Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Harvard's Kuumba Choir, Morgan State Choir bringing history, joy to the North Coast

Old Sorrow Songs a Source of Modern Comfort
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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

NIna Turner in Greater Cleveland today for Progressive Caucus, Kyle B. Earley

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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Closing out Black History Month

Black 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 stick.
But I 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.
Of course, I think the reality is Black History is important enough to merit a year round focus, especially among people of color.
I think somewhere I have written about reading Carter G. Woodson’s fabulous Mis-Education of the Negro for the first time.[1] 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 tweet.

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."

[1] I just 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 from.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Black Professional Association selects Thompson Hine partner-in-charge as 2018 Black Professional of the Year

Robyn Minter Smyers was announced tonight as 2018 Black Professional of the Year.
The announcement came at the close of the Black Professional Association Charitable Foundation's annual meeting [BPACF] at Karamu House.
Smyers is Partner-in-Charge 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.
BPACF's 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 its honoree.
Previous 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 found here.
Ronald V. Johnson Jr. of KeyBank is BPACF's current president.
This year's scholarship gala will be held November 3 at Landerhaven. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Getting harder in the Trump era to tell the players even with a scorecard

CPT | County GOP votes on endorsements today 

Things are seldom what they seem;
Skim milk masquerades as cream.
— Gilbert & Sullivan​

Cuyahoga County Republican executive and central committee members will gather this afternoon to make their endorsements for the May primary.

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. 

Meanwhile, at 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.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black History: Don Freeman, Charles A. Ballard

Don Freeman: Resolute Radical

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.

Don Freeman

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 worker.
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 solution.
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 Sullivan.
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 20720.
Fatherhood programs established by Cuyahoga County and the State of Ohio are part of Charles Ballard’s legacy.