Archives for July 2015

Photographs and memories

C. Smith, at home, enjoying retirement. Urban League photo/Mark Curnutte

C. Smith, at home, enjoying retirement. Urban League photo/Mark Curnutte


For 60 years, photographer C. Smith captured the black community’s public struggles and its private celebrations.

Smith started his career at 14, in 1949, when he developed film in a darkroom at the Cotton Club, Sixth and Mound streets, in the West End. The original Cotton Club, in the Sterling Hotel, was the only integrated night club in Cincinnati and played host to the greatest black orchestras and performers of the era.

“I worked for Ed Coleman, who owned Super Speed Photography Studio,” Smith said. “He’d have the stars, people like Cab Calloway, come through the studio there, and he’d take their picture,” Smith said. “I’d develop the film, and Ed would give them the photo.”

That darkroom experience was the beginning of a long career that saw Smith become the most recognized African-American photographer in Cincinnati. His was there to record the black celebrities — James Brown — who performed in segregated Cincinnati. Smith was there to record news of the civil rights years, documenting protests outside of the Emery Theatre in Over-the-Rhine about the appearance of Bull Connor, the segregationist police chief of Birmingham, Ala. Smith was there for weddings, anniversaries and christenings in Cincinnati’s black community.

Having just turned 80, Smith officially retired earlier this month and closed the studio he’d operated on Reading Road in Avondale since 1983. A retirement party, held against Smith’s initial wishes July 17 at New Friendship Baptist Church, attracted 366 guests.

His personal experiences growing up and living in Jim Crow America shaped his work. His parents and two siblings fled their home in Nashville, Tennessee, the night the Ku Klux Klan was coming after his father. “My dad ran out of gas in Cincinnati,” he said.

Smith worked first as a printer out of trade school, earning $1.50 an hour as a black man when whites were paid $3.50. He could not join the union but was allowed to work as much overtime as he wanted — still making just $1.50 an hour.

Even after he had established his business and reputation as a photographer, Smith learned he was not immune to some white’s view of him as a second-class citizen. In the early-mid 1960s, he recalled, a rally Downtown at a Vine Street dental office protested a separate black waiting room. Two white men told Smith to stop snapping pictures and threatened to “kick my black ass. … I put my camera down and went after one of them. I tried to grab him and was going to kick his. They ran off. I told the preachers that I wasn’t bound by their non-violence ways. I was going to defend myself.”

Smith had accumulated a number of honors late in his career: He’s in the Who’s Who in Black Cincinnati’s seventh edition (2013). The African American Chamber Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky inducted Smith in its inaugural 2015 Black Business Hall of Fame class. In 2008, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League recognized Smith as one of its Glorifying the Lions award winners. The name of the award, presented to people 65 or older, originates in the African proverb that says, “Until the lions have their own historian, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.”

Clearly, Smith, like many who work as chroniclers, are uneasy with attention. He’s not the story. He was and remains more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.

“I’m not a speaker. I’m not a talker,” Smith said recently on the back porch of his Bond Hill home. “God has been good to me. I recognize that. I am grateful. All my friends died off. If they’re not dead, they’re in wheelchairs.

“I can still run a 100-yard dash. I roller-blade at Lunken Airport. I fish.”

And on a summer afternoon, Smith thumbed through several albums and books of his photographs and provided a personal history:

Small businesses learn how to access hard-to-get capital

Seventeen small businesses participate in an Urban League small business conference in Avondale.

Seventeen small businesses participate in an Urban League small business conference in Avondale.

The Ohio Small Business Development Center (SBDC), part of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, held another event in its series on access to capital.

Gaining access to capital is one of most challenging and often needed resources for start-up, emerging and established small businesses. The workshop presented a range of capital resources for small business to explore. Participants discussed the importance of developing a business plan to bring business ideas to reality. Post workshop, Ayanna Terry, SBDC business advisor invited her clients and will be working with businesses owners who participated in the workshop.

Seventeen small businesses, ranging from brand new to 2 years old, participated. They represented daycare, home-based wellness, construction, business services and consulting ventures.

Seven featured speakers presented to the group in late June.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a primary funder of the SBDC at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.

The recent event is just one of many held throughout Ohio to help small businesses.

July 31, 2015 – The Warren County SBDC is hosting Making the Perfect Pitch in Lebanon. This FREE event will cover a variety of topics including creative presentations, understanding your client’s profile, talking to the right person, getting a yes, and much more. To register, please visit here.

August 4, 2015 – The Small Business Hub at the Wright Brothers Institute will be hosting a Collider event on Technical Data Rights in Dayton. This workshop will cover intellectual property rights as they relate to government contracts, including the various types of rights the government acquires and when it acquires them. To register, please visit here.

August 5-6, 2015 – The SBDC at Wright State will be hosting Boots to Business – Military Veteran and Spouse Entrepreneur Class in Fairborn. This FREE workshop will educate attendees on the details of small business ownership as a key opportunity for service members, veterans, and their spouses. To learn more and to register, please visit here.

August 6, 2015 – Women Impacting Public Policy and the Small Business Administration (SBA) will be hosting ChallengeHER Cincinnati in Cincinnati. This event assists woman business owners in understanding the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Procurement Program. To register, please visit here.

August 12, 2015 – The Small Business Hub at the Wright Brothers Institute will be hosting a Collider event on Corporate Innovation Strategies in Dayton. This FREE event will present effective techniques for companies wanting to improve their own new product/service development performance. To register, please visit here.

August 13, 2015 – TechGrowth Ohio will be hosting Trade Show Training in Athens. This FREE workshop will cover various topics including setting measurable objectives, preparing for the show, selecting and training booth staff, and following up on leads. To register for this FREE event, please contact Trenia Twyman.

August 24, 2015 – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will be conducting a HUBZone Bootcamp in Hamilton. This FREE event is designed to introduce businesses to the program, help determine eligibility, and support participation in the program. To register, please contact Jill Nagy-Reynolds at 614-469-6860 ext. 247.

August 25-27, 2015 – The U.S. EPA in cooperation with the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) will be hosting the 12th Annual Workshop on Drinking Water Compliance Challenges and Solutions in Cincinnati. This FREE event provides timely information on a variety of drinking water topics including drinking water regulations, compliance issues, emerging contaminants, and treatment technologies. Registration details are forthcoming.

August 25-26, 2015 – The Dayton Development Coalition and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) will be hosting the Ohio UAS Conference in Dayton. This event is a forum to establish UAS community partnerships between representatives from government, industry and academia. To learn more and to register, please visit here.

August 28, 2015 – The Office of Business and Community Services at Kent State – Tuscarawas will be hosting Lean Strategies and Tools in New Philadelphia. This FREE workshop will educate attendees on lean strategies and tools that can save an organization money. To learn more and to register, please visit here.

September 1, 2015 – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will be conducting a HUBZone Bootcamp in Wilmington. This FREE event is designed to introduce businesses to the program, help determine eligibility, and support participation in the program. To register, please contact Jill Nagy-Reynolds at 614-469-6860 ext. 247.

September 9-11, 2015 – The SBDC at Wright State will be hosting Lean Six Sigma Green Belt for Small Business in Fairborn. This FREE event will educate attendees on the vocabulary, methods, and tools used to drive faster and better processes. To learn more and to register, please visit here.

September 10, 2015 – The Women’s Business Center of Ohio will be hosting an In the Company of Women Lunch in Columbus. The topic for this luncheon is Lessons In Leadership: The Business Imperative of Brand and will feature a marketing executive with over twenty years of industry experience. To learn more and to register, please visit

September 14, 2015 – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will be conducting a HUBZone Bootcamp in Milford. This event is designed to introduce businesses to the program, help determine eligibility, and support participation in the program. To register, please contact Jill Nagy-Reynolds at 614-469-6860 ext. 247.

September 18, 2015 – The ITAC at Wright State will be hosting US EAR and ITAR-related Control Requirements for Commodities and Defense Articles in Fairborn. This program will discuss the ruls and regulations enforced by ITAR, EAR, and OFAC, with examples of real-life compliance situations. To learn more and to register, please visit here.

September 21, 2015 – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will be conducting a HUBZone Bootcamp in Georgetown. This FREE event is designed to introduce businesses to the program, help determine eligibility, and support participation in the program. To register, please contact Jill Nagy-Reynolds at 614-469-6860 ext. 247.

September 23, 2015 – The SBDC at Wright State will be hosting Franchising 101 in Fairborn. This workshop will cover various topics including benefits of franchising, finding the right franchise, and concept options. To learn more and to register, please visit here.

September 24, 2015 – The District Export Councils of Ohio will be hosting Export Controls: Awareness and Application in Independence. This one-day program will the cover information exporters need to know to comply with US export control requirements on commercial goods. To learn more and to register, please visit

Small Business Development Series

The Small Business Administration (SBA) in conjunction with the Ohio Small Business Development Centers (SBDC), SCORE, Ohio’s Minority Business Enterprise Division, and other local partners are offering a FREE 6 month resource training seminar series. Each individual seminar is designed to enhance the setup and/or growth of your small business concern. These seminar series will be offered in Cincinnati, Columbus, Lima, and Zanesville. To register, please contact:
• Cincinnati –
• Columbus – Robin Wotring at (614) 469-6860 ext. 282
• Lima – Beth Sanders or (419) 995-8464
• Zanesville –Beth Hampp at (740) 588-1207

USDA Rural Development Business & Cooperative Programs

As the economy continues to improve and drive capital investment by companies, the USDA Rural Development Business & Industry (B&I) Loan Guarantee should be considered as an option when looking to assist rural businesses with their long term business investments. The B&I loan guarantee program can offer attractive long term financing options for real estate purchases and improvements, machinery & equipment purchases, term working capital and debt refinancing. Loan guarantee funding is currently available for these projects. The Ohio Rural Development Business Program staff can help you walk through the benefits and the requirements for this loan guarantee program should you have questions.

Michael Rutherford, 740-373-7113 ext. 206
Debbie Rausch, 614-255-2425
Randy Monhemius, 614-255-2424
Christie Hooks, 614-255-2397
Cindy Musshel, 614-255-2427
Jennifer Brown, 614-255-2423
Jeremy Laws, 614-255-2426

SBA webinars and events: For an updated list of SBA webinars and events for Ohio, please visit here. Topics include healthcare, contracting, financing, and more.

Small Business Seminars: The Ohio Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) offer many seminars and workshops to small businesses throughout Ohio. Topics include certifications, mentoring, social media, business strategy, finance, and more! To learn more about these events, please visit here.

Upcoming International Trade Missions and Webinars: The Ohio Development Services Agency and the U.S. Department of Commerce provide numerous opportunities to companies interested in participating in international trade missions. To see a list of upcoming missions through the State of Ohio, please visit here. To see a list of upcoming trade missions through Commerce, please visit here and for upcoming webinars, please visit here.

Statement on Tensing indictment


DJB Letter to Board Regarding Grand Jury Outcome


Call center grad comes up ACEs

Makiah Duffy (left) celebrates ACE graduation with classmates, as Urban League job placement specialist Rahman Shabazz snaps a selfie. Urban League photo/Mark Curnutte

Makiah Duffy (left) celebrates ACE graduation with classmates, as Urban League job placement specialist Rahman Shabazz snaps a selfie. Urban League photo/Mark Curnutte


Makiah Duffy’s bright smile, not her eyes, were the window to her soul Thursday at the Urban League.

Just 19 and a 2013 graduate of Holmes High School in Covington, the first female in her family to complete high school, Duffy had completed the League’s Accelerated Call Center Program (ACE) — it was graduation day — and sensed that she had entered a new part of her young life.

She hadn’t been over-talkative and giggle too much in the class, like many recent high school graduates, said ACE trainer Teri Dixon, yet Duffy and her classmates still brought youthful energy and hope to the four-week job-readiness course.

Duffy had reason to smile. She’d held three jobs through a temp service since graduating high school and had been laid off twice when work expired. She’d earned as much as $11 an hour. Yet that hit-or-miss situation was no longer for her.

“I would think, `I have too much talent and potential for this,'” she said. “I wanted a career.”

She has reason to want more. She grew up as one of 15 children in her household. Her mother’s 15 children have nine fathers, none of whom are in their children’s lives. Duffy’s biggest cheerleader is her mother, whom, Duffy said, tells her all the time, “Don’t make the mistakes I have made.”

Duffy is the sixth of the 15, the youngest of whom is 2. She has had to stay home as a caregiver.

“I couldn’t hang out with my friends and I wondered if God was punishing me,” she said. “But I have seen my mom trying to make her life better. I know God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, so I always did my best.”

Still, circumstances continued to pull her back, even during her first week in the League’s call center-customer service program.

“That first week, we had our electric and water cut off,” Duffy said. “My grandmother had to have heart surgery. I told Miss Teri that I couldn’t go on.

“But she told me, `You have to keep going and keep your head up. Your mom is counting on you.”

That pep talk helped Duffy over the rough start, and Thursday she graduated with 13 classmates and is lining up interview with three employers, including the Westin Hotel, Downtown. In her graduation remarks — when she received her certification of completion — Duffy thanked her classmates, Dixon and League job placement specialist Rahman “Rocky” Shabazz. After they ate lunch provided by the League, Duffy and three of her friends posed for a selfie snapped by Shabazz.

Duffy wants to establish her career before marrying or having a child, “not before 30,” she said.

Her goal is to start her own business, one that provides services to young girls and boys who lack guidance and opportunity.

“I know how it feels,” she said.


Accelerated Call Center Program was established in 2004 to meet the demand for workers at 63 call centers located throughout the region. The four-week program, developed by Leadership Cincinnati Class XXVIIII, features customized training to provide graduates a base onto which they can build a stable employment history.

Each year, about 200 people — about 90 percent female — are enrolled in ACE; 90 percent graduate. And 75 percent of graduates are placed in jobs. Starting salary in 2014 was $11 an hour. The economic impact of ACE graduates in one year is $4.4 million.

For more information, contact Teri Dixon at (513) 281-9955.

Miami faculty visit Avondale, Urban League, see partnership

Urban League social worker Melissa Hill (center) explains to Miami faculty how the League helped families displaced by a May fire at Somerset Manor, Avondale.

Urban League social worker Melissa Hill explains to Miami faculty how the League helped families displaced by a May fire at Somerset Manor, Avondale. Mark Curnutte/Urban League photo

Four Miami University faculty members visited Friday to pursue partnership possibilities with the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.

The faculty members spent four hours at the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, discussing with League officials potential points of entry for students and faculty as volunteers. The four faculty members also went on a walking tour of central Avondale with Melissa Hill, Community Access Coach, a social worker who engages with residents of buildings under the Choice Neighborhood Grant.

Miami faculty participating: Walt Vanderbush, Interim Director of Latin American, Latino/Latina and Caribbean Studies; Lee Harrington, Co-coordinator of Social Justice Studies Program; Tom Dutton, Director of the Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine; and Tammy Schwartz, Director of Urban Teaching Cohort.

The Miami scholars, who are interested in fitting Miami students into volunteer projects in the urban core, met with Donna Jones Baker, League President. They also heard presentations from three Urban League staff members: Patricia Bready, Vice President of Youth and Neighborhood Programs; Greg Walker, Head Trainer for SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention); and Hill.

Adam Johnson, a current participant in the SOAR job-readiness program, spoke to the group about how the Urban League is helping him turn his life around. Johnson wore dress pants and dress shirt with a tie, clothing he received as a SOAR participant from the League’s Gentleman’s Clothing Closet.

Miami students of various major areas of study have lived in the Center for Community Engagement and worked in architecture, business and education. Through the center, education majors have been placed through the Urban Teaching Cohort in student-teaching positions in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Miami, which recently created its social justice major in the Department of Sociology, also is developing a community service component required for graduation.

Miami President David Hodge is supportive of the potential working relationship involving the University and League.

Bready laid out details of the After School League tutoring program at Woodward Career Technical High School. Walker talked about how SOAR and other League job-readiness and life skills programs could benefit from Miami volunteers to conduct mock interviews for program participants, provide mentors for program graduates and help trainers develop more classroom teaching skills.

On their 30-minute walk, Hill showed Miami faculty the Somerset Manor, an apartment building at Reading Road and Blair Avenue, damaged in a May fire. Residents burned-out of their apartments received additional support from the League.

Hill also took faculty into the Maple building, which will undergo renovation. Residents will move next door, into a building now under construction, during renovation. The Poinciana, at Reading and Hutchins Avenue, was the final stop.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the five-year, $29.5 million grant to developer The Community Builders in 2012 to transform low-income housing in Avondale. Community Builders then awarded a $1.2 million grant to the Greater Cincinnati Urban League to provide social services to residents of the five buildings.

Miami faculty said they would return to the Oxford campus to meet, digest information and potential points of entry, and present a plan to Urban League officials.

AABDP graduate honored

Peter McConney is a graduate of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s African American Business Development Program and is going to be honored for his achievements by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

He is president and CEO of Premier Mail & Fulfillment, a full-service print, fulfillment and mailing house, in Blue Ash, Ohio.

AABDP lasts seven months and has reached 60 firms since its inception in 2012. Participating companies increased their spending with other MBE (Minority Business Enterprises) firms from $503,000 in 2013 to $2 million in 2014.

From Sheila A. Mixon, Senior Vice President of Business Development & Entrepreneurship at the Greater Cincinnati Urban League:

“Please join me in congratulating our own, Pete McConney being recognized as Forty Under 40 and Second Act awardee. … Congrats Pete, well deserved.”

Leading Dayton’s Urban League: Rev. Branford Brown, esquire

Branford Brown, executive director, Miami Valley Urban League, Dayton

Branford Brown, executive director, Miami Valley Urban League, Dayton

Branford Brown is executive director of the Miami Valley Urban League, a subsidiary of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Here is the link to a profile of the Rev. Brown in the Dayton Weekly.

Dayton Weekly Article

Fox 19 covers summer tech program

Thank you to Fox 19 WXIX-TV and reporter Lisa Hutson for their heartfelt story on the Urban League’s summer tech program with Toyota, the city and Cincinnati Public Schools.

Business Courier spotlights program

Thank you to the Cincinnati Business Courier and reporter Tatum Hunter for the story on the Urban League’s program with Toyota and the City of Cincinnati at Woodward Career Technical High School.

League program with Toyota

Wonderful, touching story from Fox 19, WXIX-TV about the Urban League’s youth program at Woodward Career Technical High School. Thank you to our partners Toyota, Cincinnati Public Schools and the City of Cincinnati for making it happen. Hear from African-American teens with big dreams to change the world, in spite of the violence and poverty all around them.

Ghosts of dead black men

Composite portrait, including Trayvon Martin, in artist Titus Kaphar''s "The Jerome Project."

Composite portrait, including Trayvon Martin, in artist Titus Kaphar’s “The Jerome Project.”


The asphalt-and-tar composite portraits — haunting, at first glance seemingly out of focus — peer unflinchingly at viewers.

They are the overlaid faces of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Amadou Diallo — black men racially profiled and killed by police or law enforcement representatives in Titus Kaphar’s “The Jerome Project” exhibit, one of two installations by the artist showing at the Contemporary Arts Center through Oct. 11.

The Contemporary Arts Center invited the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio to a private, small-group tour of the exhibits. Center officials asked for ideas on how to connect the exhibit to the city’s current police-community challenges and to the young African-Americans whose lives are most affected by the twin social ills of poverty and violence.

“The Jerome Project,” paired with Kaphar’s “The Vesper Project” — a universal search to find and understand his black family history — form a real-time examination of America’s ongoing racial struggle.

Kaphar, 39, after all, is the artist who painted the Ferguson, Mo., protestors’ portrait for Time Magazine’s 2014 Person of the Year edition.

His visual treatment of Ferguson protestors is similar to he covers up the history of the three women he paints in “Vesper,” whose skin — hands, arms, faces up to the bridge of the nose — are covered with newspaper. Their personal stories and histories are not known, mirroring how Kaphar obscures the black open hands, raised arms and faces of Ferguson protestors in the sights of police guns.

Cincinnati is among the major U.S. cities where a police shooting of an unarmed black man led to widespread violence. A white Cincinnati Police officer shot and killed unarmed Timothy Thomas, who was running away and trying to climb a wall, on April 7, 2001 in Over-the-Rhine. The shooting led to weeks of violence and protests and, ultimately, to the widely hailed Collaborative Agreement that changed the way Cincinnati’s police department worked.

The creation of the Community Police Partnering Center, housed in the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, Avondale. The Center, led by executive director Dorothy Smoot, the local Urban League’s chief program officer, has successfully brought police, community members and business owners together to come up with mutually agreeable solutions to neighborhood problems ranging from shootings and property crime to drug dealing and prostitution.

Cincinnati-based activists the Rev, Damon Lynch III and Iris Roley of the Black United Front, distributed copies of the Collaborative Agreement in Ferguson, a predominantly black St. Louis suburb, in August at the height of protest. A white police officer had fatally shot an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, 18.

Still, while Cincinnati Police reforms have improved the relationship the community has with law enforcement, the city is plagued by gun violence.

Through June 27, Cincinnati had experienced 38 homicides, compared to 40 in the same period in 2014. Shooting victims, however, are up 28.4 percent, from 176 in 2014 to 226 this year, according to Cincinnati Police data.

The Contemporary Arts Center tour included Hyde Park School Principal Tianay Amat, former Cincinnati School Board member Vanessa Y. White, Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board member Byron McCauley, and Clarence Newsome, president of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The consensus of a post-tour discussion was that while exposing African-American youths to the exhibits would be positive, supports needed to be in place to help them deal with the psychological “can of worms” that might open as a result.

Newsome said he wanted the Freedom Center staff to tour the exhibit.

The genesis of “The Jerome Project” came when artist Kaphar performed a Google search for his father’s name and date of birth, which resulted in the find of 90 men, whom, like his father, had been incarcerated. The work represents, he said, “a community, specifically African-American men, who are statistically overrepresented in our nation’s prison population.”

Though African-Americans make up only 12.5 percent of Ohio’s population, they represent more than 45 percent of the state’s prison population. Closer to home, in Hamilton County, where 25 percent of the population is black, African-Americans comprise 60 percent of the people processed through the criminal justice system.


The Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday through Monday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Admission is free for CAC members and children under 5, $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for people 60 and older. Call (513) 345-8400.

Today at the League

These SOAR graduates were part of first Hand Up Initiative class in Corryville. They are taking a test today to try to be accepted into the Construction Connections program, the next one of which will begin Friday. It is a nine-week pre-apprenticeship program that provides its graduates with a number of industry-recognized certifications.

New SOAR graduates take Construction Connections test.

New SOAR graduates take Construction Connections test.

Urban Leaders program application

2016-2017 Urban Leaders Application

2016-2017 Urban Leaders Program Overview

SOAR graduates discover hope

Jamika Morris

Jamika Morris: `I don’t want her (daughter) to know the struggle I did.’

Class 1: `

Class 1: `I love you all. My classmates are the real MVPS.’

Proud dad Ras Yeremiah Tafari and graduate Ras Tosh Tafari

Dad Ras Yeremiah Tafari and graduate Ras Tosh Tafari.




The tears started before the words.

“I was tired of struggling,” said Jamika Morris, 20, of Avondale, waving her laminated certificate of completion and standing behind the podium.

“I don’t want (her 1-year-old daughter) to know the struggle I did. She is going to have a trust fund, so when she graduates from high school she can go straight to college.”

On Friday afternoon, Morris joined 15 other graduates in completing the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s first off-campus job-readiness class. It is the first of 11 the League will offer as part of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s $1.12 million Hand Up Initiative; the Urban League received $250,000.

The second Hand Up class will begin July 27 in Madisonville. Other neighborhood sites in the next year will include Westwood, East Price Hill and Mount Auburn. Transportation is a barrier to class attendance — and job retention — so the logic is to take the program to the neighborhoods.

Until now, this Urban League flagship, three-week job-readiness class, SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention), have been held at the League’s Avondale campus.

While the location changed – the Hampton Inn, Corryville – the raw emotion is the same. People who’d largely endured negative reinforcement begin the process of transforming their lives through the soul-bearing course.

Corryville is in Uptown, the part of the city that offers the region’s second highest concentration of jobs, behind only Downtown Cincinnati.

“Everybody has a light that needs to shine. Thank you to the Urban League for giving me the chance to better myself.” — Justin Keith.

Rob Rodgers, a program director in the Urban League’s Workforce Development department, opened the hour-long graduation ceremony by singing what he termed a “song about dedication.

“The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout,” he sang along with graduates, who stood to join him. “Down came the rain and washed the spider out. “Out came the sun and dried up all the rain. And the itsy bitter spider crawled up the spout again.”

… “Think about it,” Rodgers said. “It’s about getting back up again after being knocked down.”

“I did this so my little nephews and nieces could look up to me.” – DeAndre Fannon.

Morris knows plenty about rain and being washed out. She said a disagreement with her mother during the class forced her one morning to walk more than two miles from Burton Avenue in Avondale to the Hampton Inn.

“We had to literally ring out her jacket when she got her,” said John Garner, SOAR trainer who led the class. “It shows her determination. She did not want to let herself or her classmates down.”

The downpour was not the first of her life. At age 8, Morris was place in foster care by her mother. She did not finish high school. She ran away. A marijuana habit caused her to drift, she said, for two years.

Then she experienced incidents of sexual and physical abuse by family members.

“Those are always the ones,” she said.

“To be real, I was convicted of a crime in 2012. I didn’t know where to go. … I found myself in this class.” – Iris Jennings.

Started in 1998, SOAR graduates 81 percent of its participants; 76 percent find full-time employment. They earn an average first-year salary of $21,262 and inject $4 million into the local economy.

About 63 percent of SOAR graduates retain jobs for at least 12 months.

During the three-week course, men receive dress clothes suitable for interviews from the League’s Gentlemen’s Clothing Closet. Women receive two sets of clothing, the first through the Freestore Foodbank’s Back on Track store and then from its Dress for Success subsidiary. Often dressed on Day 1 in street clothes – shorts, T-shirts, sleeveless tops, gym shoes – participants are required to dress appropriately for business over the final 12 days.

Trainer Garner told of seeing one graduate wearing his suit while riding his bicycle home from class one afternoon up Reading Road.

“I’m never taking this suit off. I never had one before. I feel different with it on, better.” – Daniel Jones.

Upon graduation, SOAR participants get a plastic binder for their resume and other personal documents needed for work.

More than a physical gift, graduates receive a promise that the League will continue to support them in the job-search process and onto developing a career and managing their money.

“If I call, pick up the phone. And if you change your number, I will still find you,” said workforce development specialist Edna Avelino, herself a SOAR graduate who has worked for the Urban League for two years. “We are here to help.”

The agency provides follow-up services for its program graduates, ranging from helping to update resumes to providing bus tokens. Some graduates have received helped renewing revoked driver’s licenses or recalculating child support payments.

The phrase goes, “Once an Urban Leaguer, always an Urban Leaguer.”

“I was tired of sitting around and waiting for handouts.” – Kijana Davis.

SOAR creates something new inside its participants, people who otherwise had rarely been told they have value or had ever been able to complete anything.

“Hope,” said Greg Walker, the League’s SOAR trainer. Its next Avondale class begins July 6.

“SOAR takes people who’ve lost hope or never had it and shows them a light at the end of a dark tunnel,” Walker added. “It gives them empowerment to change their tomorrow if they want to.”

Morris wants to change her future. All she has to do is think about her daughter, Dalila. Morris said she receives $222 a month in support from the girl’s father, which goes to diapers, wipes and baby formula.

She would like to marry, but her child’s father is not for her. “I have self-value and self-respect,” she said. “I never had a dad in my life. I was not close to my mother. I had to raise myself.”

“I feel good right now. I wrote a graduation poem. I wrote it at the bus stop this morning. It’s short. `Preparation, dedication, and sacrifice were the keys for me.’” – Ras Tosh Tafari.

Morris already has moved toward a new life. She worked through a temporary service while attending SOAR from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. She did housekeeping, cooking and busing tables.

“Sometimes I had to work until midnight or 1 p.m., but I still got up and made it to class,” she said.

Morris wants to get into the League’s Construction Connections program. SOAR graduation is a requirement. Connections is a nine-week pre-apprenticeship course that provides graduates several industry certifications upon completion, including those provided by the National Center for Construction Education and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“That’s what I want to do for the short-term,” she said. “Long-term, I want to be a nurse.” First, she plans to complete her high school education and earn her diploma.

“I was in my second stage of cancer and felt myself dying. That’s why I went to the Urban League.” – Shaneishewa George.

The next Hand Up Initiative SOAR class will begin July 27 at the Madisonville Arts & Cultural Center, 5021 Whetsel Ave. Eligible participants must live in Madisonville.

Information sessions will be held July 6, 13 and 20 from 6-8 p.m. at the center. Thursday sessions will be from 10 a.m. to noon, also at the center.

The course is strategically being offered in Madisonville, within two miles of the new Kroger Marketplace being built at Oakley Station. The Kroger Co. hires SOAR graduates and provides SOAR training assistance.

In addition to the Arts & Cultural Center, Madisonville SOAR is sponsored by the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. Call Lionell Roberts at (513) 913-3413 for more information.

“I saw the opportunity right in front of my face to better myself as a person. My classmates, I love you all. My classmates are the real MVPs.” – Shyrena Thomas.

New possibility for at-risk teens

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program.

Toyota, Urban League connect to teens

through technology, peace building

BOND HILL – The bullet hole in the window and gouge in the drywall where police removed a slug are reminders of the world outside for these 11 teen-agers.

So is the roll call of names of friends who’ve died in gunfire in recent weeks on Cincinnati streets: Nathaniel Scott Jr., 15 … Robin Pearl, 18 … Justin Crutchfield, 18.

The 11 Cincinnati high school students comprise the summer Toyota Making Connections class, co-sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and City of Cincinnati, at Woodward Career Technical High School. For two hours a day, they are learning advanced technology – circuitry, programming, 3-dimensional printing, milling machines – before switching gears for another two hours of peace-building and job-readiness training.

These 11 teens are among the 265 employed through the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Summer Youth Employment program, paid for by a city grant. This particular group of students meets downstairs at Woodward, adjacent to its advanced manufacturing lab, before walking upstairs for peace building in the school’s media center. It’s there they see the remnants of a recent shooting spree, including a window pane so badly shattered that it has been replaced by plywood.

“Everyone in the community I live in,” said 17-year-old Niehah Alfqaha of Avondale, one of the 11, “we know we’re not going to see 20. Everybody’s just trying to get some money. That’s why all the shooting’s happening. Once I’m done here, I go straight home. I’m paranoid. A bullet ain’t got no eyes. No one hesitates to shoot.

“It’s by the grace of God I’m still alive.”

Through June 20, Cincinnati had experienced 36 homicides, compared to 37 in the same period in 2014. Shooting victims, however, are up 29.1 percent, from 165 in 2014 to 213 this year, according to Cincinnati Police data.

Still, against such odds, these 11 students work this summer for their futures, making plans that now include the possibility of engineering or technology.

Toyota commits resources

The relationship between Woodward and Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, Erlanger, Ky., dates to 2012, when engineer Andy Inman of its Maintenance, Standards & Parts staff started to mentor students.

Earlier this year, Inman worked with his division leadership team to develop the Woodward Summer Intern Technician Program. The goal is to show students a real-world application of how an idea can start simply but evolve in a few weeks into a problem-solving method. Up to five Toyota employees, including classroom teacher David Ford, an engineer, are on site at Woodward each day.

What started June 2 will culminate July 9 with the presentation of T-shirts and a group photo and July 10 with a brunch and graduation ceremony at Woodward.

For Niehah, who will attend Woodward or Hughes STEM High School – a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum – the Making Connections program has “introduced me to a new world. … Most of us are now considering doing something with engineering.”

She has experience hanging drywall and doing electrical work through the Lawn Life youth employment program. Niehah plans to attend Cincinnati State Technical and Community College to study project management and construction.

She and her classmates are currently working in teams designated as lights, sound and motion to develop a video that combines the various technologies they’ve studied this summer.

Kish Richardson, 15, of Golf Manor, who will be a junior at Walnut Hills High School, worked this week on motion for the video. He plans to attend Ohio State University for a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before going to Harvard Law School. He wants to be a merger-and-acquisitions lawyer.

“It has opened me up to a new experience,” Kish said of the program.

`We’re not all ‘hood rats’

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League is providing the site coordinator, Deborah Brock-Blanks, as well as travel expenses and students’ hourly wage, part of the summer youth employment program the local league runs through the City of Cincinnati grant.

In conjunction with Toyota, Woodward is a summer worksite for these 11 students, who earn $8.10 an hour. The peace-building curriculum comes through the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Community Police Partnering Center – created as part of the 2002 Collaborative Agreement – that provides resources and techniques for community residents and the police to work together to solve neighborhood crime problems. Peace building, once its own program, has evolved into a philosophy that the local Urban League uses in all of its youth programs.

“This program has broadened their perception of themselves,” Brock-Blanks said. “They see themselves as more capable and able to take a more optimistic view of their lives. They think they are terribly at risk and are trying to stay out of the way.

“We have seen more personal responsibility emerge. You see leadership and a self-management coming out.”

Ramelo Robinson, 17, of Elmwood Place, who will be an Aiken High School junior, plans on being a nurse but has enjoyed the technology-peace building program more than he had anticipated.

More than engineering, he has learned about himself. “I have a lot of self-respect,” Ramelo said. “I know I can make my neighborhood better. I can talk to people. I can keep the streets clean. I can’t stop all the drugs, but maybe I can steer some young folks in a more positive direction.”

He works 21-25 hours a week, usually 5 p.m. to midnight, at the McDonald’s restaurant in Walnut Hills. Yet despite his work ethic, ambition and productive summer, he says he knows that many outsiders view him and his classmates through a lens fogged with negative stereotypes.

“We have unique thoughts and emotions,” Ramelo said. “We’re not all ‘hood rats.”

These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.