Friday, February 08, 2013

In Search of Harriet Tubman

“As a race, here in America, we are still seeking our identity. It has been a painful gradual process — seeking our true place in society, a process marked by a sudden and dramatic societal change as we gain an even greater awareness of who we are. What we are.”

— Carl B. Stokes, from the preface to his political autobiography, Promises of Power.

In Search of Harriet Tubman

One of the recurring themes in my conversations with young African Americans is the noticeable absence of professional elders willing to mentor and support their growth and development. Of course there are a substantial number of people who do encourage and support those who follow in our footsteps. But far too often, especially in corridors of power, finance, and influence, there seems to be an excess of “wait your turn”, “I got mine the hard way, you do the same”, or “I can’t help you without hurting me”.

I would argue that this is one of the key factors that keep our community from enjoying the progress we should based on the talent at hand. Much of this shortsightedness could be overcome in the African American community if our esteemed church leaders and nonprofit institutions focused on the critical need to develop the next generation by exposing them to opportunities to develop and demonstrate leadership skills.

I have run on in the past about how some of what should be our best known organizations — NAACP, the Urban League, United Black Fund, Phillis Wheatley — have seen people entrench themselves in positions of prominence unmatched by performance. And I have been glad to see in the past couple of years that many of these and other organizations have secured new leadership at the helm that seems committed to bringing younger people on board.

What happens in Cleveland’s African American community mimics to a considerable extent what takes place in the larger community. The territorial old boy nature of our county politics — I’m not focused on the scandalous corruption that was here, but rather the myopic pettiness and parochialism among the political class that retards community development — has pretty much been reprised in the black political community. The same could be said, perhaps to a lesser degree, of the corresponding business and civic communities.

Last year I heard our justly venerated former Congressman Louis Stokes share reminiscences of his storied career with groups of young people looking for life lessons from one who had "been there and done that so well for so long". Perhaps it was his intent not to discourage his listeners but I was startled to find him so kind to the establishment. He talked about how he and his brother Carl [future state rep, mayor, judge, ambassador] had been mentored by John O. Holly and other community leaders. He extrapolated that support to suggest that if you wanted to do something positive in Cleveland there were legions of people ready to lend a hand.

Perhaps that was true if you were the Congressman, and if your brother was the mayor. While I have never dwelled in those rarified corridors of power, I do understand how the Stokes boys had to battle the establishment both within and outside the black community. Back then, in Carl’s own words, he had to “run over … the black politicians in the Democratic Party” even as he had to battle the Party’s racist hierarchy. It was much the same when Martin Luther King came to town: much established black clergy wanted little to do with him. This is not even to mention our plague of gatekeepers.

So, to retrieve a familiar phrase, where do we go from here?

Policy Bridge, generally referred to as Cleveland’s black think tank, proposes that we answer that question by looking back and asking ourselves another question: Why Did Harriet (Tubman) Go Back?*

That’s the topic of a special Black History Month forum being co-presented on Tuesday, February 26 at 5 PM by PolicyBridge and the City Club of Cleveland. Randell McShepard, PolicyBridge’s chairman and co-founder, will moderate a panel that includes the organization’s executive director, Gregory Brown; the always astute and incisive Rhonda Y. Williams, Case Western Reserve University history professor and director of its Social Justice Institute; the Rev. Todd C. Davidson, recently called to pastor Antioch Baptist Church; and President Gerald Ford [that is, president of the Urban League’s Young Professionals].

What inspired Tubman repeatedly to put her life in danger repeatedly on behalf of others? What are the lessons that apply even today about her courageous and selfless acts of compassion and leadership? 

Come discuss these questions with the panel and ask your own. Bring answers if you have them!

For tickets [$15.] or information, visit or call The City Club: 216.621-0082.

*  Harriet Tubman led more than 13 missions to rescue 70 slaves using the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. And she never lost a passenger!  [from PolicyBridge event flier].

Chaotic Killing of Two Suspects? Why, it's a 'Perfect Chase'

“In politics, absurdity is not a handicap.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

I have been so absorbed with gleaning the details of Attorney General Mike DeWine’s report on the Kirk Middle Schoool Police Shooting that I have neglected to post a couple of items for Non Profit Thursday. Before I get to them I must give thanks that Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, did not choose to become a fireman, because he apparently likes to throw kerosene cans onto house fires.

Yesterday we reported on the CPPA press conference where Follmer and others fiercely defended the actions of each of the scores of police officers involved in the 25 minute chase that eventually found Russell and Malissa Williams cornered in an East Cleveland school parking lot and met death in such a hailstorm of police fire that DeWine was moved to say “it’s a miracle that many police officer were not killed.”

What we did not know at the time of yesterday’s post was that Follmer also described the police pursuit as “the perfect chase”.

“Seek first to understand,” said the guru Stephen Covey. We will return to Follmer's quote in a couple of days, after we have fully digested the Attorney General’s work. We will also discuss why we think there should be no rush to judgment on the deliberate pace of Police Chief Michael McGrath and the Jackson administration. For right now, we will let Napoleon’s quote above resonate awhile.

• • •

Nonprofit Thursdays

Cleveland Men of Song

Amidst all the mayhem in our community runs a seemingly unquenchable spirit of charity and service. While sometimes it may be a cloak for rapaciousness, we deal on Nonprofit Thursdays with the real kind, as exemplified by Cleveland Men of Song.

This sonorous band of brothers presents its Fourth Annual Concert in celebration of Black History tomorrow evening, Friday, February 8th, at 7:30PM at the Plymouth Church, 2860 Coventry Road, Shaker Heights.

The program will blend anthems, spirituals and other traditional music as well as contemporary gospel selecitons. The group’s founder and artistic director is Carlton Fellows, who has performed many places overseas and around the country.

This year’s concert will feature composer and pianist Daniel Mario Cason as special guest conductor for the evening. Cason is a Cleveland native who currently pastors in Birmingham, Alabama.

Tickets for the concert are $10 and may be purchased at the door.

• • •

The news of virtually any day could serve as a reminder that it is not too early to register our young men, ages 6 to 18+, for the annual Call to Action Young Men’s Conference

Sponsored by Working in Progress, this year’s conference will be held Saturday, March 30 from 9AM to 3:30PM at the University of Akron Student Center.

Topics to be addressed at the conference include career planning, bullying and cyber-bullying, social media, breaking the fatherless cycle, under-age drinking, what to do when stopped by the police, and more.

Working in Progress is a nonprofit social service agency that seeks to support the transition of African American youth into adulthood.

A similar conference for girls is scheduled for May 4.

More information on the group, as well as how to register for the conference, can be found by visiting the group’s website, workinginprogress.orgcalling 330.474.9472, or by emailing
• • •

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Police Chief McGrath Responds [Indirectly] to CPPA

Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath responded today to calls for his resignation from the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association by issuing this message to the community*:

A Message From the Chief to the Community
Over the past few days, the investigative file regarding the use of deadly force by Cleveland Police Officers on November 29, 2012 was released and the public discussion surrounding this incident has intensified. It is important for you to know directly from me where we stand.
On November 30th, I promised you that the administrative review process would be thorough, fair and transparent and that the outcome would be just for all those involved. That commitment still holds true today. The administrative review is ongoing and it will continue, regardless of the public discussion or the criticisms directed towards me, the Division of Police or the Administration.
To date, the review committee has reviewed the police radio communications, video recordings from several sources, automated vehicle locator (AVL) data, and duty reports for all 62 cars involved in the incident. We have interviewed supervisors from the 1st, 4th and 5th Districts and now that the State Bureau of Criminal Investigations has completed its review, we have begun interviewing the remaining officers, including supervisors from the 2nd and 3rd Districts.
The committee drove the pursuit route to view vehicular and pedestrian traffic, road conditions, lighting, and other conditions at the time of pursuit. They have reviewed relevant general police orders on pursuit, emergency response driving, road spikes, and duty reports. And, since BCI has released its files, we can now include that information in our review.
I have not drawn any conclusions regarding what took place on November 29th and will not until my review is finished. In the end, I will share with you the results of the review and what actions, if any, the Division of Police will take moving forward.
I have been in law enforcement for nearly 40 years. I took an oath of office to serve this community and I will continue to honor that oath. I take seriously my responsibility to the people I serve and the officers I command. I have not forgotten what it is like to be a patrol officer or a detective or a supervisor. I am the same Mike McGrath today as I was then and I’ll be the same Mike McGrath tomorrow. I know how difficult police work is and how much incidents like that which occurred on November 29th affect our community, our families and our officers.
That is why I am staying the course with the administrative review. Our process will continue to be thorough and the results will be fair. If we find policy and rule violations, we will hold officers accountable. If we find that officers did not violate our policies and rules, they will continue to have my full support.
Michael McGrath, Chief
Cleveland Division of Police
 * h/t to LP for the heads up on this.