Sunday, January 10, 1999

Family sees city's best, worst

Dayton helpful after tot's death

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DAYTON — After three months in a homeless shelter, Victor Sebastian couldn't say no when he found a place for his family to live.

        Even if it was in Dayton, where fliers clamoring for white domination and violence against blacks and Jewish people recently had gone up.

        “I didn't have a choice,” said Mr. Sebastian, who is black. So he, his wife and their nine children moved to one of Dayton's 45 public housing units in the fall of 1997.

        While their time in this small Campbell County town has brought them closer, the family is considering a move to escape some of the trials they've endured in the past year.

        Some of the children have been taunted with racial epithets, and Mr. Sebastian believes he sometimes has been treated rudely because of his race.

        But grief over the August death of 15-month-old Jahzion Sebastian, and the community's response, seems to have surmounted all anger and hurt from these other experiences.

        Jahzion had been lying down when his mother, Maria, went to bathe another child. Jahzion seems to have crawled out of his crib. One of his siblings later found him in a bucket of water for mopping.

        Dayton, both parents agree, was there for the Sebastians.

        The community offered support and donations at a time when the family really needed it. Mrs. Sebastian recently had another child, but she and the rest of the Sebastian clan still grieve for Jahzion.

        His siblings, whose ages range up to 13 years, have dealt with the death in different ways — some haven't cried, two have regressed in development and some have started throwing temper tantrums. The family is receiving counseling and is trying to spend more time together.

        They've dealt with their grief while they've contended with the challenges of racism. One day, some of the Sebastian children went to the park and were called a racial epithet. Also, people in cars have driven by and told them to get out of Dayton.

        The Sebastians don't always know what to say about such people. But they're thankful that their children have always felt welcome at St. Bernard School in Dayton and at Newport's Head Start program.

        The Sebastians say their children have a stronger interest in their studies — and seem safer — than when they were attending school in Cincinnati's east Clifton neighborhood.

        “That's a blessing,” Mr. Sebastian said.

        He wants to remain in Campbell County so the children can continue attending their present schools.

        The Sebastians had been living in Cincinnati when their house was foreclosed. They lived in hotels awhile and eventually moved to a homeless shelter in Newport.

        In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were seven blacks in Dayton. That's less than 1 percent of Dayton's 1990 population of 6,576.


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