Word from Lowell: The privilege of being a dad

Word from Lowell: The privilege of being a dad

I have always held to the philosophy that there is nothing more important than your faith, your family, and your health. Including a job. If you sacrifice any of those things for work, you not only do yourself and your family a disservice, you are also short-changing the people your organization serves, as they are only getting a part of who you are as a human being. We cannot do or be our best, when we are not the whole person God intended us to be. Our families make us complete. We dads play such a pivotal role in making a family strong. Contrary to much of what you may have heard, black fathers are not all missing in action when it comes to be involved with their families. This dad in particular is present still, and believes in being there for my children, even as they have grown into wonderful young adults following their own paths.

We recently celebrated Father’s Day. After spending wonderful quality time with my wife for lunch, a movie, grilling out for dinner, and speaking on the phone with all three kids and my mom, I spent some time in reflection of what being a dad really means. A mother’s love is certainly very important to a child’s healthy development. However, the time that we fathers give to our families may be every bit as critical in the grand scheme of things. To you young fellas out there, remember that being a father is not about making babies. As the character Furious Styles in the movie “Boyz N the Hood” said: “Any fool with a [expletive] can make a baby, but only a real man can raise his children.”  Forgive my language, but this presents quite plainly, a lesson more of our young men need to learn. Too many of us blame young girls for getting pregnant, but the boys share equal responsibility in the matter.

LowellreadingThink about the responsibility that comes along with fatherhood. Our sons look to us for inspiration and guidance of what it takes to be a man, and our daughters learn how they should be treated by a man based on how we interact with our spouse. Do we open doors for ladies? Are we careful about the language we use in their presence? How about giving up a seat on a crowded bus to a woman? And do we show proper reverence to our elders? While each individual is, of course, unique, a father’s imprint on our children can be indelible. The question is whether that impression is a positive or negative? When we approach fatherhood as a privilege, I submit to you that a positive outcome is more likely.

Both my wife and I love spending time with our kids, and now grand-kids as well. She likes to say that life is all about making great memories together. I agree. After all is said and done, those memories with loved ones will be all we have left.   The impression we leave on our families will be our real legacy that we leave behind. Not a building with your name on it, or stories about how you were some kind of misguided workaholic. How do you want to be remembered? I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to be able to smile when they are asked – tell us a little about your dad.

My kids enjoy making fun of many of my foibles, and I am sure they will have big laughs years from now when they think about me after I have transitioned on to be with the Heavenly Father.  It may sound morbid to some, but will you want your loved ones to be able laugh and shed tears of joy at your memorial service, or cry because they never really got to know you? I often think of my own dad who passed away more than 16 years ago. I can still see his smile, hear his laugh, and recall how just a reassuring look coming from him from the stands of one of my basketball games, gave me strength. I miss his friendship and encouragement so very much, especially every Father’s Day. But I can still draw strength from those memories of the man he was.

My wife and I have made a point of attending most of the events our three kids have been involved in. Whether it was football, rugby, or CYO basketball with Trey, plays and singer/songwriter nights for Tucker, or basketball games with Trenton, we made it a priority. It is a privilege to be a parent, and with privilege comes the responsibility to be there for our kids. Sure, sometimes work gets in the way. But those were exceptions, not the rule. We have to build our work schedules around the time demanded by our kids, not the other way around.

Even to this day, we are available to our kids as much as humanly possible.  As we age, it is those precious moments that give us solace, and dominate our thoughts and conversations. From a selfish standpoint, when our kids are all grown up and have families of their own, the reality is, we will have more memories than time with our kids at that point. Are you storing memories up to tide you over in the autumn of your life?  In some ways, that is even more important than your 401k. Our children grow up so very quickly that we will miss many exciting moments in their lives if we are not careful. We will also lose out on our MSA or “memories savings account.” Those memories are the residue of love we invest throughout the years with our families.  Stuff you can recover, but memories are a fleeting thing that you had better hold onto with everything you have.

Somebody might say “well I don’t have any children.” Then spend time with your nieces and nephews or volunteer to be a mentor to a boy in your neighborhood who needs to “see a man to be a man.” I happen to believe that the African-American male in this country is being systematically removed from the landscape, much to the detriment of the next generation of young men and black families. But that is a subject for a future article. Suffice it to say, many of us have to do double duty as role models for those in our communities who may not have a dad in their everyday lives.

In a Father’s Day speech in 2012, President Barack Obama offered the following regarding a father’s role: “For many of us, our fathers show us by the example they set the kind of people they want us to become. Whether biological, foster, or adoptive, they teach us through the encouragement they give, the questions they answer, the limits they set, and the strength they show in the face of difficulty and hardship.” What an awesome responsibility God the Father gave to us earthly fathers from the very beginning of time.  It is an ordained privilege to be a dad.  There are many men out there who believe that with all of our hearts. More of us just need to stand up and be recognized.

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood 

 

Perspective: Joe Black returns to NYC for National Urban Fellows program

Perspective: Joe Black returns to NYC for National Urban Fellows program

Joe Black, engagement manager

On May 24th, 2016, I jumped on a plane to begin my journey as a National Urban Fellow. Looking back at that day, I vividly remember attempting to balance the joy and anxiety of what I knew would be an advantageous experience.  Now that a year has passed, I must once again begin to prepare to leave for New York City. This time my feelings of joy have been consumed by gratefulness and what was once anxiety is now peace. In short, this past year has been nothing less than miraculous and here are a few reasons why.

Joe Black, Promise engagement manager, in New York City in 2016
Joe Black, engagement manager, in New York City for the National Urban Fellows program. 

The leadership at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has consistently provided me with opportunities to network with and learn from some of the brightest leaders in the city. These relationships have served as the foundation to some of my most significant achievements over the past year. Furthermore, I have been challenged to step out of my comfort zone and instead embrace innovation “a learned, best practice.”

Secondly, this past year has challenged me more academically than I have ever been challenged in my life. I have written and read more than I can imagine yet what I found most interesting is that my mind has become accustomed to the learning and now I seek knowledge more than ever. Furthermore, I find that my coursework challenged me to understand data and how to use such information to better improve my decision making. With this unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a greater sense of knowing what to do with it, I feel equipped with the skills to help the community in ways unimagined.

Lastly, this past year has been one of action, a year where I have taken upon myself to no longer talk about change but to instead act in pursuit of change. Actions like hosting community tours for Cleveland Police is one example, but there are also subtle examples of that are as important. Actions like committing my time and energy to my family or fulfilling promises that I left undone. Regardless of the size of the action, I find that the most important aspect of action is committing to completion.

Therefore this summer during my time away I will finish my Master’s in Public Administration. I will walk across that stage on July 27th knowing that I upheld my commitment to myself, my family, my organization, and my community.

Read a Q&A with Joe about his experience last summer in NYC here.

Word from Lowell: Don’t just give residents a seat, give them the mic

Word from Lowell: Don’t just give residents a seat, give them the mic

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director 

We often overuse the term “community engagement” when those of us in the nonprofit sector talk about bringing people to the table to become involved in the work we do. This desire to “engage” folks in our missions includes volunteers, donors, board members, and yes, the people we serve. A big priority for Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood this year looking beyond just giving the people we serve a seat at the table. Instead, we are trying to be very intentional about ensuring that the people we serve are empowered with appropriate decision making authority in matters which directly affect them. It’s about recognizing the difference between engagement and integration.

Community engagement is more transactional in nature. Engagement alone rarely leads to a lasting outcome. To use a basketball analogy, it is similar to inviting someone new to your team, but never allowing them to get off the bench and into the game. In this scenario, they have no real chance to impact the outcome of the game, even when it is on their home court! They might as well be spectators.

Integration on the other hand, is a longer-term, transformational event. Not only is this new team member a part of the whole, they are also afforded an opportunity to get into the game and make plays.  Most importantly, their contribution is critical to winning the game.

Lowell Perry Jr., executive director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood
Lowell Perry Jr., executive director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

One of the five overarching goals of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is that residents must lead the change in their community to achieve lasting impact. For this to happen in real terms, it means residents must be full-fledged team members in trying to win the game. That is why with every Promise Neighborhood activity or committee, we make a real effort to ensure that a resident leader is at the table and that their voice is being heard. Even with this well-intentioned approach of listening to the voice of our “customer”, we know that we still must do much more, or we risk falling into the age old trap of doing things to and for people, rather than with them.

In this new world, the voice of the community must be heard more than just from surveys, it must be heard at the decision making level, not after the so-called experts have made the decisions. The resident community must be afforded some authority to direct their own paths, or else transformational outcomes cannot happen.  It’s can no longer acceptable for our key public to be placed in the position of merely reacting to a set of “solutions” that they had no real role in helping to craft.

To create this cultural shift, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is working with Enlightenment Consulting to develop an intentional strategy to include residents in board rooms and committees of every single stakeholder of the Promise Neighborhood.

That means giving up a little power to those individuals us “experts” must admit we subconsciously believe aren’t as insightful as we are. This is the essence of patronization. To paraphrase an old saying “if we can teach someone how to fish, they can now fish for themselves” forever.  Stop handing out fish!  The inconvenient truth is that if we stop handing out fish, we won’t be able to take credit, right?  So we must ask ourselves – what is most important: taking credit, or positive outcomes for those we claim we are in the business to serve? If it is the latter, we must adopt a mindset of integration over that of just engagement.

I don’t know about you, but I want a real say on an ongoing basis on issues that directly affect me. That cannot be possible if I am not integrated into the decision making process from the onset of seeking solutions to challenges facing me personally. That is why Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood is placing a finer focus on what we achieve rather than what we do.  And residents are involved from start to finish in the process.

I conclude with another overworked term – empowerment.  How many times do you hear well-meaning organizations talk about empowering people? Webster describes the act of empowering to mean to give power to; authorize; to enable. If we are not handing over some decision making responsibility to the people being affected in the process, and therefore allowing for true self-determination, then we are only talking at them and not speaking with them. This change will obviously not happen overnight but we committed to passing the ball to our residents and giving them the power to make some plays.

Word from Lowell: Promise 2.0 How shared data and resident voice will lead the way

Word from Lowell: Promise 2.0 How shared data and resident voice will lead the way

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director

Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood (CCPN) community partners, residents, and Promise team members gathered together in March as part of a collaborative think tank to discuss the evolution of the Promise mission. The strategy session focused on two key characteristics that are essential for collective impact initiatives such as Promise:

  1. A shared data system that helps to better inform decision making
  2. Significant resident integration into all aspects of the initiative

Exploring a shared system and identifying opportunities for Promise Ambassadors to have decision making power in CCPN will be a significant focus for our team this year.

Shared measurement creates bigger impact

We live in a very data driven society. Most philanthropic investors, whether government, individual, or institutional, want to see performance metrics that illustrate how their investments are making a difference. Yes, we social profit organizations still have to provide the anecdotal information that pulls at the heartstrings. However, in today’s philanthropic market, people tend to invest in outcomes, rather than programs. A collective impact endeavor, such as Promise, needs to be able to measure how the aligned organizations are moving forward together, as opposed to each entity reporting outcomes individually in their respective silos. As the backbone organization in the CCPN “cradle to career pipeline” initiative, we see it as our responsibility to drive measurement alignment among our partner organizations.

A model of a possible Promise Data Office as presented by CWRU.
A model of a possible Promise Data Office as presented by CWRU.

During the recent Promise partner think tank, our partners from Case Western Reserve University Center for Urban Poverty and Community Development outlined a model for a Promise Data Office (PDO). The vision is that this PDO will not only collect, but also analyze, relevant information in a confidential manner with the sole purpose of enhancing the cradle-to-career journey of children in CCPN. This shared information will set the foundation for a so-called early warning system which can predict the need for appropriate intervention as required to ensure no child slips through society’s cracks.

When we are successful in identifying and implementing a data platform that is beneficial to all CCPN entities, we will have a more three dimensional picture of the children and families we serve. One day perhaps, this model will form the genesis for an expanded Promise footprint. The ultimate result will be more CCPN children and families being introduced onto the world stage as college students and/or professionals, ready to make their mark!

To begin to make the PDO reality and determine the best platform, Promise is collaborating with DigitalC to begin meeting with partners to conduct a data capacity assessment. We will then reconvene in May to begin mapping out a model for the PDO.

Residents lead the change when voices have power

Perhaps the most important aspect of any successful community endeavor is that the residents are leading the change. If the people most affected by the actions of the organizations delivering services are not involved in every aspect from planning to execution, then long-term success is slim and none, and slim just left town. Over the past six years, CCPN has put resident leadership development and engagement efforts at the center of our work. Our professionally trained Promise Ambassadors serve on every standing committee, including the Advisory Council, work closely with community partners, and Ambassador input is included in every Promise solutions strategy put forth.

We recently graduated a class of nine new ambassadors this past August. Our partners, Neighborhood Leadership Institute (NLI) and Enlightenment Consulting, lead the training effort.  The next phase of training involves moving from engagement to integration. Ambassadors are gaining additional expertise in areas they are most passionate about.  I encourage all community partners to be intentional about integrating Promise Ambassadors into their work, including being in a position to influence services design and delivery. CCPN has arguably the best resident leader effort in the Promise Neighborhood Initiative National Network. This is a true testament to the intentionality of the Promise team and partners, and the resident leaders themselves to be engaged in the process.

Word from Lowell: 2017 Promises to be an excellent year

Word from Lowell: 2017 Promises to be an excellent year

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director

As 2016 came to a close there seemed to be a resounding feeling that it had been a trying and turbulent year for many. While every year has it’s challenges and obstacles, 2016 was a year of progress in the Promise Neighborhood. Last year, residents, community partners and the Promise team experienced success working together to support families and youth in the Central neighborhood in many ways.

Some highlights from 2016 include:

  • Our partnership with Starting Point continues to produce successes in early learning. The Promise Neighborhood is now home to 13 Step Up To Quality rated early learning programs, with six programs earning five star ratings.
  • Through collaboration with Cleveland Public Library, Family Connections and CMHA HIPPY, the Woodland Wonderland Stay and Play Room expanded hours and increased educational programming.
  • The Promise Ambassador team grew significantly, with nine new ambassadors completing training through Neighborhood Leadership Institute.
  • We expanded our internal team with the addition of an education performance manager and communications specialist.
  • The Promise community engagement team increased their work in supporting stable families and connected communities by engaging in a number of activities aimed at reducing the amount of violence in the community.

These accomplishments, along with the collaborative strategic planning we completed as part of the U. S. Department of Education grant proposal, give us a strong framework on which to further advance the mission this year. Our collective work will continue to focus on the Promise Neighborhood cradle to college/career pipeline: early learning, K-12, high school to college and/or career and family and community supports. This year, data collection and communications will be interwoven throughout the pipeline to further inform and connect our work.

In 2017, our focus includes some of the following:

  • Continue to collaborate with all stakeholders to develop an effective shared data system to better inform decision-making, enhance reporting structure and accountability, and better communicate our collective progress in a timely manner.
  • Increase awareness of early learning programs, grow the number of high-quality rated centers in the neighborhood, and increase enrollment in early learning programs.
  • Support families and schools by helping to reduce barriers to academic achievement, specifically focusing on:
    • Literacy at the third grade and eighth grade levels
    • Chronic absenteeism
    • Parent advocacy in the academic journey
  • Increase the number of Promise Ambassadors and deepen ambassador integration in Promise focus areas.
  • Serve as a connector of community resources and a conduit of information to resident and community partners.

We’ll continue to keep you abreast as these goals transition into specific actions and programs. I hope you will join us at the next Advisory Council and community meeting on March 15, 2017 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the Friendly Inn Settlement. The meeting will focus on the early learning sector and will continue January’s dynamic discussion on solutions to violence. In the meantime, keep fighting the good fight for our kids.

Promise hosts free Neighborhood Connections grant writing workshops

Promise hosts free Neighborhood Connections grant writing workshops

One of the primary objectives of the Promise Neighborhood Engagement Team is to empower residents to lead. One way for residents to take an active leadership role in the community is through resident-led community grants. Neighborhood Connections is an organization that offers small grants to groups of residents in Cleveland and East Cleveland to do projects that improve their communities. Grants range from $500 to $5,000. Since 2003, the organization has funded about 2,300 projects to the tune of more than $7.5 million.

Some examples of past grant work include: doing a community clean-up, community garden, or art project. Other examples include developing a youth program, or creating and passing out informational packets. In the end it’s all about helping the community.

In November 2016, grants specifically awarded to projects happening in the Central neighborhood included:

  • Project Self – a program for Garden Valley residents to learn valuable self-care skills to help prevent violence and become empowered.
  • Feeding the Community – the project expands on a current program to further meet the needs of those in need of food.
  • December Community Breakfast and Outreach – a holiday breakfast for women affected by homelessness, addiction and abuse. The women also receive toiletries and winter apparel.
  • Restoration of Faith – the program provides information and care packages to homeless women and women battling drug addiction.

Hoping to encourage Central residents to apply for more Neighborhood Connections grants, Promise Neighborhood engagement manager Joe Black is hosting free grant writing workshops. Black is a former Neighborhood Connections grant recipient and is currently a Neighborhood Connections grant reviewer.

Sessions will be held:

Friday, January 27, 2017 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Woodland Branch of Cleveland Public Library

Friday, February 3, 2017 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. at Sterling Branch of Cleveland Public Library

For more information, read Neighborhood Connections’ frequently asked questions here.

The Cleveland Foundation launched Neighborhood Connections in 2003 to empower people in Cleveland’s neighborhoods and encourage them to become more engaged with each other and the city around them. Neighborhood Connections extends small grants that fund citizen-led neighborhood projects.

 

City of Cleveland’s new chief of violence prevention talks ‘solutions’ with Central residents

City of Cleveland’s new chief of violence prevention talks ‘solutions’ with Central residents

Nearly one hundred residents and community partners gathered at the Friendly Inn Settlement on January 18  for Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood’s Advisory Board and Community Meeting.

Duane Deskins, city of Cleveland’s new chief of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunity for Youth, attended the meeting and spoke with Central residents about community-led violence prevention efforts.

“Violence can’t be stopped by law enforcement alone. All of us are needed to solve this problem,” Deskins said. “We need to be intentional in our efforts and conversations and we need to directly reach the youth engaging in violence or it won’t make a difference.”

Residents and community partners hold a group discussion on violence prevention.
Residents and community partners hold a group discussion on violence prevention.

According to Cleveland.com, Deskins will develop a strategy to draw together government offices, nonprofit agencies, the private sector and corporate community to tackle the social problems and dearth of opportunities that beget crime and violence in the neighborhoods.

A native of Cleveland’s Glenville and Shaker Square neighborhoods, Deskins, comes to the city via Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s office, where he led a broad initiative aimed at improving the quality of juvenile justice countywide.

“Creating jobs leads youth to mentors,” Deskins said. “Kids need to see innovation being done in order to learn the value of innovation and how it works, and they can do by working.”

Over the past few months, the Central community has started a number of resident-led programs meant to help create a safer community. Residents have led the renovation and re-opening of the art room at the Lonnie Burten Recreation Center and support groups for women affected by community violence as ways to support.

Dwayne Browder, president of the Central Youth Sports and Education Commission, has been an active member the efforts to create safe and constructive activities for youth in the community and also spoke to residents at the Promise Neighborhood meeting.

“We all have a responsibility to work on reducing violence. We aren’t going to wake up one day and it’s all just going to disappear,” Browder said. “Young people need to get involved and stay in school, once they stop going to school they get lost and turn to crime.”

The meeting concluded with parents, youth, residents and community partners holding a group discussion on the causes of violence and identifying possible solutions. Overall themes for causes of violence included: poverty, education challenges, lack of constructive and safe activities for youth. Some of the general solutions the group presented are: more job opportunities, breaking down educational and literacy barriers, access to transportation and community resources.

Community violence will be a reoccurring theme at the Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board and Community Meetings throughout the year.  Join us and be part of the solution. Dates and times are listed below. All meetings are held at Friendly Inn Settlement, 2386 Unwin Road.

Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board and Community Meetings

March 15, 2017 4 – 6 p.m.

May 17, 2017 4 – 6 p.m.

June 19, 2017 4 – 6 p.m.

September 20, 2017 4 – 6 p.m.

November 15, 2017 4 – 6 p.m.

Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

The impact a positive adult role model can have on a young person is well documented. Sometimes all a kid needs to inspire them to excel in school and life is to know they matter in this world.  But we adults benefit from having mentors in our lives as well.  For instance, an early mentor of mine, former National Football League head coach Chuck Knox taught me a lot about leadership and had a profound impact on my management style during my tenure with the Seattle Seahawks. Responsibility with accountability is how I describe it.

Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.
Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.

Chuck was always about doing what it took to win. He didn’t micro-manage his assistants, but gave them the latitude to prepare their players as they saw fit within the context of the overall game-plan, and held them accountable for each respective group showing up on game day mentally ready to play to win.

He stressed the importance of minimizing mistakes, and that the team’s chances of winning were enhanced if every position did their part. It was a thing of beauty when everything came together – offense, defense, and special teams. Chuck of course was the guy who made the call of whether or not to “go for it” on fourth and one!

Chuck’s leadership style and way with people, engendered loyalty, a will to win, and typically yielded high performance by everyone involved, including those of us in the front office. One of my duties back then was handling team travel, so I got to know Coach very well, as I helped coordinate moving the team from Seattle to whatever city we were playing in. This included working with the airlines, hotels, buses, and our public relations advance team.  We knew that if the trip went smoothly, both players and coaches would be better prepared mentally to do their jobs on the field. We all had a job to do to help the team win on Sunday. It is fair to say that this is an illustration of developing a culture. Winning typically doesn’t happen by accident.  I recall often repeating a quote attributed to the late Branch Rickey, “luck is the residue of design.”

The cool thing is that we were all aware that win or lose – we did it together. That attitude serves me well now as I lead the mission of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. All of us are inextricably tied together in this journey and must move through the cradle to career pipeline as a carefully coordinated team to ensure that the kids in this neighborhood are better positioned to pursue the American dream. We are developing a winning culture to drive an initiative with arguably a lot more at stake than winning a football game. Promise is in the life-changing business, and I credit Coach Knox with helping me to understand the importance of building a winning culture that will help our kids win in a transformational way.

Perspective: The answer to stopping violence? Listen.

Perspective: The answer to stopping violence? Listen.

Joe Black, Promise Neighborhood engagement manager

Data shows many urban communities are seeing a rise in gun-related violent crimes, which is undoubtedly contributing to an increase in the number of young black lives being lost. An unfortunate side-effect of the rise in violence is acceptance of this behavior as the new normal. It seems the rise in violence has led to a loss of hope, and talk of solutions to end violence are often nothing more than formalities that fail to produce concrete plans to stop the loss of lives.

Youth violence forum at Friendly Inn Settlement.
Youth violence forum at Friendly Inn Settlement.

On December 14, 2016, several resident leaders in the Central neighborhood decided that it was time to take a stance on the violence in the community. The decision to act led to a youth forum being held at the Friendly Inn Settlement. The event exposed the barriers of violence in the community by uplifting the voice of youth and parents. It concluded with all parties pledging to peace, through an intentional investment in self and in the community. As a participant, I left grateful to have the opportunity to impress hope on the lives of the youth, but I realized my activity must match my passion and there is still a need to do more.

Initially, I struggled with where to begin trying to solve this issue. Reflecting on my experiences in New York as a National Urban Fellow, I thought about the policies I studied and how so often the answer was never a concrete solution. What is the solution to violence?

The best way to determine what to do is to listen and see how to apply your skills to the voice of those most in need. Which is why attending the youth forum was so valuable.

While my action may be in writing and mentoring youth, another person’s action may include cooking hot meals for newly released felons.  A father in the community may agree to serve as a coach for the kids, and a business owner may seek to employ more residents from the community.

The answer to violence can be as simple as deciding to do something instead of doing nothing.

The group of 50 young men at the forum was asked to raise a hand if they have been to a college graduation. Out of all those bright beautiful minds, only three raised their hand.

The group was then asked to raise a hand if they have been to a funeral recently. Fifty hands rose. This is the reality of a community where only six percent of youth have been exposed to a college graduation but one hundred percent of them have witnessed death.

One hundred and thirty-five lives were lost to violence this past year. Imagine how many of those lives had never attended a graduation. Central youth are being exposed to realities that far exceed the norms of past generations and because of that, we must act. So in response to the voices that I heard on December 14th, 2016, I vow to serve the youth by exposing them to advanced learning opportunities. I vow to challenge the youth to engage in learning before they engage in violence. More importantly, I vow to listen and to act.

I ask that those who share the same passion as me take a stance by contacting me directly at 216.346.5639 or via email at Jblack@socfcleveland.org, because now is the time to act.

Re-evaluating what it means to be aware of your surroundings

Re-evaluating what it means to be aware of your surroundings

Joe Black

Engagement Manager

Years ago, I was asked by a mentor of mine to describe what I didn’t know. Before I could answer, I found myself attempting to balance feelings of confusion and liberation. I remember uttering rhetorically, “I don’t know” in which my mentor responded by saying “exactly”.

That brief conversation has led me to a different way of thinking about learning. Learning doesn’t have to be a future event that will take place in a classroom. I now try to take present events happening in my daily life and use them as learning opportunities.

Joe Black, Promise Engagement Manager, in New York City
Joe Black, Promise Engagement Manager, in New York City

Over the past couple of weeks I have been able to merge academic life as a National Urban Fellow with my day-to-day work at Promise. The result is a deeper connection to my work which will translate into action.

Recently, one of my assignments focused on the work of Michelle Rhee. As the Chancellor of the District of Columbia’s School District, Rhee took an aggressive approach to reforming a large urban school district. She inherited a broken system that historically failed to meet the needs of the students. Rhee responded to the achievement gap by developing accountability measures that promoted effective teachers.

Shortly after this school assignment, news broke that the Cleveland Metropolitan School District teachers had petitioned to strike. I felt even more connected to the problem and potential solutions because of my newfound knowledge about Michelle Rhee. Taking what I learned from her approach with the Washington D.C. school district, I was able to have thoughtful discussions with principal and school supports about the possible strike and how Promise could support the schools.

Instead of thinking about what was happening with CMSD and my school assignments as separate parts of my life, I realized that by blending them together I would have much more impact in my work and was learning more as well.

By keeping an open mind and being fully present, and aware, in each moment, I find that the process of gaining new knowledge continues to present itself.