The Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood annually honors Central Neighborhood residents and staff who help partnering organizations fulfill their missions and make significant contributions to the vibrancy of the neighborhood. The Promise Neighborhood recently held a virtual community meeting and celebration to honor the 2020 Champions of Central.
Joseph Black, Promise Neighborhood community investment manager (who on January 15 will become health equity officer of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland), served as the emcee of the program. Jerome Baker, a Promise Ambassador and founder of Men and Women of Central, opened the meeting with a prayer. Following is an excerpt from his opening prayer.
“Dear Lord, I think everyone here can agree that we need you now more than we ever have. This year has been stunning to say the least. You know Lord, our families have faced some of the toughest times we have ever faced, but I know that you have been there with us. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me. This Champions of Central celebration speaks to the blessings to come. This celebration is an example of the comfort you afford us. This gathering is a demonstration of no matter what we may experience, we will gather and support each other and celebrate the individuals and organizations and praise through your work Lord, in honor and praise. Amen.”
Richaun Bunton, Promise Neighborhood initiative manger, provided some reflections on 2020, discussing how the Promise Neighborhood remained responsive to the needs of the community during the pandemic.
“For us to be able to stand together in such trying times shows the benefit of community,” she said. “We’re always here, we’re always celebrating and we’re always supportive.”
Before introducing the next speaker, Black said, “Thank you all Promise team members, the Sisters of Charity Foundation team, for all the work that has occurred in this space. I also want to give a special thanks to our president, Sue Krey, for all that she has done to lead us in these difficult times.”
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is the lead partner of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.
Krey, president of the foundation, spoke about the Promise Neighborhood before announcing the first award. “The foundation has felt so strongly about the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. We can’t say enough about the Promise Neighborhood team that works so diligently as a backbone to support this very important neighborhood of Cleveland,” Krey said.
She also thanked other contributors. “For the leadership that Cleveland Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland has provided to this neighborhood for so many years. For the incredible dedication of the ambassadors and all that they have done and the residents and so many of our partners who have all stepped up in so many ways. Thank you for all you’ve done. For all of our neighbors because we all belong to each other and do need to support each other in this difficult year.”
Servant Leadership Award
Tatiana Wells, Program Director Early Childhood & Teacher Education, Cuyahoga Community College
Prior to honoring the 2020 Champions of Central, Krey recognized Tatiana Wells with the Servant Leadership award. Wells most recently was the Promise early learning navigator at Starting Point for Child Care and Early Education before starting in her new role at Cuyahoga Community College in December. In presenting the award, Krey said, “We acknowledge her for the incredible work she has done in the early learning space with our partner Starting Point. She has done so much work in partnering in the early childhood centers and so many of the partners in the early learning space and has done so much to improve the learning opportunities of the littlest children in our neighborhood.”
Bunton added, “Thank you to Tatiana. She is truly a servant leader. She put her heart into her work and is so genuine with her work. She is able to touch the hearts of us all.”
Champions of Central
The 2020 Champions of Central honored during the virtual meeting were:
Amanda Pratt, Manager, Advising Programs and Services, College Now Greater Cleveland
Before revealing the second recipient, Bunton said, “This person lives their life with passion and purpose. She leads a legacy of young scholars.” In accepting the award, Pratt said, “This award means so much to me. Central is my neighborhood. Behind me there is a sign that says ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ I will make sure to continue to pass the torch to young individuals who will continue to grow and bring life into Central. That’s what I promise as a result of receiving such a high honor,” said Pratt.
Bridgette Smith-Jackson, Director of Social Services, Rainbow Terrace Learning Center
In introducing the next champion, Black said, “If you were to ask what her vision for Central is, she would say, ‘Equity, opportunity and peace.’ And she believes that because her motto is ‘If you have breath in your body, you can and you will if you choose to.”
In accepting the award, Smith-Jackson said, “To get this acknowledgement, it means the world to me. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Not only for this recognition, but for everything you are doing to get the work done in the Central community.”
Cathy Kopinsky, Mission Outreach, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center
For the next recipient, Black said, “She is an anchor in our community. She continues to find a way to help and inspire the youth of our community. Her vision for our community: that it’s a healthy, safe environment recognized for its rich history, strong leadership and involvement of its residents.”
Councilwoman Cleveland revealed the recipient, saying, “She is someone who is very humble, very kind, very giving. She just cares about people so much. Her job is serving people in the community, but I think it’s really her ministry. You see her all over this community, especially in the summer. One last word I would use to describe her is fierce. She’s fearless and gentle.”
In receiving the award, Kopinsky said, “I thank everyone who is being honored and just keeping Central as amazing as it is.”
Jennifer Kinsley, Senior Attorney, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Medical-Legal Partnership at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center
Before turning the award presentation over to Leslie Andrews, diabetes coordinator at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Black said about the next recipient, “Her motto is: ‘The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. And, the meaning of life is to give your gift away.’ I think that is a true representative of a champion of central.”
Andrews said, “Jen wanted to empower people in need and that is what she does every day. Jennifer’s work is critical to removing barriers to good health, like food, housing and income. It’s impossible to manage a chronic condition when you’re faced with those challenges. Her commitment to those in need is truly remarkable. We’re blessed to have her at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center not only for the patient’s at the hospital, but really for all the residents of Central.”
In accepting the award, Kinsley said, “It is a true honor to stand up with all of you to say we believe in Central every single day. I will continue to fight for safe housing, access to health care and to food and everything that is so essential. Thank you so much.”
Johnny Robinson, MyCom Manager, Friendly Inn
Black said of the next honoree, “His vision for Central is to continue to provide exposure and opportunities for our youth, and to promote equality throughout our neighborhood.”
Promise Neighborhood Engagement Specialist Dawn Glasco introduced Robinson as the next recipient, saying, “The youth really look up to him. Johnny has been an instrumental part of being a guiding light to our youth. You are an amazing leader and a wonderful gift to the Central community.”
“It’s an honor to receive this award,” said Robinson. “I appreciate everyone who has helped me along the way.”
Mildred Cephus, Community Leader
Joy Johnson, executive director at Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc, presented the next award, saying about the recipient, “Her favorite word is magnificent and that is the best way to describe her. You would never know she is over the age of 90. She is very active and provides so much guidance and wisdom to Central. She is someone others in the community go to as a resource.”
After receiving the recognition, Cephus said, “I was very surprised and honored to receive this award. You don’t things to be seen. You do it because it’s needed. Thank you for the honor.”
Mildred Lowe, Community Leader
Promise Ambassador LaQueta Worley presented the next award. She said, “Everyone knows her and respects her with great honor. This individual that I am talking about is Mrs. Mildred Lowe.”
In receiving the honor, Lowe said, “Surprises come all the time. I just want to thank you for this honor. More importantly I want to thank God for letting me live long enough to see new people coming into our neighborhood. They continue to push our young people that we have and the change is visible. You can see we are an upcoming community. The greatest thing is that we never lost our faith. We never lost our commitment.”
Tameika Madden-Vason, Parent Partner, Family Partners Initiative
Reciting a quote that represented the next recipient, Black said, “You have the power to choose your path.”
Formally introducing the next Champion of Central was Lakeesha Tolliver-Funches, SPARK/Family Connections partner. She said about the recipient, “She is forward thinking and compassionate. She advocates for others just as well as does for her own family. Her spiritualty is so enlightening. I would like to congratulate Tameika Madden-Vason.”
Madden-Vason said about receiving the award, “It’s an honor and privilege to be among so many other wonderful people. When you listen to the way people have described them, it means a lot to be among so many people of greatness. If we can think of ourselves as being great, then we are. If we can think of ourselves as giving the prize and the gift to the next person, then we can.”
LaToya Ford, Parent Partner, Family Partners Initiative
Katlyn Woods, community mental worker at Ohio Guidestone, presented the next award. She said about the recipient, “She is an amazing woman. An amazing mother. An amazing member of Central. She is one of the most genuine, funny and kind people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
In an emotional response to receiving the honor, Ford said, “I was broken when I got into the SPARK program. My soul was broken, but I knew God. From the day when I met Ms. Funches, I poured everything out. She asked me if I needed counseling and I said I did, which she got me. I am so thankful. SPARK has changed my life. Everything the foundation does has changed my life. I now understand my purpose. God has blessed me. When I woke up this morning to the plaque and flowers and to be a Champion, that let me know to keep grinding. I’m honored and grateful. My son gave me the biggest hug and said I deserve it. I’m humble and I’m thankful. These are happy tears.”
Walter Patton, Community Organizer
Black said about the final recipient, “His passion continues to lead the pack. His personal motto is, ‘Create art, not violence.’”
Kim Foreman, executive director of Environmental Health Watch, presented the final award, saying “He always shows up. I’ve seen Walt transform a room of people several times just through his art and his presence. I’ve seen the power that he has and he’s still so humble. I’ve watched how he’s activated people. He doesn’t ask for accolades, but he deserves so much because he gives so much.”
In receiving the award, Patton said, “I’m fourth generation in the Central community. I’m honored to receive this award. I like to represent the people on the ground and let them know there’s hope no matter their background.”
After the awards were presented, Promise Neighborhood partners provided updates about their recent activity. Black then recognized the Promise Ambassadors who were online.
Bunton wrapped up the event by thanking Black for his work as the emcee of the event and congratulated him on his transition to a new position with the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland as program officer, health equity.
“Let’s celebrate Joe as he continues to advance the work of safety, health and equity in Central and for the greater Cleveland community,” said Bunton. “We look forward to elevating our work in the New Year as we welcome in new experiences and more love and joy that we share with everyone.”