Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Looking Back, Forward & Around

Our astute regular readers, whom we appreciate beyond our capacity to state, are likely aware that we like to keep our eyes on leadership in Northeast Ohio’s black community, and that from time to time we experiment with formats to help us do a better job of reporting.

Today’s post is one of those experiments, a first in what we excitedly expect to be a major transformation of how we deliver news and opinion. We’ll have more to say about that as we move into the New Year. But for today, we are offering a quick look at some of what happened around here last week, and a head’s up for what’s on tap this week.

Looking back
We noted in a prior post the Cleveland NAACP’s town hall meeting that was to offer an innovative feature. As we understood it, a clinical psychologist was to address the important topic of the psychological impact the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president might be having on our community. Properly used, psychology is a most valuable lens for understanding human behavior at both individual and group levels. Its importance is too little understood in society, especially by those Americans who just want “the facts” and dismiss any analysis of the “mumbo jumbo” that actually holds the keys to understanding why people do the things they do. Those who don’t pay attention to psychology on both the micro and macro levels have no chance to understand either the President-elect or the people who voted for him or against Hillary Clinton.

So, as Fareed Zakaria would say, that’s our take, now let’s get started.

I showed up late for the NAACP town hall event after attending a recruitment reception downtown for the National Urban Fellows program. NUF is a wonderful under the radar program that supports and equips public service professionals. The program is geared to people more or less between 5-12 years into their careers who believe that government or civic service is their passion and who are ready to commit to an intense 15 month experience that will place them with a top-rank organizational internship while they earn a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College at City University of New York. Cleveland is a favorite NUF site, given the committed institutional support from The Cleveland Foundation, the Neighborhood Leadership Institute among other organizations, and a strong alumni network of champions, including such folk such as Natoya Walker Minor and Darnell Brown of the Jackson administration, and Sylvia Perez, who will be moving from the Cleveland Foundation to a top position at United Way early next year. If you or someone you know might be a candidate for this program, you or they should immediately reach out to Miguel Garcia, NUF’s president and CEO to explore joining NUF’s 2018 class, which will convene next summer.

NAACP town hall
When I left the NUF reception I headed over to St. James AME Church to see what I hoped might be a positive discussion on healthy community responses in the wake of the election. Board president Michael Nelson had invited clinical psychologist Natalie M. Whitlow to speak to address questions and concerns about community mental health in the wake of Trump’s victory. This was a useful idea since the Trump campaign has heightened insecurities in many communities, especially communities of color and other groups less generally favored by mainstream America. When black people, for instance, weren’t being ignored or targeted we were being ridiculed or used as props in the Trump campaign.

As I entered the hall in the basement of St. James, several things struck me at once. The attendance was much higher than for any NAACP gathering I had attended in years.  Perhaps 200 people were there, including a number of whites. I thought of this as a positive. Civil rights is not the responsibility only of black and brown people.

The overriding sensation I picked up on when entering the room was one of tension. One of the challenges of public meetings is their tendency to become platforms for the expression of raw emotions. Open wounds are on display, and it can be hard even for skilled facilitators to maintain order. This is especially true in the black community.

It’s a difficult thing for many outsiders to appreciate how devastating America’s racial caste system has been on millions of human beings. The United States has never honestly embraced its fundamentally unfair treatment of its black citizens, continually finds ways to perpetuate that unfairness, and in fact blames the victims of that mistreatment, so a town hall meeting called to discuss the resulting discomfort is almost sure to tilt towards bringing out those who are most wounded. More heat than light gets generated and even a late arrival could feel that disorder immediately upon entering the room.

Despite the challenges, continuing to provide a forum to address important issues is a role that the local NAACP should be encouraged to continue. Mike Nelson said later in the week that the branch would be making some changes aimed at minimizing the disruption caused by the unruly few.

Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus
A couple of nights later I found myself in the tiny village of Newburgh Heights, where just over 2,000 of the county’s roughly 1.1 million residents live closely packed into a community sitting just south of Cleveland. Newburgh’s mayor is a self-declared progressive who is quite proud that his burg provides extended family leave for all its public employees. Last Thursday, its village hall was home to a gathering of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, a group of citizen activists formed in the wake of the presidential campaign, and initially assembled by a core of Bernie Sanders followers.

The meeting was planned as a sort of TEDx seminar, with a series of speakers each having 15 minutes to address a critical public issue. A Lakewood teacher talked impressively about the conservative assault on public education; despite his apparent sympathy for our current president, he called Obama most anti-public education president in American history, a label the president will likely deserve until at least day for 47 of the incoming administration.

Tish O'Dell, Community
Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Tish O’Dell of Broadview Heights, representing the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, decried the increasing corporatization of America and warned the Dakota Pipeline conflict would soon find its counterpart in Ohio. There were also speakers who addressed the fight to increase Cleveland’s minimum wage to $15/hour; restoring the federal Glass Steagall Act [New Deal legislation that kept bankers focused on banking and prevented their dalliance in the kinds of speculative finance that caused the 2008 mortgage meltdown]; and climate change.
CuyCo Progressive Caucus
meeting, Dec. 1, 2016

But truth to tell, what drew me to the Newburgh boondocks that night was the fact that one of the speakers was a representative of Black Lives Matter, Cleveland. As I waited for his turn, my curiosity was heightened as I surveyed the audience: it was 90% white, its members phenotypically and sartorially indistinguishable from a Trump campaign rally audience.

Kareem Hinton
Black Lives Matter, Cleveland
The BLM representative was Kareem Henton. I didn’t know him but I had seen him at a number of social justice events over the past year. Speaking in a low-key, direct, logical, non-threatening manner, Henton said BLM was not connected to partisan politics or politicians or anybody’s old guard and that they did not feel obliged to play by the long-established rules of political engagement that marginalized their concerns. He said that BLM Cleveland would focus in 2017 on seeking small victories, specifically citing Cleveland city council races.

Henton undoubtedly surprised many in the audience when he said, “We are not of the mindset that all Trump voters are racist.” He said he thought that for many of them concerns about personal finance had submerged all other issues, and driven them to vote for Trump.

More surprising to this observer than that observation was the response of his listeners. They wanted to know, “how can we best support you?” and “how can we be your allies?”

Henton encouraged caucus members to be visible in their support, stressing that visible white support grossly reduced the ability of BLM critics to marginalize their protests and initiatives.

“One of the most important things a person can do is show up. All are welcome.” Your presence “defies the image” that BLM is a racist one-issue fringe group and “gives us legitimacy” because “we can’t be relegated.” And in this modern age, he urged people to follow BLM Cleveland on Facebook.
• • •
Looking forward
Two local nonprofits with notable pedigrees are holding their annual meetings this week, unfortunately at the same time. This Thursday at 5:30p, the United Black Fund will meet in the new Veale Center on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. UBF provides funds to nearly one hundred area nonprofits each year. Founded in 1981, it was an outgrowth of Blacks Organized for Social Service [B.O.S.S.], an effort founded by George White, who later became the presiding judge of US District Court for Northern Ohio; attorney and quiet philanthropist Roosevelt Cox; and the Rev. Thomas Chapman of Avon Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Rowan, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church and chairman of the Cleveland Foundation, will be the keynote speaker.

• • •

Starting just 30 minutes earlier is the annual meeting of the Phillis Wheatley Association, established by the remarkable Jane Edna Hunter in 1911 as the Home for Colored Working Girls.  Phillis Wheatley was once the center of civic and cultural life for aspiring black Clevelanders. Hundreds of Greater Clevelanders have attended its Camp Mueller, which at one time occupied more than 200 pristine acres in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

PWA’s meeting will take place at its landmark Midtown headquarters, located at 4450 Cedar Ave.

Faith and Finance Also Noteworthy
Also on tap this week is the Christian Business League’s quarterly Faith and Finance Breakfast. This Friday’s program will feature Darrell McNair, CEO of MVP Plastics. McNair is the public-spirited businessman who recently purchased the headquarters building of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland and leased it back to them, thereby greatly easing the financial burden the building had become for the League.

The breakfast costs $15, runs from 7:30am to 8:59am, and will take place at Mt. Zion Congregational Church, 10723 Magnolia Dr. in University Circle.

 Also Noteworthy
 The City of East Cleveland could serve as poster child for our observation above regarding the devasting consequences of America's racial caste system. Once again, the insolvent city is spending money to recall its political leadership. Mayor Gary Norton is the target this time. We'll post the results here; they should be available by no later than 9pm tonight.




Anonymous said...

I am curious about the NAACP meeting and what the issues of the disrupters were — why did the feel moved to cause problems at the meeting ?

Richard said...

Thanks for reading, Anon.
I did not mean to suggest that the disrupters intended to cause disruption. We have some needy people in our community and it would appear, from a lay point of view, that need for some has to be on public display. Is it a cry for help? A desire not to be ignored? A need to lash out at others because we've been hurt and don't know how to process it?

Suffice to say say that some people have a track record for disrupting meetings with issues not grounded in substance or related to the agenda.

Kareem BLM Organizer said...

To be abundantly clear we dont seek validation or legitimacy fro. critcs,whites or society in general but rather the diversity provides legitimacy for critics seeking understanding.


Richard said...

Thank you. That is what I understood you to mean at the meeting, and I hope others now understand that clearly as well.

Anonymous said...

The march in Cleveland yesterday was an amazing outpouring of diversity and solidarity and a powerful statement against the new administration's stance against womens' rights and human rights, the uplifting of minorities, science and health care for all. Thank you, Cleveland!! It was good to be there!!!

Richard said...

Agreed. You are speaking of the. companion Women's Day March, but you just as well repeat that comment for what happened Sunday at the airport.