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A story unfinished: Cleveland's African American Cultural Garden looks to 2nd phase of construction

Once complete, the greenspace will chronicle history from slavery to the Great Migration for all who traveled north for a better life.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Obie Shelton is our travel guide showing us the way. The former 3News reporter, who still lives and works in Greater Cleveland, is at times more than that

Don't let this throw you: He is a time traveler, taking those with him through the years, the generations, the centuries.

Today is one of those occasions, as we are stepping deep into the past. Come with me and Obie — time traveler, storyteller, and historian. 

"This will be a way to tell that story," he says, "because it chronicles everything." 

The "everything" of which Shelton speaks is the story of a people: the African Americans. This is the African American Garden of the world-renowned Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Running along Martin Luther King Drive and East Boulevard, the stops number more than 30, each representing an ethnic group in Northeast Ohio. 

Credit: Ty Choate
Obie Shelton is the Executive Director for the Association of the African American Cultural Gardens.

Shelton is the executive director of the African American Garden, now moving into a second phase toward completion for this greenspace. It chronicles "slavery to the movement north, for everybody who came up north for a better life," Shelton explained. 

Some structures on the garden have been in place for a few years. Architectural renderings show what is to come, of what is envisioned.  

The second phase of the garden has to do with water. For slaves escaping the Confederacy before and during the American Civil War, as well as their post-war descendants who made up the Great Migration of Blacks moving north, water was key.   

Credit: WKYC
The goal of the African American Cultural Garden is to represent sacrifices and perseverance of African Americans in the U.S. At completion, there will be three pillars that represent the past, present and future.

They crossed the Ohio River or other streams and waterways as they sought better lives. Some even crossed Lake Erie for the freedom of Canada. In the garden, the accent will be on water. 

"So all of those waterways are represented by this water," Obie told us, "which is intertwined with our history."

All of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens are privately funded, and Shelton estimates it will take $3 million to finish this job. In many ways, the African American Garden, in its structure, is a storyteller.

"Every ethnicity in America has their story," Shelton added. 

There needs to be a place that we can look at and tell our story accurately, and we can interpret our story through that symbol. Obie Shelton is walking the land, symbolically retracing the route millions of African Americans over the generations took to find new lives in Ohio and other areas.

At the African American Garden, of the historic and beautiful Cleveland Cultural Gardens, their story is being told along the route they took. 

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