Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nonprofit Thursdays: The Growing Edge

All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born;
All around us life is dying and life is being born.
The fruit ripens on the tree;
The roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth
Against the time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms,
   green fruit.
Such is the growing edge.
                                                                        — Howard Thurman

If one looks with care, there are signs that Cleveland’s black community is slowly awakening from a generation of civic stupor. New leadership is emerging among within many small circles, abetted by new tools of social interaction, eager to find space in the civic common, open to new avenues of approaching persistent problems, and desirous of establishing Cleveland as a hospitable place for African Americans — a goal that history says has largely been mythic for at least a century.

The rise of new leaders over time is a natural process in any community, but whether potential leaders find fertile soil to grow in their area of origin is not a given. New leadership must be nurtured, afforded opportunities to grow, to stumble, to learn, to fail, to succeed.

In Greater Cleveland such opportunities have been uncommonly rare. Civic space can be generative and welcoming or it can be relentless and hostile. Communities make choices about what kind of place and space they want to be. These choices are heavily influenced by a town’s leading businesspeople and and institutions, those folks with money, access, power and prestige. A hundred or so years ago, Cleveland’s leaders established many of our proudest civic achievements, including the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra and Severance Hall, the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic and a beautiful and impressive array of public buildings and spaces downtown.

But those civic leaders were also often haughty and hostile towards Cleveland’s newcomers, who were mostly Central and Eastern Europeans, but who also included an initially tiny black community  whose significant growth during and after World War I city fathers found alarming.

Cleveland’s predominant culture — then and now — was top down, politically conservative, and inbred. It struck a bargain with ethnic leaders that allowed the latter, beginning in the thirties, to hold the reigns of political power in Cleveland so long as the establishment’s business prerogatives were unchallenged.

Post-World War II changes in economics, demographics, and culture led to tremendous social and political change in Greater Cleveland in the 1950s. Hundreds of thousands of black people now lived in Cuyahoga County, constrained by a fierce system of de facto segregation that saw almost all of them confined to stultifying existence in just a handful of  neighborhoods: Central, Hough, Fairfax, Glenville, Mt. Pleasant. Only a trickle of black folk lived in any of Cuyahoga’s more than fifty suburbs at the start of the tumultuous Sixties.

This was no accident, as the same individuals who on the one hand prided themselves on their great cultural institutions, used their economic and political institutions to maintain an oppressive two-tiered system that intentionally relegated black people to the economic, social, political, and cultural margins.

This repressive system produced both the problems and the circumstances — the concentration of potential political power — that Carl Stokes harnessed to win the Cleveland mayoralty in 1967. While his stunning breakthrough electoral victory led to the beginnings of racial equity at City Hall, improvement in other areas has remained more elusive, especially on the economic front.

Fifty-eight years ago today, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the unanimous opinion outlawing segregation in public schools [Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954]. There was jubilation in the black community and among its allies at the thought that the nation would move towards a new unity. Few if any anticipated how difficult that would be in the face of massive resistance in the South and smug ignorance in the North.

Over time, some places have gotten issues of diversity, inclusion and equity right. Cleveland and Cuyahoga are not yet among them. The old order still reigns in too many places, resulting in the departure for other more hospitable places of too many of our best, our brightest, our most ambitious, our most creative, our most talented.

There are signs in Cleveland’s black community of impending change, of the possibilities of new leadership. Long dominant forces are receding from pinnacles of personal power, some with grace. The old self-perpetuating insiders at the United Black Fund are doddering away. The Urban League imploded and is now reconstituting itself. And change is even on the horizon at the NAACP, which saw the Forbes’ era end in the same messy, egotistical way it retarded civil rights progress for the past twenty years.

Take a look at some of the following community activities occurring over the next few days. None is necessarily focused on civil rights, or equity, or inclusion. But collectively they suggest the silent “work in the darkness of the earth against the time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit” named by Thurman in our preface.

Meanwhile, look for our story on the NAACP tomorrow.

• • •

Tonight, retired judge Sara Harper will lead a discussion leader on the life of the legendary civil rights warrior Ella Baker. Baker was remarkable for many things but we especially like the way she encouraged young people to seize control of their lives and forge new paths. She gave encouragement, support and wisdom to young leaders that contravened the “go slow” approach favored by her chronological peers.

The program will start at 6PM at Deuteronomy 8:3 Café and Bookstore, 1464 East 105 Street, just north of University Circle. Deuteronomy is where PhDs can be found sharing ideas with both retirees as well as the involuntarily unemployed.

Also tonight, the Northeast Ohio Young Black Democrats are hosting a fundraiser at Tavo Martini Lounge, 815 Rockwell Ave. 5:30PM-8:15PM. NEO OBYD’s flier says it was organized to advance progressive political ideals and to recruit, train and empower emerging new leaders. The flier also promises a special appearance by recording artist Londyn Gaines.

We don’t know much about the group but we have met its president, Michael John Hauser. He is currently pursuing a master’s in public administration at Cleveland State’s Levin College and is clearly a comer on the local political scene.

Tavo’s has become, by the way, a venue of choice for much of Cleveland’s vibrant young professional community. It will be the site of another fundraiser tomorrow [6PM -8PM] to benefit the Hip Hop Caucus, an advocacy group that works to support voting rights, and increase voter registration and participation. The $10 admission opens the door to networking and an open bar. Sounds like a fun way to get political. Check the caucus out herePaul Sadler Jr. heads the local effort.

Back to tonight, another networking opportunity exists courtesy of The Cleveland Realtists Association. This month’s regular third Thursday membership & business networking session occurs at Jezebels Bayou, 12718 Larchmere Blvd, just off Shaker Square. 5:30PM-8PM. The Realtists have become more active this year under the leadership of Kim Johnson. Cleveland is scheduled to host the national conference of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers this August. Local broker Julius Cartwright heads NAREB. Visit for more info.

Business, politics and romance will also be shaking hands tomorrow at AFTER FIVE FRIDAY’s, a monthly event "where people, passions and possibilities meet", according to local social engineering hosts Alton Tinker, Donna Dabbs, & Jesse LeGrande. Tinker is a Bedford Heights city councilman, KeyBank exec and social promoter. Dabbs directs a minority program for the Urban League.

This month’s social takes place at Bodega, 1854 Coventry Rd in Cleveland Heights. 5PM-11PM. for more information email

We think these folks have taken lessons from George Fraser, the nonpareil networking guru. Read on for news about the Cash Mobs he is coordinating in several cities across the country this weekend, including, naturally, his hometown Cleveland.

• • •

The Metropolitan Cleveland Alliance of Black School Educators will host its annual scholarship awards program at Greenmont Party Center, 800 S. Green Rd., South Euclid, OH 44121. The program will also honor the late Ed Young, a founder of the Cleveland chapter, former Cleveland schoolteacher and former school board member, and a tireless promoter of a strong black community.

Students from across Greater Cleveland are expected to be scholarship winners; several will speak as part of the program. Tickets are $35. The program begins at 11AM. For tickets/more info: Tillie Colter 216.577-7446; Ike & Diane Smith 216.382.9168; LaVerne Hooks 216.406.2785; Mary Rice 216.570.1200.

Cash Mob a Small Black Business

Nationally known networking expert and entrepreneur George Fraser is part of a nationwide effort encouraging consumers to “cash mob a small black business this Saturday. The latest marketing phenomenon promoted via social media, cash mobs typically encourage customers to descend on a pre-identified business and spend at least $20 per person. Participants then typically gather at a nearby restaurant or lounge where they are expected to spend at least another $20.

Fraser’s company, FraserNet, Inc. is combining with black business advocates nationwide to promote “Cash Mob Noir” in seven major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Cleveland. The promoters expect the simultaneous event to illustrate the economic value and benefit of supporting local, quality, black-owned businesses.

Fraser hopes the nationwide event will also demonstrate the buying power of black consumers. The local participating businesses are B&M Bar-B-Q, 5501 Warrensville Center Rd, Maple Heights OH 44137 • 216.475.8720 [4PM-7PM]  and Opus Restaurant, 20126 Chagrin Blvd. Shaker Heights, OH 44122 • 216.991.6787 • [7PM-9PM for celebration and networking].


Pre-registration here is encouraged. Visit for details.

• • •
Next to last but certainly not least this weekend, August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” opened Mother’s Day weekend at Karamu and will run through June 3. Purchase tickets online or call 216.795.7070.

• • •

And finally, what may be the nation’s first Minority Biomedical Entrepreneurship Conference opens in Cleveland on Monday, May 21.

The purpose of the two-day conference, according to its organizers, which include The America21 Project, a minority innovation and competitiveness initiative, is to address the issue of underrepresentation and to increase minority competitiveness in the biomedical sector.

Keynoting the conference will be Dr. Frank Douglas, president of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron.

“Cleveland, with its rapidly growing biomedical industry and nationally recognized research, clinical and educational institutions, is the ideal location for the first-ever Minority Biomedical Entrepreneurship Conference,” Baiju R. Shah, president and CEO of BioEnterprise and co-chair of the conference, said in a statement. “The entrepreneurial environment is one that embraces and provides an unparalleled support network to biomedical innovators."

Conference planners said attendees would be offered mentoring opportunities with industry leaders and investors, entrepreneurship education, and practical advice on starting and growing a biomedical company. Entrepreneurs looking for financing also will be afforded the opportunity to present before a group of seasoned biomedical investors.

To view the complete conference agenda and register, visit here.

• • •

To our elected officials: either lead, follow, or get out of the way!

To ALL our readers: I hope to see you someplace this weekend!


creative genius said...

Excellent post...well stated, great energy and lots of examples of how to plug-in!

Richard said...

Thanks Michelle,

It's reassuring to hear that from one who is so attuned and connected!

Hope to see you at least once this weekend!

Black Business: Cleveland said...

Great post. Please contact Black Book: Cleveland, we are interested in listing you in our directory.