Scenes from the City: The McMicken Freespace
In a room with peeling wallpaper and wood floors that have been walked on hundreds of times, I find myself speaking with Stephanie Kodakya Phillips, the woman behind The McMicken Freespace. My Friend, the Freespace cat, is unwinding on my notebook, so I indulge in petting him while hanging onto Stephanie’s words. Her freckled glasses are making me think about the times in grade school when I convinced my mom I had terrible sight just so I could accessorize with funky frames. I am nervous and feeling a little small, wondering if I fit in here in Cincinnati, but I know this conversation will be thought provoking and inspiring.
I am immediately eased and struck by the strength of a woman in such a small frame. Her voice is warm and her words genuine. She starts to describe the space I am in awe of as we walk through the kitchen and watch My Friend drink from a dripping sink. The space is more comforting than any home I have ever been in, and Stephanie wants the same feeling for anyone who walks through the door.
The McMicken Freespace started as a pipe dream for Stephanie as she asked herself how she could help those without a foundation. She was living in Portland, Oregon and searching for a place where she could spark real change.
She sought a place not only to settle down in, but to provide a safe space for those without one. She found Cincinnati: where the dreamers go. The house on West McMicken turned out to be the spot.
It had fallen into foreclosure before Stephanie and her friend/freespace co-creator, Ryan, got their hands on it in 2014. She wanted to give this space a new life, where words could be spoken and heard. She was determined to take back what was lost and give it a more meaningful purpose. Stephanie did her research and found there weren’t many places here in Cincinnati like the one she wanted to build.
In the two years the space has been public, its doors have opened to organizations like AA for Freethinkers/Art of Recovery, Cincinnati Allied Transgender Support, Sex Worker Support, and Black Lives Matter, free of charge. She built a space for people to live, clothing to keep them warm, and a room to hear the echoes of their personal goals and community change. Everything the McMicken Freespace gives and participates in is made possible by donations.
I am comforted by the existence of the Freespace; it feels like it’s right where it needs to be. This house is breaking down the barriers that a lot of cities struggle with. Inclusion is so important in such a diverse city, and I think the Freespace acknowledges that. No one is denied at the doors; everyone is welcome. It makes me think the Freespace is the start of something more.
I realized during our conversation about justice, self love, making space for change, and accepting others, that we have so much to do every day of our lives. Change comes when we manipulate the time so that we can make some sort of difference, no matter how small it seems.
We talked about strength in ambiguity. I asked her if she ever thought about nailing down a description of what this space is all about. She proudly said no. She went on to say that a manifesto of descriptive language and rules wasn’t important to her. This space is simply free, available to any woman, man, cat, or thing living with the heart to say, “I see something I can do to change how we are living, and I want to pursue it in every way I can.”
Sometimes the power to think this way comes from having experienced misunderstanding and fear; it doesn’t always come easy. Stephanie explained how she found security in herself through her personal hardships. Because she chose to trust herself and her ideas, she was able to make this space happen – a space for all people to feel safe and comforted by the people they share Cincinnati with.
We can all find things we have gone through that have made us a more beautiful version of ourselves. Cincinnati is the perfect launch pad; you are here for a reason. Our city is only as strong as the people that live here. Outlets for change are everywhere; we just have to invest in them.