Regular reporting and commentary on the interplay of race, class and power in the civic, business and cultural spaces of NEO from the inner rings of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
Primary interests: Cleveland/NEOhio regional public affairs; African American politics, commerce, culture and society; public education; national and international affairs; Cavaliers∫Browns.
Harvard’s Kuumba Choir here
last week; Morgan State Choir in town tonight
I don’t know how it is for white people but if you are black in
America, even though you may be relatively privileged, you can often feel
isolated in the rarefied atmosphere your good fortune has opened up to you.
Let’s look at the well known sports pioneer Jackie Robinson. He was enormously
talented, a confident military vet, happily married, but every day he had to go
work in a hostile environment where not only thousands of onlookers and
on-the-field opponents were jeering him openly and rooting for him to fall on
his face; he had teammates who despised him and wanted him to fail.
We may think those days are behind us but in truth, in this
society, they are not. I’ve never met Craig Arnold, chairman and CEO of
transnational Eaton Corp., but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he felt some of
that special isolation as the only one on the whole floor.
Thousands of black people of lesser status, if not lesser talent,
have felt that sensation of being strangers in a strange land. It’s one of the
reasons black men used to acknowledge each other in a certain way when crossing
paths in unexpected places. I still recall my experiences in boarding school,
far removed from most of what I’d ever experienced back in my Glenville
neighborhood, trying to find some balm of Gilead.
So it was no surprise to hear members of Harvard University’s
Kuumba Choir share the origins of the group’s birth, founded in 1970 to “create
a spiritual and cultural space in which we can feel comfortable”.
The choir was in Greater Cleveland last week, the last stop on a
four-city spring break tour that had them also visiting Chicago, Detroit, and
Springfield IL. They appeared in concert at South Euclid United Church of Christ before a crowd of well over 300 enthusiasts, a day after
having thrilled an assembly at Cleveland School of the Arts.
The music was a thorough affirmation of faith, a celebration of
journeys completed and trials still underway. The song titles did much to tell
the story: Amazing Grace, Ride On King Jesus/In that Great Gittin’ Up Morning,
We’ve Come a Long Way, Ain’t Gon’ Let Nobody Turn Me Around, Oh Happy Day!
The 40-plus voices were a striking amalgam. At one point, the
singers passed a microphone throughout their ranks, with each using a spare ten
or twelve words to state their name, hometown, and undergrad major or other
identifying characteristic. So the audience learned that the choir included
students from across the country, the Islands and from the Continent. The
presence of a Caucasian or three in their ranks only amplified the testimony of
the music of the universality of the rhythms and melodies and plaints and joys
expressed in the Spirituals, or sorrow songs as they were once called.
The group’s repertoire was wide, likely only hinted at by the
range of the material they chose to present Friday. It included traditional
spirituals, modern gospel, and African freedom songs. They were backed
throughout by an excellent small combo on keyboards and percussion. During a
brief intermission, the audience heard the outstanding piano talent of the
local and superb David Thomas.
It is performances like this that come to mind when we hear the
phrase “black culture”, not the popular strains of the moment but the abiding
chords that speak to the long history of people of the Diaspora.
The Kuumba Choir has maintained a commendable consistency
throughout its 48 years. Current director Sheldon Reid, who has led the
ensemble since 1998, is only the third director in Kuumba’s history. The choir
maintains a strong alumni network whose current president is Linda Jackson
Sowell of Solon. She spoke briefly near the program’s end, and as a charter
member, joined in the group’s rendition of the Twenty-Third Psalm.
The spring break tours of collegiate black choirs are one of the
early and most pleasant harbingers of a new season. Tonight the
renowned Morgan State Choir comes to town. They will appear in
concert at 7pm at Mt. Zion United Church of Christ,
10723 Magnolia Dr., in University Circle. All are welcome.
Admission is free and there will be a good will offering.
NOTE to HBCU alumni: Let us know when your choir is coming to town.
Former State Senator Nina Turner, who is now president of Our Revolution, a national progressive political organization formed in the aftermath of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign for the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nomination, will be the featured speaker at a 1PM rally today sponsored by the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus.
The rally will be held at Newburgh Heights City Hall, 3801 Harvard Avenue, Newburgh Heights, Ohio 44105.
Also during the day, Turner is expected to appear elsewhere around the city on behalf of Kyle B. Earley, who is running for the Democratic nomination for state representative in District 10. That seat is currently held by Bill Patmon, who is term-limited.
The primary election is May 8. Early voting will begin April 10. The registration deadline to vote in the May primary is April 9.
people of a certain bent are wont to observe wryly that Black History Month would be the shortest month of the year,
given that America has routinely given us the shorter end of the shortest
dare say that had Carter G. Woodson known that what he birthed and christened
as Negro History Week back in 1926 would be enlarged and expanded into a full
month, he would have picked a month with 31 days.
course, I think the reality is Black History is important enough to merit a
year round focus, especially among people of color.
somewhere I have written about reading Carter G. Woodson’s fabulous Mis-Education of the Negro for the first
time. I was in my mid-twenties,
possessed of an excellent formal education, but one that had omitted core
pieces of black — and therefore American — history. It was like discovering a
key to a mysterious and magical place that one has heard about but never seen.
I was discovering Woodson’s insights on the black condition 40 years after he
had written them, and they seemed as fresh as that day’s headlines. Scanning
them again today, another 40-odd years later, they seem fresher than the latest
If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about
his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to
concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is
inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he
will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you
do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and
if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.
— Carter G.
Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
The American Legacy Mobile Exhibit
of black history was in town today, graced by the presence of its founder and
guiding light, Cleveland and Mt. Pleasant’s own Rodney J. Reynolds. It was a
special treat to see. Among the artifacts were a host of American Legacy covers
from its sixteen year print run, paraphernalia from Jackie Robinson’s rookie
year in the major leagues, and my personal favorite, a pair of fire-engine red
boxing gloves autographed by the Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali.
Rodney Reynolds, American Legacy founder and
publisher, with Cleveland Fire Dept. program director
Bilal Akram, left, and Cleveland photojournalist James Wade
We managed to squeeze in an interview with Rodney, founder and publisher of the American Legacy brand, amidst his official host duties. We will report more fully on our conversation tomorrow, but we'll close tonight with his observation that African Americans "are still a community that is in search of itself."
searched this site for it without success, but I did find this
piece, written exactly six years ago today. I especially commend it
to a new and very dear friend who recently commented obliquely on where I come
Minter Smyers was announced tonight as 2018 Black Professional of the
announcement came at the close of the Black
Professional Association Charitable Foundation's annual meeting [BPACF] at Karamu
of the Thompson Hine law firm, as well as former chair of its
firm-wide Diversity and Inclusion Initiative. She is a partner in
the firm's Real Estate, Construction and Corporate Transactions and Securities practice groups.
Smyers is a 1991 cum laude graduate of
Harvard University and earned her law degree from Yale Law School in
1997. She currently serves as a trustee of the Codrington Foundation and the City Club of Cleveland. The former Gund Foundation trustee is
also a member of the Cleveland Foundation's African-American
Philanthropy Committee. Her father,Steven Minter, former president of the Cleveland Foundation, was honored as BPA's 1985 Black Professional of the Year.
mission is to create opportunities for young scholars and other
promising youth in the Greater Cleveland area. Its signature event
each year is a black tie gala that celebrates the accomplishments of
BPOYs have included former US Congress members Lou Stokes and
Stephanie Tubbs Jones, pastors Otis Moss Jr. and Marvin C. McMickle,
and three presidents of Cuyahoga Community College: Nolen Ellison,
Jerry Sue Thornton, and Alex Johnson. A list of past honorees can be
Ronald V. Johnson Jr. of KeyBank is BPACF's current president.
year's scholarship gala will be held November 3 at Landerhaven.
Cuyahoga County Republican executive and central
committee members will gather this afternoon to make their endorsements for the
The marquee endorsement will come in the
governor’s slot, where Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is expected to handily
defeat current Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor.
Last week the Ohio GOP endorsed DeWine by a
thumping 59-2 vote. Still, Taylor has refused to concede either quietly or
graciously. What’s interesting about this contest is the subtext behind it.
While party insiders all seem to back DeWine,
Taylor is working to court Trump voters, and could be in a position to upset
DeWine if she succeeds in connecting with the Trump base. She has the nominal
backing of term-limited Gov. John Kasich but has done her best to disavow it,
because Kasich is anathema not only to that base, but also to many others
throughout the party for a host of reasons: Kasich has been a Trump antagonist
dating back to 2015, very publicly declining to appear at the 2016 Republican
Convention held here in his home state where Trump officially received the GOP
Presidential nomination. Kasich’s decision to support Medicaid expansion over
the express opposition of many of his own state legislators further alienated
him from parts of the GOP.
All of this was backdrop to the ouster of Kasich
ally Matt Borges from the chair of the Ohio GOP by Jane Timken early last year,
with the support of the President. Kasich forces, we hear, now think they have
a chance to retake control of the state party, which could be significant if
Kasich does indeed mount a 2020 primary challenge against Trump.
But any chance for Kasich people — dare we call
them GOP moderates? — to regain state party control would go out the window if
Taylor becomes the state standard bearer this year. So one might conclude that even though Kasich has endorsed Taylor almost against her will, he would prefer to
see her defeated by DeWine.
The battle for the GOP nomination for the right
to challenge US Senator Sherrod Brown this fall also has national implications
for the GOP. Both Congressman Jim Renacci, R-16 of Wadsworth and Cleveland
businessman Mike Gibbons are, like Taylor, touting their Trump bona fides.
Renacci is claiming that the President encouraged him to switch from the
governor’s race to the senate battle following the sudden and unexpected
withdrawal of frontrunner and state treasurer Josh Mandel. But he may actually
be US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s preference instead of Trump’s
because he is likely to be far less of a maverick than Gibbon.
The takeaway from all this may be that the Ohio
GOP is much less united at the top than the state’s Democrats in this election
cycle. But we are a long way from seeing how that might translate in November.
least one Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Cleveland mayor and
Congressman Dennis Kucinich, believes he has a real shot to capture some 2016
Trump voters. He’s probably right, but in the today’s topsy-turvy political
climate, the populist Kucinich was just endorsed this past week by the Cuyahoga
County Progressive Caucus. That may have been largely a hometown boy vote, but
it nonetheless points out the increasing inadequacy of labels as a guide to who
stands where for whom and what.
Depending on how and where you met him, you
might not know that Don Freeman was once perceived as a wild-eyed radical back
in the day. And there was good reason for the perception.
One of Cleveland’s native sons, a child of the
inner city with an intellectual curiosity that still burns some 70 years later,
Freeman has been on a persistent lifetime quest, first to understand and then
to expound upon the world we live in.
Freeman was an essential source for former Case
Western Reserve University professor Rhonda Y. Williams’ incisive book, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power
in the 20th Century.
He has now written his own history, Reflections of a Resolute Radical. I
read a few pages of it online a couple of days ago and look forward to getting
a copy tonight when he appears at 6:30PM tonight at the Louis Stokes wing of
the Cleveland Public Library, 525 Superior Ave.
Charles A. Ballard, Pioneer
Advocate for Fatherhood, dies at 81
My friend Charles Ballard was an unforgettable
person with a familiar story of abandonment that he used to craft a meaningful
life, first for himself, and then to help thousands of others. While a
teenager, somewhere in Georgia as I recall, he got his girlfriend pregnant. His
response was to run away and join the Army, where he ran into further troubles
that landed him in prison with a three-year sentence. He was released after
eight months [he always maintained his conviction was unwarranted] and came to
Cleveland after tracking down the son of his youth. Committed to being the
father he himself had enjoyed only briefly — his father entered a mental
institution when Ballard was three and died there several years later without
ever returning home — Charles became a Christian, a student, and a social
His social work and personal experience helped
him first to identify a problem — young fathers who wanted a relationship with
their children but with no clue how to build one — and then to provide a
Ballard’s work with teen fathers soon led to the
establishment of the National Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family
Development. Initially based in Cleveland, the program received first
philanthropic and then political support, winning the personal approval of
President George W. Bush and Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis
Ballard moved the program to Washington DC in an
attempt to make it truly national.
Ballard had a simple three-step initiation process
to begin working with young fathers. They had to acknowledge paternity legally,
achieve at least a high school diploma, and get a regular paying job to
establish a regular payday.
Ballard died on February 5 in the Washington DC
area after years of declining health following a debilitating stroke in 2005
that cost him his eyesight.
His funeral is scheduled for Sunday, February 18
at 11AM, at the Restoration Praise Center, 14201 Old Stage Road, Bowie, MD
Fatherhood programs established by Cuyahoga
County and the State of Ohio are part of Charles Ballard’s legacy.