Friday, February 21, 2014

New Leadership restores service orientation to key black organizations


A lot can change in a couple of years.

Less than two years ago we wrote, perhaps with more hope than seemed warranted, of “signs that Cleveland’s black community [was] slowly awakening from a generation of civic stupor.” Our eyes at that time were especially fixed on the three most important civic organizations in the black community: the Cleveland NAACP, the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, and the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland. All three were in in the nascent stages of long overdue makeovers.  None of those groups seemed to have gotten the message that the twenty-first century was more than a decade old. Their leadership rosters at that time looked pretty much as they had looked for decades.  The NAACP’s executive committee had a core that had been in place for thirty plus years, and a president who had been running the show for twenty years. The Urban League’s board seemed to have been asleep nearly that long, awakening only when insolvency rang out and bankruptcy loomed. And UBF trustees and leadership seemed intent on grandfathering themselves in place until they all qualified for emeritus status.

But now, there is actually reason to be excited about the developments taking place under new and engaged professional and lay leadership. The turnaround has perhaps been most dramatic at the Urban League, which has benefited from the transformative leadership of its president and chief executive officer, Marsha Mockabee. She could be known as the Queen of Collaboration for the numerous partnerships she has forged with institutions and individuals all across the community.

The League’s annual meeting on February 6 saw a recapitulation of these and other accomplishments, and the issuance of the 2012-2013 Annual Report, which can be reviewed on their new website.

The well-conceived annual meeting was one of the most impressive and inspiring this reporter has attended. The event, attended by sixty-five or so, was held in the League’s second-floor boardroom in its office at Prospect Ave and East 30th St. Mockabee was quick to give shout-outs to a host of the League’s sponsors and collaborators, including United Way, US Bank, UPS, the City of Cleveland, PNC Bank, Huntington Bank, the Cleveland Foundation, Dominion, American Family Insurance, and Steven Minter.

Mockabee and a reconstituted board have streamlined the League’s programs, and developed a tight focus around the intersection of education and youth development, entrepreneurship and business development, and workforce
Cleveland Urban League Board Chair Robert McRae beams as CEO Marsha Mockabee presents a certificate of appreciation to his predecessor, Patricia Ramsey.
training and employment opportunities. A small but highly professional staff carries out these programs. Its entrepreneurial team, headed by Donald
Michael Obi, strategic consultant at the
Urban League's Multicultural Business
Development Center
Graham, Michael Obi, and Donna Dabbs — all recruited by Mockabee — has been especially effective, training and supporting an impressive number of existing and start up businesses.

Especially notable at the annual meeting were the testimonies of new business owners and workers who have been assisted by the League’s programs.
Diamond Giles

Diamond Giles, who was laid off from a supervisory position after twenty years on the job as an HVAC technician, was able to get Diamond’s Heating and Cooling moving thanks to the counsel he received. He talked about being “uplifted to see staff going out of their way to help everybody.”

Terri Ellis was another success story. She launched Trinity Cleaning Service in 2005 after working for the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland school district. Thanks to the counsel and support she received from the League’s business advisory programs, she now has six employees of her own.

Monica Green, owner of So Kinky,
So Curly, So Straight Salon, tells her
story as an Urban League business client
Yvette Clark had an equally inspiring story to tell, recounting how she had started as a League volunteer, and helped to coach an incarcerated student to become high school salutatorian and Dean’s List freshman at Eastern Michigan University.

Among those honored by the League at the meeting were the heads of several of Cleveland’s largest and best-known African American construction companies. They received “Championship Awards’ not for their company exploits but for taking the lead in the development of a Community Benefits
Retired Congressman Lou Stokes
at Urban League annual meeting
Agreement that former Congressman Louis Stokes said will be “one of the greatest things institutionally” this community has seen in terms of its expected effect upon the construction industry. Stokes lavished praised upon Dominic Ozanne, Lonnie Coleman, John Todd, and Josh McHamm for their leadership in spearheading the CBA process. He also singled out Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson for his contributions, saying that while he “doesn’t show off or demand attention, he guided the efforts” that resulted in the historic agreement.
Dominic Ozanne, Ozanne Construction; Lonzo Coleman, ColemanSpohn; John W. Todd of John W. Todd & Associates; and Josh McHamm, New Surge Electric. Together they initiated the process that led  to Cleveland's adoption of a Community Benefits Agreement to govern area construction projects

Also coming in for commendation were contractor Fred Perkins, who was cited by Ozanne as being part of the contractors’ effort, and Patricia Ramsey of US Bank, who received a certificate of appreciation for her leadership of the board as the ship was being righted.

United Black Fund, NAACP step up

Positive change is also not only afoot at the United Black Fund and the Cleveland NAACP, but will be on display over the next week. This Friday, February 21, UBF will be hosting a happy hour social downtown, providing an opportunity for the community to meet and engage with its new board members. Cleveland Public Library director Felton Thomas is the newly installed president of UBF’s thirty-member board of directors, the vast majority of who have been in office less than two years. Later this year board members will attend a retreat to consider how the organization can best fulfill its mission as a federated charity dedicated to addressing core challenges for the black community.

The happy hour social will be held at Pura Vida restaurant, 170 Euclid Ave. on Public Square in part of the former May Co. space. The event runs from 5:30-7:30PM. Call 216.566.9265 for more information.

Finally, the Cleveland NAACP, which put a new leadership team in place in December 2012 with Hilton Smith as president and Sheila Wright as director, will welcome the community to its new office space in midtown Cleveland at an Open House/Black History Month celebration on Friday, February 28, from 6:30-8:30PM.

Moving to new quarters may not seem like that big a deal to some, but the group’s former headquarters on Fairhill Rd/Stokes Rd would doubtless have seemed cramped, ugly, unprofessional and unacceptable to its most celebrated founder, W. E. B. DuBois, back in 1909. Getting this most hidebound organization off its rump and out of an embarrassing dump of a space into modern quarters is a signal accomplishment that augurs well for it to play a more efficient role going forward.

For more info about the Open House, call 216.231.6260.

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