, but they offer few answers to that question.
Sharks Fish and Chicken
On any given Saturday morning, Trevonne could be at home cooking up scrambled eggs and waffles (just don’t ask for the recipe). But later in the day, after baseball games or family outings, Sharks Fish & Chicken is best. So he takes us there for lunch, savoring the lemon pepper seasoning over his favorite fried tilapia laid atop french fries and ketchup, but no coleslaw, please. The adults wander into grown-up conversations about Dayton’s history, until Trevonne jumps in: “I’m going to a [Cincinnati] Reds game with my team next month!” Talk of baseball and where to go for dessert fills the remainder of lunch. When we step outside into the sweltering afternoon, a young man is asking passersby for money. Trevonne quietly secures a quarter from Rachelle and hands it to the man before hopping in the car, on our way to a nearby drive-in diner for a cup of soft serve.
Englewood Fun Center
Dayton is a pretty nice place to be a kid, Trevonne says. But if it were perfect, it would have an Englewood Fun Center in every neighborhood. That’s why he ends the tour here, at a warehouse with a batting cage on one side and a neon-colored maze of arcade games on the other. After two rounds of batting, he makes his way to the claw machine, where he wins three inflatable bouncing balls for his siblings. He counts his tokens, then hops into a race car—“Mom! Second place!” He transforms into a robot hunter armed with a giant laser gun, saving a screen-sized city. When his tokens run out, he pulls hard-earned tickets from his pockets and heads for the prizes. “What will you buy?” I ask. He shakes his head and smiles dreamily while staring at the clear plastic shelves stuffed with trinkets and treasures. “I do not know.”