In the book I write about how city themed tattoos are the equivalent of “marrying” your city. A tattoo, like a marriage, is a near permanent commitment and whenever I see people with their city etched into their body, I know that person has a special relationship with their place. And perhaps none more so than Katie O’Keefe of Cleveland.
I wrote about her return to her hometown of Cleveland from New Jersey. “I wanted to come back and make a difference in my city… in the end, Cleveland is my true love” she said. In writing the book, I had several people tell me I had to meet Katie and try as we might, we could only connect via email and Facebook. That changed this week as I finally got to meet her in person at aSaving Cities event in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland.
Katie’s love and enthusiasm for her city shines through even more powerfully in person. We talked about how she will often sing to the city as she rides her bike to work and how she likes to blow kisses to Cleveland. Being around such passion and commitment is inspiring and she has a catalytic effect on whoever she encounters.
And the story has an even happier twist. She introduced me to her boyfriend Sam, whom she met after he approached her and showed his sleeve tattoo of Cleveland that is almost the twin of her ink! If it happened in a romantic comedy, you would say “c’mon!” that is too hokey. But they met because of their mutual love affair with their city.
For me the lesson is that more of us should be willing to publically declare our love for our cities. Perhaps we are not ready to get the tattoo, but we can all find some way to express that love and commitment through our words and actions. When we do, we are likely to find many sympathetic and similar voices. And then we know that we are not alone and might find not only comfort and support, but potential allies in future actions to improve our communities.