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.
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.
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.
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.
Ever since I embarked on my own personal journey over a dozen years ago to do my part to make a significant difference in the world in which I live, I have been both intrigued and incensed by a phenomenon primarily affecting children and families facing significant adversity in our cities. Too many of our young people in communities like the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood were born into, and are growing up in, a generational cycle of poverty that is much akin to an ever spinning hamster wheel which becomes increasingly more difficult to get off of with each successive generation.
Cleveland has the dubious distinction of erecting the first public housing project in Central, when some city “genius” had the bright idea of trying to jam as many poor families into a roughly 1.3 square mile radius. There are approximately 10,000 residents in this area, 43 percent of whom are children under the age of 18. Of the families in the neighborhood with children, 89% are female-headed households, 82 percent of children in Central live in poverty, and only 32 percent of residents are high school graduates. Decades of intentional and structural racism have served to keep many members of Central locked in to their current circumstances. Eventually, any of us would become weary of the daily battles, and without some form of hope at the end of the tunnel, start to accept those circumstances.
This induced complacency can lead to other difficulties that make the hamster wheel nearly impossible to escape. In these communities, too many young African-American men in particular are inserted into the juvenile justice system and ultimately the criminal justice system. This is not by accident. In her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Michelle Alexander recounts how Ronald Reagan’s escalation of the so-called “war on drugs”was a primary catalyst behind why there is such a disproportionate number of men of color locked up in this country, primarily for non-violent drug related offenses.
We have an apparent affinity for incarcerating people in this country. A Washington Post article done in July of 2015 confirmed that we lock up more of our fellow citizens than any other country in the world. This national disgrace is bad enough on its surface, however, the way we permanently disenfranchise these individuals after they have “paid their debt to society” is equally despicable. Having a felony on your record, means you are unlikely to ever be able to get a decent paying job, to buy a house or car, or to even exercise your right to vote. For those who enter juvenile and criminal justice systems which have historically not been equitable for all people, this becomes a life sentence.
The new Scarlet Letter is now “F” for felon, signaling that you have been locked out of society. The pursuit of the American Dream,which is supposed to be a right of citizenship in this country, is dead. This amounts to a form of cultural genocide for communities of color in particular. When we also overlay unequal access to a quality education, it is probably fair to say that the likelihood of being permanently locked out is significantly increased.
The good news is that there is something we can do to change this sad situation. It begins with the kids. Children and families in danger of suffering the fate of being forever locked in a cycle of poverty, and part of a cradle to prison pipeline, must be instead introduced into a collaborative cradle to college and career pipeline like the one being fostered by the Promise Neighborhood initiative. If every child is involved in early learning and has access to quality K-12 education, it increases their chances for success. If residents lead the change in these communities and parents are supported to engage in the academic journey of their kids, and the neighborhoods are healthy and safe, we all ultimately win.
If we have the moral and political will to actually do something about it, we might then perhaps enact more common sense policies,and eliminate the Prison Industrial Complex which has fostered a form of profit that preys on the misfortunes of those locked up in the criminal justice system. The answer is definitely not to embrace more punitive measures. This philosophy has shown to be grossly ineffective and costly to us as taxpayers. Now don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some who need to be behind bars. But those who have been locked up and locked out of society for a non-violent mistake should not be permanently branded with an “F” and therefore denied their “certain inalienable rights” to a fair shot at pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.
The bottom line is that we might virtually eliminate a world in which too many of our fellow citizens are locked in, locked up, and locked out as adults by asking ourselves a very important question when making decisions and policies in this country – will it benefit our children? We have to set aside greed run amok where shareholder dividends have become more important than whether each of our neighbors, no matter their current circumstances, is able to access the path leading to their reaching their full God given potential.We must be of great courage and not waffle on what needs to be done if we are to live up to the ideals of what this country claims to have been founded upon.
This is not about red or blue, conservative or liberal, or Republican or Democrat. It is a responsibility of our basic humanity to work together for the good of all of our citizens to ensure that everyone has his or her fair chance to succeed in this world.
Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed hosted “Community Conversation: Solutions for Addressing Violence” on Thursday, October 27. The day-long event that brought together members of the community and healthcare and community organizations to talk about ways to prevent youth violence in Cleveland.
Promise director Lowell Perry Jr. participated in one of the event’s panels to discuss current programs addressing ongoing violence in the Central community. Led by moderator Wayne Dawson, news anchor for WJW Fox 8, the group talked about the importance of reaching kids at a young age to try to break the cycle of violence. They also discussed how jobs and creating opportunities for those people formerly incarcerated can provide a more appealing option than returning to the same cycle of criminal activity.
Perry talked to the group about how residents leading the change has been a successfully strategy for Promise and how that could translate into violence prevention. He also focused on Central’s strong schools and early learning centers.
“Any meaningful impact on violence prevention in neighborhoods will only come if residents themselves are intimately involved in the thought process around solutions, and execution of key strategies. Our Promise Ambassadors are prime examples of residents taking action,” said Perry. “Access to quality education is also absolutely critical. Not only does training the mind prepare our young people for a future career, but it also opens up a new world of possibilities that may have appeared unthinkable to them in the past.”
The importance of working with families was also another hot topic during the panel. Andrea Martemus-Peters, MetroHealth and Dr. Edward Barksdale, University Hospitals, talked to the group about a new program that places ‘violence interrupters’ in hospital emergency rooms. The ‘violence interrupter’ meets with and counsels victims of violence while they are in the hospital. They also meet with victims family members to try to prevent retaliation and ongoing violence.
Overall, the event was a great starting point for bringing together the community to start to identify why violence is increasingly happening and what needs to be done collectively to start to turn the trend around.
“We look forward to working with Councilman Reed and others to continue this community conversation in other parts of Cleveland, and hopefully inspire action city-wide around creating a viable cradle to career pipeline that leaves guns and violence out of the mix,” said Perry in his closing statement.
The Central neighborhood has a rich history of local leaders rising from humble beginnings to become successful in Cleveland and nationally. The late Carl Stokes became the first African-American mayor of a major US city. His brother Louis Stokes was an influential US Congressman. The brothers are products of Outhwaite Estates and their stories are an inspiration to many Americans. Current Cleveland mayor, Frank Jackson also grew up in Central.
All three men represent examples of true civic leadership. Mayor Jackson is still carrying on that tradition today. Each understood that the work had to be done from within the political system to bring about positive outcomes for those who have been historically locked out of the pursuit of the American dream. We are still waging that battle today which is why we all need to clearly understand what civic duty is all about.
Civic duty is defined as “the responsibilities of a citizen.” A person’s civic duty can take them as far as Congress, as it did with Louis Stokes, or it can be as simple as voting or attending a community townhall to express concerns and ideas for change. The late Congressman Stokes was a master at understanding the system and knowing how to work within it to advocate for equality for all of this country’s citizens.
The first African-American to represent Ohio, Louis Stokes chaired several congressional committees (including the Permanent Select Intelligence Committee) and was the first person of color to win a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He used his own success to try to increase opportunities for millions of African Americans, saying, “I’m going to keep on denouncing the inequities of this system, but I’m going to work within it. To go outside the system would be to deny myself—to deny my own existence. I’ve beaten the system. I’ve proved it can be done—so have a lot of others.”
If you want a say in the decisions that directly impact your neighborhood, Election Day, Nov. 8, is one way to make your voice heard. Voting is a top responsibility of all citizens. As an African-American male, I feel a special obligation to exercise this responsibility as a way to honor those who came before us who were denied that right.
While the Presidential election has most of our attention this year, it is important to vote in state and local elections – every year. There is a saying that “all politics is local”. It’s true that local elections have the biggest impact on our daily lives.
Our Promise motto is that residents lead the change in the Central neighborhood. You can be active in your community by voting, volunteering or just learning about your city councilperson and the people who represent your voice in the state legislature. Ensuring that all of our children get a quality education, including understanding the workings of the political system, might be one of the most important ways to lead that change as a resident leader.
If you plan to vote on Nov. 8 here are some helpful resources for Election Day:
Early voting started Oct. 12, you can vote at the Cuyahoga County Board of Electionslocated at 2925 Euclid Ave. Early voting hours can be found here: Early voting hours
Learn more about the elections taking place in Ohio on Nov. 8: Voter Guide
What you need to bring to the polls:
Voters must bring identification to the polls in order to verify identity. Identification may include:
A current and valid photo identification card (e.g., driver’s license or state ID)
A military identification
A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the voter’s name and current address.
Note:You cannot use as proof of identification a notice that the board of elections mailed to you. Voters who do not provide one of these documents will still be able to vote by provisional ballot.
Right now, a diverse group of civic and community leaders are planning a special Stokes 50th Year Commemoration Project highlighting the 50 year anniversary of Carl Stokes’ election as mayor; of the groundbreaking role of his brother Louis Stokes, in the legal and political life of our nation; and of Cleveland’s contributions to civil rights attainments in America. The theme is “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future of Cleveland.”Many events, tributes, and programs are planned for throughout 2017. I have the honor of serving on the planning committee for this year-long commemoration project.
I invite you to join me in this celebration of “Central born” leadership. In many ways, it all begins on November 8.
Joe Black, Promise engagement manager, has been selected by the National Urban Fellows for its Academic & Leadership Development Fellowship Program. This is a rigorous, 14-month graduate-degree program comprising four semesters of academic courses and a nine-month mentor-ship.
As part of this program, Joe was required to spend this past summer at Bernard M. Baruch College School of Public Affairs in New York City. The program culminates in a master of public administration. Graduates of this program include diverse public-service leaders who have gone on to assume influential positions across government, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors.
Since returning from NYC at the end of July, Joe has jumped right back into his work at Promise while continuing his academic requirements for the Urban Fellowship program.
Joe shares his experience so far and how this opportunity has given his advocacy for Promise a national stage:
What is the National Urban Fellow Program?
The National Urban Fellows Program (NUF) combines academics and leadership with the goal of advancing mid-career professionals into executive-level positions.
The group is truly a community of leaders who seek to address society’s dysfunction by implementing strategic actions through public administration.
Why did you want to pursue this?
My professional career has involved many different professions ranging from working in a daycare to mentoring, followed by social work, youth program development, and now community reform and engagement. With such a diverse work history, I realized that service, particularly serving people, was the common thread. I also discovered that politics combined with lack of an advanced degree is what limited my professional growth and impact. In response to those limitations, I decided to seek opportunities to address both, which led me to apply.
The opportunity also positions me to serve as an advocate for Cleveland. I am pursuing NUF with the vision of making sure that people have a seat at the table. My motto was that if you are not at the table you’re more than likely on the menu. Over the summer, my vision and motto shifted. My responsibility was no longer just about being at the table, it was about “being the table”. My pursuit to be an advocate for the community shifted to being a platform for advocacy.
What has been your biggest learning so far?
It’s not often that an individual can prepare for a life changing experience. In my case, I knew I was about to embark on a journey. I knew the journey would be filled with a list of challenges that included leaving my family for an extended period of time and stretching my finances to afford living in New York while managing the needs of my family in Cleveland.
I challenged myself to remain present in the moment and to talk with anyone and everyone. My openness benefited me more than I had imagined. The way that I have been conditioned to think living in Cleveland was completely different from those who lived in New York. I realized that “you don’t know what you don’t know” but my experience in NYC broadened my horizon to at least absorb that concept.
Living in Jersey and commuting to the city daily taught me a lot about managing my space and time. I learned the importance of a book bag in comparison the trunk of my car. I also learned what it meant to have good walking shoes.
When I returned to Cleveland, a small portion of me missed the public transportation so much so that I have started riding my bike through the community and walking to work when at all possible.
How will this impact the work you are doing for Promise?
Thus far my experiences as a student have challenged me to dig deep and look at root causes in a different way. For example, I was engaged in a conversation with a deputy commissioner from RTA. The conversation focused on the fiscal problems that RTA is projecting will occur in the next 3-5 years. The projections included another rise in cost and a reduction in services rendered. Overall the issues have some significant implications on the community as a significant portion of the community relies on public transportation.
I expect that if I had this conversation prior to my time away I would have assumed that the solution was to explore strategies to stabilize the rise in cost. Now that I have spent this time away, I think that looking into the rise in cost is one component the other aspect is exploring how to creating alternate travel options:
How do I work with the Community Development Corporation to make the community more walk-able and bike friendly?
How do I increase snow removal strategies to support that effort?
How do I increase jobs in the community to reduce reliance on public transportation?
What have you learned about resident engagement during this experience?
Although I had a generic understanding of the power of residents, I now have an even deeper appreciation for the power of resident voice. I think there is a significant value in being civically involved and with such involvement comes a unique source of power.
How do you juggle coursework with your family and career?
To date, I find that the most difficult task is managing the list of responsibilities that I face as a father, student, and community servant. Each task requires that I prioritize my responsibilities and set boundaries. At this point, I try to engage with my family as much as possible taking time to cook dinner on Sundays and take family bike rides as time permits throughout the week. When it comes to work, I try to leverage my existing relationships to create opportunities for new professional experiences. Overall, the challenge of managing school, family and work is difficult but the lessons learned are well worth the challenges I face
What was your experience like living in NYC for the summer?
Prior to my summer in NYC, I was confident that New York was not the place for me. I thought the city was obnoxiously expensive and overcrowded. Now, I would maintain my beliefs about the cost and the crowds, yet my tone has softened as I discovered the greatness of the city.
I have come to appreciate the mass of people and the range of people that you can encounter on a 15-minute commute on the subway.
What I found to be even more unique about the city is the vibrant energy that naturally parades the streets. There was a sense of optimism that lingered in every discussion. That optimism being the foundation for a display of talents that were worthy of a premier stage in many other markets. I vividly remember encountering talented people such as a homeless man who charged my phone while telling me stories about his hand made guitar. I listened to musical performances from entertainers who performed on the subways with the same tenacity as if they were on Broadway.
My experience in New York leaves me anxious to return, but only under the terms that Cleveland will always be home.
Richaun Bunton has joined the Promise team as Education Performance Manager. Richaun brings more than a decade of experience in the education setting, most recently with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). During her nine years at CMSD, Richaun was a program manager for the district’s Family and Community Engagement (FACE) initiative where she was responsible for developing and overseeing programs and strategies to support meaningful engagement of families and members of the community.
Her experience in building partnership between schools, families and community organizations make her a wonderful asset to Promise. In her new role as Promise Education Performance Manager, Richaun will work with education providers in the K-12 sector and children and families in Cleveland Central to ensure Central children are positioned for educational success.
“I am elated to be a part of CCPN/SOCF family and am looking forward to building relationships in Central and honoring the voices of our community,” said Richaun.
A graduate of Cleveland State University with a Master’s of Social Work, Richaun also has a background in family reunification and mental health case management. Welcome Richaun. You can reach her at email@example.com or (216) 970-4677.
The Woodland Stay and Play Room was featured at the annual Library Association Conference in Orlando.
Promise Early Learning Navigator Tatiana Wells, Family Connections Director Joanne Federman, Cleveland Public Library Youth Manager Nichole Shabazz and Woodland branch Manager Rena Baker spoke at the event.
The title of their presentation, “Play Today, Prosper Tomorrow: Designing, Developing and Delivering the Woodland Wonderland Stay and Play Learning Space at the Cleveland Public Library.”
What is it with people who can’t tell the difference between a trash can, and the ground? Worse still are those jokers who get a kick out of tossing their garbage out of their car windows. Or how about the neighbor who doesn’t adequately bag their garbage on trash pick-up day, so when you get home from work, paper is blowing up and down the street? No doubt, you can probably think up a number of other examples of this rude behavior.
The act of littering is something that I have never been able to understand. I decided to pen this “rant” after a recent bike ride that my wife and I took to Lake Erie. We were blown away by the random pop bottles, cigarette butts, fast-food wrappers and the like, strewn periodically along our route. In most cases there were available receptacles in plain sight. If you are a litterbug, you are a menace to society. Yes, I said it. Here is why:
Litter clean-up costs the United States more than an estimated $11.5 billion each year.
Businesses pay $9.1 billion of clean-up costs, or about 80%.
States, cities, and counties spend at least $1.3 billion on litter removal.
Educational institutions spend approximately $241 million dollars annually for litter cleanup.
93% of homeowners say a littered neighborhood would decrease their assessment of a home’s value and influences their decision to purchase a property. And 40% estimated that litter would reduce a home’s value by 10% to 24%.
36% of business development officials say that litter impacts a decision to locate to a community.
55% of real estate agents think that litter reduces property values by about 9%.
Just imagine if some of this money wasted on dispensing of litter could be invested in educating our children, or the $9.1 billion businesses are spending on clean-up costs could be reinvested in their companies to create more jobs. Wouldn’t that be a much better way to use our resources?
Many things happen in our lives over which we have little or no control – littering is not one of them. Littering is an intentional act that displays a lack of respect for others, our environment, and ironically, for the lazy offender themselves. There is absolutely no excuse.
What can we do to change this inexcusable behavior? No. 1 – don’t litter! Use available trash baskets when you have something to dispose of. If you can’t find a convenient place to get rid of those unhealthy fast food wrappers, keep it in your car until you get home and throw it in your own garbage can, not by the side of the road.
And if you are walking in your neighborhood, through the office, down the hall at school, or in a parking lot and spot a stray pop bottle or piece of paper, bend over and pick it up please. This way you are demonstrating to others that unlike the person who perpetrated the act of littering, you have some class. Most specifically, our own kids are watching everything we do, including how we as adults react to or participate in the act of littering. Littering is a learned behavior, so if you have a budding young litterbug on your hands at home, don’t blame them. Take a look in the mirror.
The Promise Neighborhood is applauding one of its own. Engagement Manager Joe Black recently was honored for his work in Cleveland Central with the Vibrant Civic Champion Award by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.
Joe also has been selected by the National Urban Fellows for its Academic & Leadership Development Fellowship Program. This is a rigorous, 14-month graduate-degree program comprising four semesters of academic courses and a nine-month mentorship.
Joe will be doing that mentorship with the Promise Neighborhood program. The Sisters of Charity Foundation is pleased to support Joe in the program and grow his leadership skills to benefit the Promise Neighborhood.
Joe will spend this summer and next at Bernard M. Baruch College School of Public Affairs in New York City. The program culminates in a master of public administration. Graduates of this program include diverse public-service leaders who have gone on to assume influential positions across government, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors.
Congratulations to Joe – the Promise Neighborhood is glad to see your hard work recognized and look forward to you completing your mentorship here!