Deqah Hussein-Wetzel Joins CPA as Researcher of Sites of Black History

Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) is pleased to welcome Deqah Hussein-Wetzel as our part time historic preservation researcher.

Deqah is a first-generation Somali-American originally from Erie, PA. After receiving a degree in in urban planning from the University of Cincinnati, she joined AmeriCorps and then went on to study at the University of Oregon where she was awarded a masters in historic preservation and a certificate in nonprofit management. She also interned at CPA while in grad school. “I’m obsessed with mid-century history as it’s not commonly told,” says Deqah.

“As a preservationist and planner, I try not to get lost in the aesthetics of mid-century modern architecture without questioning the foundation in which white wealth, suburbanization, highways, and public housing were built upon. Even when I was still a student in planning, I always questioned the social implications of urban renewal and wondered how gentrification is any different. I was never beguiled by the allure of interstate highways. I firmly believe their existence overshadowed–or (more nerd-appropriately) created a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility shroud over–the neighborhoods that it cut in half.”

Deqah has worked as a cultural resource management consultant and in state government with the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office. She has also completed a myriad of National Register of Historic Places/Local Landmark nominations, Historic Tax Credit projects, surveys and inventories, as well as created interpretive panels, including historic markers, throughout Cincinnati.

“Some of the most recognizable regional and statewide projects I’ve worked include Historic Tax Credit projects for the Rabbit Hash General Store and mixed-use buildings in the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, the Ohio State Historic Preservation Office’s Ohio Modern: Preserving our Recent Past Cleveland
and Cuyahoga County historic survey and historic report, and the history interpretation panels for the Lick Run Greenway,” she says.

Within the past few years, Deqah incorporated podcasting into her historic preservation and planning work, creating an urban history podcast titled Urban Roots. She co-hosts the podcast with Vanessa
Quirk, a cities journalist and podcaster based in New York City.

What lit the spark for her to start the podcast was a combination of confusion, frustration and inspiration.

“As a preservationist, I conduct a ton of archival research, and in newspapers,” she explains. “For example, I would come across immensely horrific stories on lynchings and riots — but I would also find
impressive stories about strong black women who’ve done some super important things that some people have never even heard of. For example, during the nineteenth century, Sarah Fossett was the
reason we had streetcar integration in Cincinnati. It upset me knowing these stories of black women, black history, and black culture are not traditionally taught in schools. And, because podcasts are becoming a powerful education and public history tool, I thought, ‘what better way for preservation and planning to be more accessible and inclusive.’”

In addition to the podcast, Deqah started a preservation media nonprofit called Urbanist Media. The organization’s mission is to help modernize the field by using digital media and podcasts to facilitate oral history archival preservation.

As part of CPA’s staff, Deqah will focus on CPA’s Initiative to Preserve Sites of Black History in Cincinnati. This project seeks to increase awareness and preservation of sites and structures which tell the story of the Black experience in Cincinnati.

“I’ll be working on helping preserve and recognize historically significant African American properties and places of Black culture in Cincinnati,” Deqah says. “To start, I’ll be connecting with majority Black communities, speaking with local Black leaders, and conducting historic surveys to help prioritize the buildings, objects, structures, and sites that need National Register of Historic Places/Local Landmark nominations.”

“Simultaneously, I’ll be doing the public history groundwork to make sure the stories of these communities are accurately told, which will go beyond the traditional methods of creating historic
markers,” she continues. “Because I want to make sure that our local Black voices are heard in a publicly accessible way, collaboration with local artists and organizations will also be integral to the success of the work I do at CPA.”

Deqah lives in Fairview (part of CUF) and spends her spare time glassblowing and glass fusing. She studied glass at the Art Academy and took a work study job in the glass shop at the University of Oregon Craft Center to learn kiln-fused glass, something she now does with her basement kiln.

Deqah says she is looking forwarding to working once again with everyone at CPA and connecting with minority communities at the ground-level to understand the preservation needs of their neighborhoods.

“Driving through Cincinnati today, it’s hard to not see that majority Black communities have been ignored to such an extent that historically significant properties are being subjected to demolition by neglect, or, perhaps worse, gentrification,” she notes. “All that said, my biggest influence in continuing this work is knowing that by joining CPA, with the help of the staff, we can start preserving and recognizing African American history as we should be throughout the country.”