Word from Lowell: Continuing Central’s History of Civic Leadership

Lowell Perry Jr., Executive Director

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:

  • Find your polling place: Polling location and district information
  • Voting hours for Nov. 8: Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
  • 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.