top of page
  • Kelly Finlaw

Just a Kid from Akron

I’m from Akron.

I grew up with weather that changed several times within an hour, football on Friday nights, a garden in my backyard, and rubber.

And Lebron. I grew up with Lebron.

Akron isn’t a highly transient city, and Ohio isn't a highly transient state, generally speaking.

“Where are you from?” isn’t a common starting point for conversations when meeting new people in the Akron area.

If you live in the Akron area, you’ve probably been there for your entire life. Your parents probably came from the area. Your grandparents, too. And their’s

I can think of one person from my childhood that came to Akron from somewhere else.

As a New Yorker, I can think of maybe three friends that were born and raised in this city.

Some of my friends moved from other states, some from other countries, and while they may be settled here, while New York is their home, that wasn’t their reality for their early years.

As a teacher in Washington Heights, my kids and their families feel connected to both New York and their countries of origin. Even if my kids were born here, they know where they come from. They’re Mexican, Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, Yemeni, El Salvadorian, and, of course, Dominican.

These same students often ask me where I’m from, where my family came from. I always say, “Ohio.” Actually, I always say, “Akron, Ohio.”

I take every opportunity to advertise that Lebron and I are from the same hometown.

Sometimes the conversation stops there and we talk about Akron and basketball. Other times, they clarify their original question by saying, “No. I mean, what country do you come from? Where did your family come from?”

I love that.

Without verbalizing it, my kids understand that Native Americans are the only ones that shouldn’t have to answer that question. We are all immigrants. Some of us are just more aware, more connected to our roots.

I always tell my kids that I’m Irish. That’s what I’ve always been told, anyway.

I don’t have a strong connection to my Irish roots. I come from McCaffertys and Finlaws. The little research that I have done on my own history points to Ireland.

The former custodian at my school was Irish and he took an interest in my Irish heritage. He loved genealogies and research, so he traced my family as far back as he could. He even went as far as to call cemeteries in Akron to connect the lines of my family tree.

He came to a dead end when he found James Finlaw, who came in America in 1805.

He also found the McCafferty coat of arms in Ireland and had it sent to me.

Maybe it was because he was so connected to his Irish heritage that he felt connected to my family’s story. Maybe it was because he loved the challenge in the research.

For whatever reason, he gave months of his life to help me trace the history of those that came before me.

Apparently, someone at some point immigrated from Ireland. It’s highly likely that that person immigrated to Ireland from Scotland.

I don’t feel highly connected to any of it. It’s not a part of my heritage. It’s not something that forms my identity.

I’m a New Yorker that came from Akron.

With that (not so brief) contextual foundation, I’m headed to Northern Ireland, where I’ll be representing BuildaBridge and working until the end of July. READ MORE HERE

I’m not going on a pilgrimage. I’m not going to connect with my family’s heritage. I’m not going for my own story.

I’m going to represent BuildaBridge. I’m going to learn from Beyond Skin.

Still, I can’t help but think about my own story in all of this. For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve said that this place is where I’m from. For the first time in my life, I’ll set foot on that soil.

Darren Ferguson, ED of Beyond Skin with BuildaBridge Board Members and Artist Kelly Finlaw

I have the unbelievable privilege of doing what I love with my life. Most of the time, that takes place in my New York City. Every summer, that takes place in a different part of the world. Today, that’s going to happen at my “home.”

I’ll share my stories here.

34 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page