Whatever the answer, it’s the sharing that’s crucial to Allison Meyer. Never, Ever Give Up CLE, the story-sharing project she launched in 2018, collects these anonymous, handwritten letters and displays them online and in public installations.
Cataloging everything from a child learning to play basketball to a woman who lost her sister in a terrorist attack, the project is designed to encourage connections, exchanges Meyer hopes normalize conversations about grief and personal challenges.
“Stigma and societal norms tell us that we shouldn’t be sharing this, because somehow, it’s bad to struggle,” says the Case Western Reserve University School of Law student.
“But everybody has pain, and we should be able to share openly about that. My project is trying to liberate us from these pressures so we can interact in a way quickly that would normally take years.”
Once a story is shared, Meyer encourages readers to pen “letters of hope,” missives that encourage the storywriter, or just let them know they’ve been heard.
At the Flats West Bank installation, a jolly, five-foot-tall, yellow mailbox emblazoned with “Never, Ever Give Up” stands beside the rows of frames, ready to gather new letters of hope. In this way, Meyer has created a city of secret pen pals that span social and generational barriers.
“It’s people you may bump into at the grocery store, may work with or don’t know,” she says. “That’s why the exchange element is important for me, because we have to bear witness to the pain of others. Otherwise, they’re the only ones that carry it.”
This public project is personal to Meyer, who found herself grasping for connection after her mother’s death in a 2016 traffic accident. “I really fought grief,” she says. “I just shoved it down.”
One night, she walked into a Story Club Cleveland open mic near campus. The theme was “gratitude,” something Meyer was having a hard time finding at the time. But she decided to share anyway, talking about how hard it was to feel grateful after her loss.
Afterwards, audience members approached her to talk, and Meyer had an epiphany.
“I always really wanted to find someone that had gone through exactly what I’d gone through, like that was the only way I’d connect,” says Meyer. “But after that open mic, I realized it doesn’t have to be similar at all. I was connecting with any people who’d been through something hard, even if we’re dealing with it in different forms.”
She started asking friends, classmates and family members about the hardest moments in their lives. “You forget how much people carry with them,” she says. Meyer began asking people to write their stories down anonymously. She then started posting the stories to a dedicated Instagram account, @neverevergiveupcle. It quickly began accumulating followers, and then, letters of hope written in response.
Early this year, she entered Cleveland Leadership Center’s 2019 Accelerate, a pitch competition that awards seed money to local innovators with projects that aim to make Northeast Ohio a better place. Meyer was one of the six winners, receiving $2,000 to help make her online project into the public installation and reading series in the Flats.
From June 1-Aug. 31, the words of the community she fostered bathed in sunlight beside the Cuyahoga River, a symbolic location.
“The story of the Cuyahoga River is a story of Clevelanders never, ever giving up,” she says. “Its comeback is because of the hard work Clevelanders do while carrying all these stories with them.”
These days, as she preps more installations and readings, Meyer is done trying to shove down grief. She knows her loss changed her.
“How tragic would it be if all these stories happened to people, and they weren’t transformed or called to do something else?” she says. “There’s so much grief because there was so much love. That’s helped me. I’m totally transformed by these stories.”
8:00 AM EST
August 30, 2019