Pastor Orneil Heller

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Pastor Orneil Heller

First of all, let me say, as Bishop Dinkins said, I was a firefighter for 29 years. I retired as an assistant fire chief. I’ve been in the city of Warren for most of my life, and I’m a pastor and also a part of the clergy. So I wasn’t born here, but I was raised here, and I’ve been here long enough to see how things have evolved and how things are done for the better, and some not so good. 

And if I could just give a brief history about Warren: it started off as an industrial city, to where we had all the factories, the steel mills, the aluminum factories, the old Packard Electric. It was flooded with factories, so many people came here for job opportunities. And I was looking over some statistics. At our highest level—so we’re a small community, but we were flourishing at one time—at our highest level, we reached the population of 63,000, and that was in the 1970s. And once the steel industry took a downward turn, the population has been steadily declining, and the progress that African Americans and others have made in the city of Warren and its neighboring communities, that progress seems to have evaporated now because Warren as a whole doesn’t have very many opportunities. 

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and things have changed. And I might be all over the place, but as things come to my heart and mind, I just want to be able to share them, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to them. But I remember growing up and having grocery stores—little, small stores, like three or four stores in the neighborhood, right in the immediate neighborhood, where you could buy eggs and milk. I remember having gardens just decorating our community. We had gardens. Our neighbors had gardens. You could get fresh fruit. Fresh vegetables. We had fruit trees. Neighbors got along with one another. But now, when I look, I see none of that. You have to drive across town to get fruits and vegetables gas stations. I live right next door to a gas station. You have to drive across town to get gas, so you can hardly find jobs. 

There was a time when you could graduate high school and have a job the very next day. You can’t do that anymore. You have to have all the credentials that make you qualified to get jobs. Before, you could get a job with simple high school education. And a lot of times, you didn’t even have to have that. Even within the schools, we had vocational classes; we had so many opportunities here in this city. But once the steel mill died, so did those opportunities.

And now, General Motors has moved out of town. It wasn’t in Warren itself, but it was in a neighboring city called Lordstown, and now they’re gone. But the town of Warren, into Trumbull County and the Mahoning Valley, they’re now looking at clean energy, and that’s what CCC is trying to help out with. Even before we get to the point where we are trying to educate people on clean energy and renewable energy, CCC has been helping underserved people in the community because we are the shepherds of a park called Quimby Park. It was neglected, so some grassroots people in our community decided that this is the only park on our side of town, the southwest side of town, the side of town to get neglected. When they built a high school on the southwest side of town, they built it on swamp ground. And now that high school no longer stands. And that’s typical of you; if you go back and look just at Black communities across the nation, you’ll find out that a lot of times when they gave us an area to “call our own,” they put us in flood zones and things of that sort. But anyways, people have come together, and people were trying to make sure that this underserved part of our community is getting equity. Not just equality but equity. So we have a community garden. We have events at the park; we shepherd the park, keep it clean, and do things of that sort. And we just try to help out any way we can.