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The love of two brothers, Tony and Cal, is now on display as a work of art on a West Dayton building
Dayton Daily News - 2/25/2021
Feb. 25—A one-of-a-kind sibling relationship is now on full display in a very special spot in West Dayton.
Born and raised in Trotwood, 37-year-old Tony Smith proudly proclaims that he is his older brother Cal's keeper. Cal, 39 years old, is blind and lives with cerebral palsy, autism and a brain condition that developed after a concussion that left 2-year-old Cal in a coma for 30 days.
Tony graduated from The Ohio State University in 2006 and soon afterward moved to Los Angeles. However, a suspicious bump on the back of his head that turned out to be cancerous brought Tony back to the Dayton area for treatment in 2013. This return home would lead to a decision that would change his life — and his brother's life — forever.
"I saw how my brother was, and I thought man, my mother is getting older. ... I've got to make a decision. I was like, okay, my family needs me, my family needs me. So, I made a decision I have never regretted — stay home in Trotwood, because your mother and brother need you."
Cal and Tony's father died in 2003, and their mother has served as Cal's primary caretaker. Cal is significantly bigger than his mother, and Tony said it was a physical challenge at times for her mother to care for her son.
Upon returning home from California, Tony discovered that his brother needed a wheelchair often, was barely having conversations with anyone and was unable to bathe and feed himself.
With every interaction with his brother, Tony felt like Cal could be better. Tony decided that once his own recovery was over, he would begin working tirelessly to improve Cal's quality of life.
First, they would tackle walking. The pair soon went viral on Facebook when Tony recorded Cal walking down their neighborhood street after almost a lifetime of being mostly wheelchair-bound.
"I just started kind of recording everything," Tony said. "When I took him to the doctor, I said, 'We're not doing a wheelchair, come on.' I'll never forget we walked (into his doctor appointment), and everybody in the doctor's office was like 'Oh my God! Calvin is walking in here!' It was really, really cool."
After Tony decided to stay to help his family, it took a few years to get Cal up and walking on a regular basis. It was in 2016 that Tony made the decision to drop everything else to dedicate every day to Cal.
"I said OK, Calvin is my main focus," Tony said. "That's my world. We're gonna work on this."
It became an important part of the brothers' journey — to document the good and the bad, to show some of those difficult nights that Cal would stay up screaming in frustration at his brother — to show Tony's social media followers the good, but also the "realness," Tony said.
Since taking to social media to document Cal's progress and challenges, Tony found that people began reaching out to him to offer advice on how to help his brother.
Through the years, Tony's Facebook followers have rejoiced in the brothers' triumphs, laughed at the infamous "Cal's cuss words," and fell in love with the brothers' love for each other. Hundreds of people regularly comment and join Tony's Facebook conversations when the brothers have something to celebrate, even if it's something as simple as getting Cal dressed up to go on a dinner date with Tony.
Earlier this month, Tony was on a visit in California when he began receiving text messages of an image of himself and Cal on the side of a building on the corner of Germantown Street and Dennison Avenue. He was on the next possible flight back home to see for himself.
"I'm speechless and honored," Tony posted to his public Facebook page on Feb. 12. "This picture in this location means more to me than people will ever know."
When the brothers' mother moved to Dayton from Alabama, the first street she lived on was Dennison Avenue. Then, growing up, the very building on which the brothers' image was displayed was their "Pop's pool hall," Tony said.
"Before it was a barber shop and a laundromat, it was my father's pool hall!" wrote Tony in his post. "We were here every day picking up money! Wow! It's amazing how things come full circle."
It was local photographer Shon Houston, owner of Shon Curtis Photography, who took the photo of the brothers embraced in a loving moment. The installation of the image onto the building was a collaboration between Houston and City Wide Developers — part of an effort to restore alternative narratives into the West Dayton community.
"By highlighting humanity and art, we are able to lift up and honor culture and the resilience we find here in the city," Houston said. "This is a continuation of an original ongoing project with myself, graphic designer Dave Scott and City Wide Developers to tell the stories of West Dayton through images and graphic elements."
Although Tony knows he has changed Cal's life, he said Cal has changed his life, too, just as much.
"When Calvin got up to walk, I went back to replay (the video) for myself, and I just thought, 'Man, how many times have you allowed what you've been through to cripple you?' When I look at Calvin getting up to walk, (I think) 'Don't let any situations stop you from getting up every single time. It might cripple you temporarily, but get up and walk.'"
Tony said he is planning to take Cal to the picture soon so they can share a few moments in front of the space together.
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