De Lena P. Scales
“I'm a professional connector. That's what I do.”
All Photos Courtesy of Jehan LLC Photography
Although born at Fort Knox, Kentucky, DeLena calls Columbus her home. She always had family in the northside, or as she states, “a relative on each corner,” growing up between the Northside and Linden before graduating from Mifflin High School. Linden however is at the heart of many of her memories “my very first job was at the McDonald's on Cleveland Avenue, which is now torn down. Every summer I worked at Ohio State Fairgrounds. Before you were old enough to work, they would hire people to sell ice, and me and my friends would walk over there and sign up for our three-week summer jobs and take our checks and go shopping for school clothes.” She has nothing but fond memories of a vibrant community “I remember a Linden where I went to the doctors in Linden, I went to the grocery store in Linden, because Kroger was in Linden back then, I went to a laundromat in Linden, I didn't have to leave Cleveland Avenue to do any of the things that I want to do wanted to do or needed to do. Now I've been in this space where I get to create that same limit all over again”.
DeLena now has become a change agent for her community. She describes Linden as “resilient because it seems so much has changed. I'm older, and I'm proud to say that I'm older. So to see, 46 when others didn't see 18, didn't see 19, so to sit here before you at 46 years old, and watching the community go from a thriving African American community to a deserted space where crime was able to come and live and breathe to now this pulse being pumped back in two weeks. Resilience is the right word for Linden, and the north side.” In her new role, she recognizes that the changes, good and bad are par for the course. “Change, even when it is good, comes with some sort of grief, and they have constantly overcome everything that's come at them. Whether it is disinvestment, whether it is historic homicide rates, whether there's infant mortality, whether there it is being a food desert, all these things that could destroy a community, and it did destroy many, it still stands strong. And to me, when I see images of resilience, and we have this little flower coming down to see man, that's what I think about my community.”
In the past, she served as the chair of the South Linden Area Commission, and community health worker for “CelebrateOne”, an initiative from Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther to reduce the high rates of infant mortality in Columbus. Her work in the community meant meeting with expecting and new parents and families to make sure their babies celebrate their first birthday. “In the African American community our babies are two and a half times likely to die before their first birthday, and I was one of those individuals who lost a child. So again, just turning those pains into passion.” Placed at St. Stephen's Community House, in the Linden community, DeLena connected families to vital resources.
Currently, DeLena serves as the Neighborhood Liaison for the City of Columbus Department of Neighborhoods. She has the privilege of supporting 3 neighborhoods, North Linden, South Linden, and Northeast, working with the area commissions, civic groups, neighborhood groups, faith leaders, and community-based organizations. “I really love working in those spaces because I grew up in these neighborhoods. So I get the pleasure of working in the areas where I live, worship in, play, and learn.” Recognizing the resilience of the Linden community, DeLena had a hand in the creation of the “Celebrate Liden” app. In collaboration with Neighborhood Design Center and Warhol and Wall Street, the “Celebrate Linden” app is a community mobile app that connects residents to resources and rewards them for participating in the community.
Her newest role is as an African American family navigator for the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio (DSACO). DeLen’as involvement with DSACO holds deep importance to her and her family. “I have a six year old daughter with down syndrome, and I was finding it really hard to connect with black families in this space of representation, especially since it means so much in this world. I want my daughter to have that [representation] so when the opportunity came, I stepped up to the plate. I just recently started in that role and had my first event yesterday with like four or five families. It was really exciting”.