Wednesday, December 09, 2009

United Pastors initiate Community Dialogue for Reconcilation and Unity

About 60 citizens took up the invitation extended by the United Pastors in Mission to attend a community meeting called in the wake of the recent controversy over the tasteless assault upon State Senator Nina Turner in the Call & Post for her alliance with the architects of the successful Issue 6 campaign to change the form of county government.

The tone of yesterday's meeting was restrained for the most part. UPM president C. Jay Matthews, pastor of host church Mt. Sinai Baptist on Woodland Ave., stated at the outset “you can’t have private reconciliation in a public debate” and sought throughout the 90-minute session to focus attention on moving forward with outreach and community engagement. While he had some success in this effort, many in attendance were still preoccupied with the last campaign and the passions it exposed throughout the community regarding change, political power, and economic and social inequalities.

These passions were best put in perspective by the Rev. Tony Minor of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, who first arrived in Cleveland 25 years ago, dispatched here, he said, by Rev. Joseph Lowery of Alabama, to re-establish a local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Minor recalled a conversation with one his parishioners, a single mother who had come to him seeking aid because her cupboard was bare and she was being evicted. In the midst of assisting her, he asked her opinion about the Aunt Jemima depiction of Sen. Turner. As might be assumed, the woman, consumed by hand-to-mouth necessities, was totally unaware of the controversy.

Minor used the vignette to argue that “the town needs to change; the old guard needs to open up and change.”

This theme was echoed by Matthews, who said, “Leadership is not born or made. It has followers.” He said that there was a “process of opportunity”, and that while we certainly had not become a post-racial society, the election of President Obama suggested that there are some new opportunities open to African Americans that should be seized.

Yet and still, there was discussion of issues further polarized by the Call & Post cartoon. Deborah Plummer, chief diversity officer at the Cleveland Clinic, rose to express her appreciation to UPM for standing up on behalf of women. Attorney Michael Nelson argued that the cartoon merely depicted what many, if not most, of Cleveland’s black community were thinking and saying about Sen. Turner, including all … of Cleveland’s black councilmen.

County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, saying that he felt a newfound liberation in his new, charter-mandated lame-duck status, spoke of the importance of participating in the election of new county officials next year. Pointing to his obligation as a countywide official to pay attention to the “aspirations, needs, and desires” of all county residents, he expressed concern whether county council candidates would feel similarly obliged.

The meeting, which began with a presentation on behalf of Christians United for Israel, concluded with a stirring Advent homily from Dr. Marvin McMickle, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church.

In the brief press conference that followed, Rev. Matthews, who during the meeting lifted up the diversity of the black community, was backed by nearly 20 members of UPM as he resisted any line of questioning that sought to exploit fissures in the ongoing relationship of the black clergy and the Call & Post. While that posture may appear ironic, his answer was both adroit and accurate, as UPM’s stated intent is to continue dialogue both with the paper’s leadership as well as with those who are involved in delineating the new county government.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Paean to a Cleveland Landmark

We received this email from our good friend Dick Peery, who "broadcast it to the ether". It struck us as a love song to a lost era. Reproduced here with his permission, we wonder how it strikes you.


The flames that destroyed the Lancer Steakhouse Sunday took more than a business from the community. They consumed a legacy of Cleveland's finest memories.

When the Lancer opened 49 years ago, its well-dressed patrons included physicians, lawyers, successful business owners and numbers bankers who prospered before the state encroached on their territory with the lottery. As Carl Stokes ran for mayor in the mid-1960s, the Lancer was where campaign workers swapped information, recharged their political batteries and planned new activities after an evening of volunteer work. It was considered the unofficial campaign headquarters. Stokes was elected by a hairsbreadth in 1967 as the nation's first black mayor of a major city and launched a political revolution that opened urban leadership to all citizens across the country. Arguably, it was the Lancer that put him over the top.

The political importance of the Lancer continued throughout the Stokes administration as the mayor opened the full range of positions in City Hall to black job seekers for the first time. Municipal workers, city council members and anyone wanting the back story on developments at City Hall knew they could get a good political conversation going at the Lancer. The upstairs conference room was the place of choice for strategy sessions.

As a reporter for the Call and Post while Stokes’s was mayor I found the Lancer invaluable. I started at the Plain Dealer in 1971 shortly before Stokes' announcement that he would not run for a third term. When the bombshell dropped on a Saturday, I was told to go out in the black community and get some reaction. I guess the editors assumed I would buttonhole people on the street. I made a beeline for the Lancer where I took a stool at the middle of the bar and sat there the entire afternoon taking notes. Virtually everyone I would have thought to ask for an opinion came by. Elected officials, heads of neighborhood organizations, activists who had been in the news one way or another, all flocked to the Lancer seeking understanding of the shocking news. When I turned in the story, several editors told me no other reporter would have known how to get such a comprehensive wrap up. I didn't tell them it wasn't me. It was the Lancer.

Of all the sessions I attended in the upstairs meeting room, the most unique was hosted by Ron Bey. He was a black Muslim protégé of Louis "Babe" Triscaro, a colorful Teamster official and Mafia figure. Bey owned businesses, headed some anti-drug programs and was a City Hall frequenter during the Stokes and Perk administrations, but his primary occupation was assumed to be as a hit man for the mob. He was a fixture in Little Italy when few African Americans dared to visit the area. He helped calm a community uproar after kids threw rocks at a school bus carrying black students on Murray Hill road in Little Italy. Bey arranged a press conference at the Lancer at which businessmen Al Micatrotto and Tony Hughes said they wanted to apologize on behalf of the Italian community. Micatrotto was especially eloquent as he emphasized the right of everyone to travel on any street without fear of attack. When the local Mafia unraveled years later, Micatrotto and Hughes were identified as longtime members.

Over the decades politics, economics and demographics changed and so did the Lancer. As the old customers faded and the next generation of professionals were welcomed in new hangouts downtown, the base for a center of black social and political activity also waned. But not completely. When there was a need to gather, old timers resurrected the past at the Lancer. For instance, whenever boxing promoter Don King came back to Cleveland for a political event or the funeral of former colleague, he bought out the house and everyone was welcome.

The most significant celebration in the Lancer s history occurred just a year ago. The local NAACP wanted to have a viewing party for the election of Barack Obama as president and there was just one logical place to go. International television broadcasts emanated from the large tent in the parking lot where euphoric voters rejoiced in Obama's incredible victory. Of all the passionate statements from gatherings throughout the country that I saw on television that night, the most profound was from the Lancer patron with long braids down his back who told the world, "Tomorrow I can cut my dreads."

Owner George Dixon says he will rebuild. He must. It will be great if his new restaurant brings back the enchantment of the original Lancer. In any case, a monument to that magic time is needed.

Dick Peery