Archives for August 2015

An opportunity for racial justice that cannot pass unheeded

Mayor John Cranley, Dr. O'Dell Owens, Dwight Tillery, Eileen Cooper Reed, Sean Rugless, and the Rev. Dr. Damon Lynch Jr. speak at Urban League news conference Monday releasing report The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.

Mayor John Cranley, Dr. O’dell Owens, Dwight Tillery, Eileen Cooper Reed, Sean Rugless, and the Rev. Dr. Damon Lynch Jr. speak at Urban League news conference Monday releasing report The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.

By Mark Curnutte

AVONDALE — OK, Cincinnati, let’s see what we’ve got.

For much of 2015, poverty — child poverty — has been the cause celebre with the city’s media: Television station and website and its urban affairs reporter, Lucy May, have focused on it. A television competitor, Local 12, is now in the mix. It wanted me on its morning newscast Monday to talk about a small slice of our report, The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities, that addresses child poverty.

The Cincinnati Enquirer in the spring published a voyeuristic essay on a poor family so badly damaged that county social workers took the children out of the home. (As a former Enquirer social justice reporter, I wrote as long ago as 2011 about the city’s embarrassingly high child poverty rate.) Cincinnati CityBeat published a contemplative essay Aug. 26 that showed how the city’s economic fault line largely follows its racial fissure.

On Monday, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League released its first comprehensive analysis of Cincinnati’s black community since 1995. The State of Black Cincinnati 2015 shows how little has changed economically and socially for African-Americans here in two decades.

Three of four African-American children under age 6 in our city our growing up in poverty. Poverty for a household of three in this country is $20,090 a year, or living on $6,697 a year, or $18.35 a day. Living at 150 percent of poverty doesn’t provide much more.

Still, stop and think about what it means to start life as an acutely poor child. Children who grow up in poverty are more likely to suffer from physical and mental health problems, and they reach adolescence with poorer school attendance and lower reading and math scores. They are prone to increased distractibility and rates of grade failure. Poor children more than children in middle-class and affluent families face greater likelihood of developing behavioral and emotional problems. The effects are long-term and follow them into adulthood: lower occupational status and wages, poorer health and deficient memory function.

So, it’s no wonder, according to some number-crunching by The Enquirer in its Sunday story, that conditions in Cincinnati’s black community are getting worse.

— The poverty rate for blacks in Cincinnati today is 35.7 percent, up from 34 percent in 1995, the last time the local Urban League did a State of Black Cincinnati report.

— In terms of median household income regionally, African-Americans today earn 42 cents for every dollar earned in white households, down from 49 cents in 1995.

— The Urban League Two Cities report shows that median household income for blacks is $24,000, compared to $57,000 for whites.

Yet the response from many outsiders often employs a cliché, and not a creative one at that: Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Those are often the same people, most of them white, whom, citing another cliché, are the ones standing on third base thinking they hit the triple. No, you were born on third.

All the while, The Banks booms, out of reach economically of most African-Americans. The makeover of Over-the-Rhine is dramatic, yet rising housing costs have driven out many long-standing black residents. The “private” developer 3CDC is flush with public money yet comfortably out of reach of media scrutiny. It had no plan for the displaced poor, except to overpay to build extravagant new homeless shelters to get that population away from Washington Park. Here’s a thought: How about creating a 3CDC-type organization, pumping it full of tax dollars, and charging it with reducing poverty among the city’s black preschoolers?

Speaking `truth to power’

At a news conference this morning at the Urban League, an esteemed panel — some of them authors of report essays — addressed the League report’s findings.

To his credit, unlike some of his predecessors, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is not in denial about his city’s racial and economic divide. The city, he said, created an office of economic inclusion. An effort to institutionalize efforts to increase use of black- and female-owned businesses on city projects will go to council soon but will likely face legal challenges. Cranley said Monday black business contracts with the city from doubled from current 2 percent to 4 percent and are on the verge of almost doubling again. His goal is 15 percent.

The mayor praised the Urban League for its years of steady service in running industry-leading job-readiness and training programs, calling the organization “part of the solution.” He went on to praise the Greater Cincinnati Urban League for its Two Cities reports by having the courage “to speak truth to power.”

Dr. O’dell Owens, president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and former Hamilton County Coroner, has always understood the interconnectedness of economics, health, education and social disparities afflicting the poor and minority communities. Author of the Two Cities foreword, Owens said, “We have too many poor children. This report highlights that we are at a critical point.”

Former Cincinnati School Board President Eileen Cooper Reed noted the high numbers of poor children in the city. “And,” she said, “then they start school,” illuminating the challenge public schools face.

Former Cincinnati Mayor Dwight Tillery, the city’s first popularly elected black mayor in 1991, founded and is president of the Center for Closing the Health Gap — a national leader in showing how economics and other social determinants negatively affect the health of African-Americans.

Like Tillery, speaker Sean Rugless quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: There cannot be social justice without economic justice. “Until we have an economy in which all people grow, we will be a second-tier city,” said Rugless, president and chief executive of the African American Chamber of Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky.

The Rev. Dr. Damon Lynch Jr., pastor since 1970 of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, Carthage, preaching to a choir of racial justice believers, nonetheless pulled no punches. He said he knows he is a “token” black on a number of boards but since he is there he is going to speak up. He expressed frustration that qualified African-Americans are not in the “pipeline” for top leadership positions at Procter & Gamble and other large, influential employers.

He said Cincinnati was indeed “diverse, but not inclusive. … We say we want to grow and prosper, but what we say is not what we practice.”

Donne Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, parent of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and Miami Valley Urban League, Dayton, compared Cincinnati to a human body that says it is healthy but has a limb with the life-threatening condition gangrene — medically, dead tissue caused by an infection or lack of blood flow.

“We are creating a perpetual underclass of people,” Baker said.

The Two Cities report, a comprehensive 164 pages, is available at, the local League’s website. In the first nine hours it was available, 245 copies were downloaded. Two Miami University professors want to use the book as a classroom text in sociology and urban affairs courses.

What’s next? Action without distraction

The report creates A Call to Action that invites anyone who wants to be involved to email the League at The goal is to match volunteers’ interests with opportunities to serve while a Guiding Coalition — already in place under Baker’s direction — comes up with a focused plan.

A dozen people have written, wanting to help. Others, similar to comments posted on stories at One man wrote to “Blacks feel whites owe them because we made them slaves.”

A writer described as a “Caucasian father who raised his two children,” wrote: “It is not the job of others to help those that are unwilling to help themselves.”

Other email writers say that black people should stop having children and that black men should parent more and hustle less. Hard to father, I say, when you’re spending inequitably longer sentences in prison for lesser crimes than whites. The state’s population is 12 percent African-American, yet Ohio’s prison population 45 percent black. Because of economic stress many families are forced to live in survival mode, living only for the moment or the day at hand, unable to plan.

So many people still want to blame the poor for being poor, or poor African-Americans for being poor and black.

These comments discourage me, but only for a fleeting moment. They serve, at times, to keep the flame fanned inside. Then I let them pass without a second notice.

I’d invite fellow whites who have little or no contact with African-Americans, other than the stereotypical reports in media that reinforce their narrow view of the world, to come to the Urban League. I’d like them to meet the young black men and women — and those who are not so young any more — who are working third-shift jobs and then going to class all day here at the League. I’d like them to see the number of fathers who work overnight and then walk to South Avondale Elementary every afternoon to pick up their children. Meet the contrite returning citizens determined to right personal wrongs and rebuild lives into sources of pride for their children.

Walk with me the six blocks out our front door down Prospect Place and the six blocks back. You’ll meet hard-working people who want the same things you do: a job, a fair wage, healthcare, good education and a chance at college for their children, safety, security as they age. Sit on a porch on a hot summer evening with them and listen. Stop judging. Your loss.

Here’s where I’ve landed, 22 years after my life changed personally and professionally for the better in 1993. That’s the year I wrote a sprawling series for The Cincinnati Enquirer, “A Polite Silence,” an examination of race relations here. I was the minority for several months, spending large amounts of time in predominantly black churches, private homes, professional groups. The learning curve was sharp and sometimes difficult.

Sadly, not much has changed economically or in terms of social progress for African-Americans here since. It appears, though, that the hearts of many more white people have hardened. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the country has blown past us in vital areas of diversity and meaningful inclusion.

Of the more than 500 interviews I did for the “Police Silence” series, one stands out as most memorable. A white Methodist minister, explaining his denomination’s efforts to include more African-Americans and increase sensitivity to the economic and social divide, said, “Racism is a terrible sin. It is no small sin. Prejudice and racism are grave insults to the one God who created us all.”

Few things have ever made so much sense to me in so many ways: spiritually, for sure, intellectually, morally, as a citizen. The civil rights movement is not over.

So here we stand, collectively, at another point of swelling opportunity. Race and poverty have risen to become the issues of the day in Cincinnati. We’ve never had so much information and data that clearly shows our interdependence — how we won’t reach our potential as a desirable city and region if a whole group of people are systematically held down.

Those of us — white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever — those of us who know better and understand non-black privilege in this country, we have to lead the effort here. I’m not talking about just white privilege. I am talking about the privilege that comes with not being black in American society: that large unopened can of unearned mulligans, benefits of the doubt, and infinite second chances afforded us simply because of the color of our skin. They’re real.

We can’t be distracted by the noise of naysayers. We have to keep our eyes on the prize. We, in engaging in this still unresolved fight for equality, are on the right side of history. We’ve been given sight.

The effort to improve the quality of life for all in Cincinnati will take everyone of us who recognize the injustice. As Donna Jones Baker writes in her Two Cities executive summary, in quoting an African proverb, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”

Mark Curnutte is Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Key Initiatives at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. He edited and contributed writing and photography to The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities. The 164-page report is available free of cost at

Rep. Reece reacts to UL report

Black Caucus President Rep. Alicia Reece reacts to Urban League report
“The State of Black Cincinnati: Two Cities”

CINCINNATI, OH – State Representative and Ohio Legislative Black Caucus President Alicia Reece responded today to the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Cincinnati’s State of Black Cincinnati: Two Cities report.

Rep. Reece released the following statement:

“Today’s report shows that the prosperity gap is widening and African Americans are being left behind in every area. I am hopeful that this report will not sit on the shelf but will spark action on jobs, justice reform, healthcare, African American business, voting rights, and economic prosperity. We must break out of the box of just a replacement program and move toward the expansion of African Americans in decision-making positions in leadership, entrepreneurship, non-profit, corporate and private sector industries that oversee budgets and funding.”

Rep. Reece also announced the statewide OLBC Prosperity Tour 2015, which will kick off in Cincinnati at the end of September and will address these issues.

Two Cities coverage links

WLWT Channel 5:

WCPO, Channel 9:

WKRC, Local 12:–197685.shtml#.VeXlV8uFMdV

WXIX, Fox 19:

Cincinnati Enquirer,

WVXU Radio

Local 12 report on `Black Cincinnati’

Local 12’s Joe Webb covers the release of the League’s State of Black Cincinnati report.

The State of Black Cincinnati 2015 Report

The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities is a comprehensive report published by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and its parent, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. The report examines race-based disparities in education, the economy, criminal justice, housing, health, and inclusion. Written by some of the area’s leading experts, Two Cities includes a call to action that invites the larger community to get involved to help create more opportunity for all citizens.

The State of Black Cincinnati 2015

Click Download Now to read more »

High rents stress working poor

Ayanna Wallace, who manages our Financial Opportunities Center, is featured in a video and story in The Cincinnati Enquirer and on It addresses how high rents, that are likely to go higher, stress the working poor.

Also featured is Iris Jennings. Iris graduated from the Hand Up Initiative SOAR class at the Hampton Inn, Corryville, and then went on to graduate from Construction Connections.

The story, written by Emilie Eaton, has multiple layers to it. While addressing the issue at hand — high rents — the story is a powerful admonishment of those who blithely say the poor only want a handout. Here is a woman busting it every day to get ahead: working full-time, bringing up a daughter, taking college classes.

The Urban League is proud of Iris and all she is achieving. She knows were are here for her, to help her however we can, as she moves forward. She doesn’t need much help, though. She is a bright, determined person.

Please take time to read the story and watch the video:

The State of Black Cincinnati

Layout 1

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, and its affiliate, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, will publish its report “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities” on Monday, Aug. 31. A press conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Urban League, 3458 Reading Road, Avondale.

League releasing `State of Black Cincinnati 2015′ report Monday


Children under 6 years in Cincinnati are growing up in poverty

[Read more…]

Soaring above homelessness

Trontez Mahaffey, SOAR graduate.

Trontez Mahaffey, SOAR graduate.

The inspiring story of a young man who was finally ready to tell it, Trontez Mahaffey.

Thank you to Lucy May, of, for hearing and feeling Trontez’s story when he wanted to tell it to her.

Trontez Mahaffey had a tough time getting to 19, but now he’s ready to share his story
‘I wanted to be different’

BY Lucy May

POSTED: 4:30 AM, Aug 25, 2015

CINCINNATI — Trontez Mahaffey wanted to tell his story. He was adamant about that.
He told me so while I was observing a Greater Cincinnati Urban League SOAR class for a story about Donna and Michelle Bush a
mother and daughter from Madisonville who were taking part in the class.

Mahaffey was there, too. At 19, he was one of the youngest participants. He grew up in Avondale and
now lives with friends in Westwood. But he found his way to the Madisonville SOAR class and was
determined to finish the three-week program.

SOAR stands for Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention. It’s the flagship workforce
development of the local Urban League, and it’s designed to help chronically unemployed and
underemployed people find good-paying jobs that lead to financial independence.

Mahaffey is only 19, but that’s what he wants: Financial stability so he can go to college and
study business and culinary arts. Someday, he said, he wants to open his own restaurant.

But first Mahaffey wanted to tell his story.

It’s a big step. For years, he hid it, and his troubles, from teachers and principals and other adults in
his life, he told me.

“I had a reputation that I needed to keep,” he said. “I didn’t want to go tell anybody my story. I didn’t
want anybody to feel sad for me because I wasn’t old enough to really speak my mind then.”

Now, he is.

‘I Wanted to Be Different’

Mahaffey ran away from his parents when he was about 15 because of problems at home, he said. He
told me he was homeless for two years, living in an abandoned house in Avondale.

He worked at the Avondale Youth Council, earning $50 every two weeks. Mahaffey said he budgeted
that money carefully so he could buy ravioli and wash his clothes. He kept going to classes at
Woodward Career Technical High School, working to keep his homelessness a secret so he could keep his reputation as a “good kid.”

When he was 16, he got a job at McDonald’s and made more money that he used to buy what he
needed for school and take care of himself.

He turned 17 during his junior year in high school and decided to go back home.

“I really missed my momma,” he said.

Things weren’t great at home, but Mahaffey stayed. He kept working at McDonald’s, kept going to
school and tried to stay out of trouble as he watched friends around him get sentenced to prison.
Mahaffey got in some trouble, too, and spent some time in jail as a juvenile, he said. Sometimes he
felt more comfortable in jail than at home, he told me. But he didn’t want to go to prison.

“I didn’t want to do time,” he said. “I wanted to be different. Go to school.”

Other friends in his circle started dying, victims of street violence that seemed to be everywhere.

“They would come to school one week, and the next thing you knew, RIP,” he told me.

Mahaffey turned 18 his senior year and graduated from Woodward in 2014.

He left home again and started staying with friends. He was still working at McDonald’s when he
went to visit a temporary service that was handing out information at the Madisonville Arts &
Cultural Center.

‘That’s What I Need to Change’

That’s where he met John Garner, the trainer for the Urban League’s Madisonville SOAR class.

Garner asked Mahaffey if he was looking for a career.

“I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I need. That’s what I need to change,'” Mahaffey said.

Mahaffey got a third-shift job at warehouse in Hebron and quit his day job at McDonald’s so he
could take the SOAR classes. He got off work at 7:30 each morning and went straight to
Madisonville. His only sleep each day of the program came after class ended at 4 p.m. and before he
had to be back at work at 11 p.m.

It was a difficult three weeks, but Mahaffey said it was worth it.

At his SOAR graduation, he stood before the
group and said he was proud of what he

“My current situation is not my final destination,” he said, and his classmates applauded.

Now, he wants to enroll in the Urban League’s Construction Connections program to get the skills he
needs to get a construction job. After he gets more stable financially, he wants to go to college.
Mahaffey told me that he knows he’s going to make it, and I don’t doubt that he will.

But I asked him, why share your story now, after trying to hide all of this for so long?

“Because I feel like I’m good,” he answered. “I bettered myself, and I can speak my mind without
worrying about anybody.”

The interview ended, and it was almost hard for me to speak.

Our region has thousands of young people who carry the burden of homelessness and poverty or
family troubles or all of the above. Scores of nonprofit organizations exist to help them, and I’ve
written about many of them and the work they do.

But I had not considered the young people who don’t ask for help, and how strong they must be to
persevere through all that trouble. That is, until I met Mahaffey.

So I’m helping him share his story, in hopes that it will open other people’s eyes, too.

The next neighborhood SOAR class is scheduled to start in Walnut Hills on Aug. 31.

Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

29 new Urban Leaguers

Aaron Smith graduates SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) job-readiness program.

Aaron Smith graduates SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) job-readiness program.

The SOAR class (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) and ACE (Accelerated Customer Service Education) graduate 21 and eight, respectively, on Thursday.

A double-shot of hope. Six ACE graduates already have jobs. Congratulations to ACE trainer Teri Dixon and her colleagues.

These graduations never get old. Graduates’ short speeches are long on honesty, hope, dreams, goals and transformation. Many acknowledge mistakes of the past, vowing not to repeat them, and are determined to turn their lives around. A primary motivation for graduates with children is to give them opportunities they didn’t have.

Congratulations, one and all. Special shout out to SOAR trainer Greg Walker and his colleagues.

`… inspired me to want to do more’

Donna Bush, left, and daughter, Michelle Bush, celebrate their SOAR graduation Thursday in Madisonville.

Donna Bush, left, and daughter, Michelle Bush, celebrate their SOAR graduation Thursday in Madisonville.

Lucy May story

Grad finds financial stability

Thank you to all of the grantors who make possible the services of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Financial Opportunities Center.

Below is link to a newsletter piece about the League’s center and a testimonial from a woman who received help.


Financial Opportunity Centers are an initiative of LISC Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Match funding provided by: Citi Foundation · Fifth Third Bank · First Financial Bancorp · The Greater Cincinnati Foundation · PNC · SC Ministry Foundation · The Thomas J. Emery Memorial · U.S. Bancorp

WCPO profiles SOAR graduates


Donna Bush, left, receives a hug from her daughter, Michelle Bush, after they both graduated from the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s SOAR program in Madisonville.


SOAR moves next to Walnut Hills

Hand Up Walnut Hills Flyer-Final

A hero’s civil rights story

Roberto Clemente, circa 1968

Roberto Clemente, circa 1968


The news of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — April 4, 1968, in Memphis — shocked and horrified many people. Among those most effected was Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Roberto Clemente, who, as a black Latino from Puerto Rico, experienced the sting and shame of racial discrimination in the United States.

During his first seven spring trainings in Florida, he could not stay with his teammates in their whites-only hotel. Reporters quoted him in his broken English and went along with broadcasters and American teammates who, against Clemente’s wishes, Anglicized his name and referred to him as Bob or Bobby.

Clemente, who’d met with King years earlier at his farm in Puerto Rico, shared King’s desire for social, racial and economic justice. Both men died before their 40th birthday but have left timeless legacies.

Clemente had deep respect for King and the civil rights movement. After King’s death, Clemente met with his teammates, 11 of whom were African-American, and convinced them all to push to have their opening day game moved from April 8 to April 10. King was buried April 9. This extraordinary act was typical of Clemente.

Clemente would have turned 81 today, Aug. 18. Happy Birthday wishes to my first, only and enduring hero, baseball or otherwise. His magnificent skills as a baseball player drew me to him. The eloquence of a life magnificently lived has held my attention.

He demanded of himself the highest standards of conduct — he served from 1958 through 1964 in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve — and thought of other people ahead of himself. He is well-known for this admonishment, “If you have the chance to make things better for people coming behind you and you don’t, you are wasting your time on earth.”

What follows is a short essay I wrote in October 1996 for The Cincinnati Enquirer, on the 25th anniversary of Clemente’s time in the national spotlight, the 1971 World Series.


The Cincinnati Enquirer

Childhood heroes can last a lifetime.

Maybe it’s because most of us don’t become presidents and cowboys and actors and baseball players when we grow up. Or maybe heroes remind us of a time when Mom and Dad did our worrying for us, leaving us free to dream.

Memories of one of my heroes, never really that far away, have surfaced during baseball’s post-season.

It was 25 years ago this month when one of the all-time greats not only led his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, to a World Series title but also won my heart.

I was 9 and just learning the finer points of baseball, and here was a man, Roberto Clemente, playing the game to perfection.

Clemente batted .414 during the seven-game series against Baltimore. He ran the bases as if running for his life, fingers spread, veins tensed and visible in his neck.

And that arm. He controlled the game from right field. Catching the ball, twirling almost full circle, planting his right foot, firing to the infield. Baseball ballet.

Images of Clemente burned through the northern Illinois winter. I’d look across the ball fields – only the thin brown stubble of grass interrupting a blanket of snow – and see myself playing with his passion.

The snow finally melted.

The brown grass turned green.

My friends welcomed the new season by mailing baseball cards to players for autographs. Almost every card they bought went into an envelope with a form letter.

I didn’t get into this habit. I’d rather be playing. But I made one exception.

In May 1972, I pulled a Roberto Clemente card from a sweet-smelling pack of Topps.

I took a pencil and, in oversized cursive, wrote a letter:

Dear Mr. Clemente,

You are my favorite baseball player of all time. I am your biggest fan in my town. Please sign this baseball card and mail it back.

Your friend, Mark Curnutte

About a month later, I got a reply. Inside a Pirates envelope, I found a team photograph of Clemente and my card, autographed in ink.

But in the shuffle of boyhood, I lost track of the picture and card. I last remember having them on the front porch, where I was showing them off to friends.

Later that year, I learned it was a loss I couldn’t recover.

On the last day of the 1972 season, Clemente collected career hit No. 3,000, a double off Jon Matlack of the New York Mets, in what would be Clemente’s last regular-season at-bat. I saw it on TV.

The cheers of September turned to tears in December.

Two days before Christmas, an earthquake rattled the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured and homeless. Clemente organized a mercy mission from his native Puerto Rico to deliver emergency food and medicine, most of which he collected himself. He joined the crew for its New Year’s Eve flight.

The overloaded cargo plane got off the ground in San Juan but went down minutes later in the Caribbean. Clemente’s body was never found. He was 38.

The posthumous honors were many. Major League Baseball’s humanitarian citation is called the Roberto Clemente Award. The mandatory five-year wait after retirement was waived for Clemente when he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973. A year-round sports camp and school in San Juan, a project Clemente started, was finished.

While heroes of childhood are remembered, they often are reduced. There is a difference, we learn as adults, between fantasy and reality.

But Clemente is more of a hero to me now than ever.

He played each inning as though it were his last. No wasted time. No wasted motion.

I can’t help but compare Clemente to one of today’s marquee players, a man who shares his first name, Roberto Alomar.

With Alomar, one has to ignore his behavior to appreciate his performance. Not Clemente. The greatness of the man surpassed even the greatness of the athlete.

Mark Curnutte, who wore Clemente’s No. 21 on his baseball and softball jerseys, is an Enquirer features reporter.

Epilogue: In May 2006, while in Haiti for three weeks, I would escape at night into the biography “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero.” Author David Maraniss, in the 2005 book, quotes Clemente’s response to warnings that he not speak out against American injustice.

“They say, ‘Roberto, you better keep your mouth shut because they will ship you back,'” Clemente said. “[But] this is something from the first day I said to myself: I am in the minority group. I am from the poor people. I represent the poor people. I represent the common people of America. So I am going to be treated like a human being. I don’t want to be treated like a Puerto Rican, or a black, or nothing like that. I want to be treated like any person.”

Building big dreams

Iris Jennings and Ras Tosh Tafari

Iris Jennings and Ras Tosh Tafari

Iris Jennings and Ras Tosh Tafari are all smiles after graduating from the League’s Construction Connections program Friday. Both graduated from the League’s first Hand Up SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) at the Hampton Inn in Corryville. Jennings is working at the hotel now and managed to still graduate from another program. Congratulations to all 13 of our Construction Connections graduates.

Madisonville SOAR graduates 19

Mother, Donna Bush (left) and Michelle Bush (center) are two of 19 SOAR Madisonville graduates.

Mother, Donna Bush (left) and Michelle Bush (center) are two of 19 SOAR Madisonville graduates.

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League graduated its second Hand Up Initiative SOAR class Thursday afternoon at the Madisonville Arts and Cultural Center.

The Hand Up Initiative is an anti-poverty program funded by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. The concept is to take the job-readiness course off the League’s Avondale campus and into communities in need of such a service. The League’s Workforce Development staff strategically placed this class in Madisonville for the neighborhood’s residents to give them additional skills to access jobs at the new Oakley Kroger.

Madisonville proved to be a family affair. Mother Donna Bush and her daughter Michelle Bush both graduated. Michelle had perfect attendance in the three-week course. Another set of graduates were uncle-nephew.

The next neighborhood-based class of SOAR — Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention — will be in Walnut Hills beginning Aug. 31. A specific training location has not been selected yet. Walnut Hills will graduate Sept. 17.

4-year-old shooting victims

Khyren Landrum, 7, and mom, Aiesha Landrum, 33: A study in resilience.

Khyren Landrum, 7, and mom, Aiesha Landrum, 33: A study in resilience.


By Mark Curnutte

— The makeshift memorial, understandably, took form overnight Thursday and into Friday morning in the 700 block of Ridgeway Avenue.

Shaped by teddy bears, candles, a Christian cross, balloon, black-skinned baby doll and two flowers — one wilted, the other fresh — it marked where 4-year-old Martaisha Thomas was shot in the face in a drive-by shooting at about 8:15 Thursday night. Police say they know who the shooter is and that he was aiming for someone else in a group of people at an outdoor party that included Martaisha. She remains hospitalized in critical condition.

I read about the shooting Thursday night, managed to get to sleep, but woke up for good around 2 a.m. The week already had emotionally drained many of us who live and work in Cincinnati. Former University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing had been indicted on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter for the July 19 shooting death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in Mt. Auburn.

I had to work on a grant proposal Friday morning with a colleague at the Greater Cincinnati Urban League. It was for $40,000 and would go toward promoting and expanding our job-readiness programs that place 80 percent of graduates in jobs and help them stay there.

Most of the morning went to the grant work. A little before noon, I took off walking south of our office in the 3400 block of Reading Road. I had awakened overnight thinking about the last time a 4 year old had been shot in Cincinnati. Khyren Landrum was hit in the hip on March 20, 2012, on Blair Avenue, as he walked home from a park with his mom and two older sisters.

Traffic sped by in the north-bound lanes. I walked past the new housing unit going up on the corner of Reading and Maple Avenue, part of The Community Builders’ $29.5 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant. I moved past Somerset Manor, the imposing subsidized apartment building where Khyren and his family had lived.

Within sight of Ridgeway, I first noticed a local television reporter doing a stand-up near the apartment building. I turned the corner and caught sight of the memorial atop a low stone wall. Two officers in a Cincinnati Police cruiser, lights flashing in the noon-day sun, sat watching the scene.

I stood in front of the teddy bears and candles for a few minutes. A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter drove up. So did a reporter and videographer from another Cincinnati TV station.

I moved out of the way. Some neighbors walked over and discussed what they needed to add to the memorial. The shooting happened at a sharp bend in the road. I looked farther down Ridgeway, considered one of the most dangerous streets in Cincinnati, away from the gathering at the scene. A second police car drove up. I dislike crowds and media events. Martaisha’s little shrine had become an attraction, one that media — and I am counting myself — treat as newsworthy, despite their frequency. They are the act of frustrated, angry, grieving people, most of them confined to lives of desperation and poverty in America’s inner cities, who don’t know what else to do to express that anger and frustration. It’s the same with the rallies that, understandably, follow. Small children and adults alike sing a hymn and hold candles and hand-written cardboard signs at the scene of a shooting, imploring a peace that won’t come.


Counting each of my steps from Martaisha’s memorial, I walked down Ridgeway. On the night Khyren had been shot in 2012, I attended a meeting of the Community Police Partnering Center at Hirsch Community Center in Avondale. I had prewritten my story. Community leaders, including my now-colleague here at the Urban League, Dorothy Smoot, announced a new anti-violence initiative focused solely on Ridgeway Avenue. Called Moral Voice, the program had a relatively simple thesis: We know who’s causing the trouble. It’s a small group. We are sending people you know, intermediaries — a former teacher, coach, minister — to tell you the police know who you are. We are going to offer you help in terms of social services, child support adjustment, a reinstated driver’s license, if you try to turn your life around. Otherwise, we’ll be coming after you.

Back to Friday, the last day of July 2015. Notebook in hand, I walked. The night before, when I could not sleep, I reread part of what I consider one of the seminal books on race in the United States, “Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.” I’d scribbled some passages from the book, written by Andrew Hacker, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Queens College, New York. Questions of race and race relations occupy my mind, by choice. They are the lenses through which I view the world around me.

At 100 steps, I stopped in front of a vacant lot, at which, in the center, stood an excavator. Near the street, in a row, several oversized concrete sewer pipes rested on their ends. “Dellway Sewer Replacement, 2/2/16 completion date,” read the sign nailed to a tree.

I wrote down those details on a sheet near this line from Hacker’s book: “From slavery through the present, the nation has never opened its doors sufficiently to give black Americans a chance to become full citizens.”

Hacker, as I do, believes that white privilege is real. My life experiences have proven it so. I believe I benefit from it in ways that I — even as one who ascribes to it — don’t realize. I do know I can be 10 minutes late for an appointment without being judged. I can grow my hair long and dress down as a professional. I can use slang and forego the King’s English without someone questioning my intelligence. I can drive without being pulled over for no other reason than the color of my skin. I can be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

My sins are not the collective sins of all white people, as is often the perception of African-Americans. As a white man, I can work in a predominantly black neighborhood for a civil rights organization, but I can leave and blend in as another privileged white face in a privileged white crowd.


I walked on. I had a destination. The only question was how many steps it would take me to get there.

At 175 steps, I stopped in front of a two-story house. An upstairs’ window was open to a screen. The window beside it held a fan. Stuck into the neatly mowed-and-trimmed yard were six sticks from which were stapled small U.S. flags.

At 195 steps, I saw — dumped in a small wooded area — a pile of garbage: A wood-framed rocking chair and 64-ounce white bottle that once contained Havoline motor oil.

At 380 steps, I paused across the street from a three-story apartment building. Music blared from an open window. I tried to recognize the rap but couldn’t. A woman, talking on a phone, stood in on the dirt yard. A man looked across the street at me — dressed in sport coat, open shirt and jeans — and ducked back inside. Litter, several cardboard cigar boxes and clear plastic wrappers, choked the storm drain near my feet.

I walked on, and at 450 steps reached the corner of Ridgeway and Perkins avenues. A group of people, all African-American, sat in the shade of a porch. I waved. They waved back. I looked around. I was the only white person in sight. I jotted down more notes. I turned back to the page with excerpts from Hacker’s race book.

“Few whites feel obligated to ponder how membership in the major race gives them powers and privileges.” Being white is the greatest benefit any American can have, “no matter how degraded their lives, they can never become black.”

I thought of conversations I’d had with colleagues at the Urban League, where three of the 52 full-time employees are white. Some of my African-American co-workers said they’ve been depressed since the church shooting that left nine people dead in Charleston, South Carolina. That pall, one person said, had started to lift and then — literally, bang — Samuel DuBose is shot in the head for the “crime” of driving while black.

On the Avondale street corner, someone called my name. Startled, I looked across Perkins and saw three black men in Cincinnati Works tee-shirts. One was a former Enquirer source, Mitch Morris, who had started a job-readiness course for returning citizens at the nonprofit, shortly after he’d been laid off from his job as a street outreach worker for the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission. Morris and his colleagues were blanketing the area with pamphlets promoting his program. Another television reporter and camera operator met him at the corner for an interview.

I walked on. At 595 steps, I had descended a small hill and reached the corner of Perkins and Blair. To my left, back up Blair, I could see the looming Somerset building and former St. Andrew Catholic Church, closed by the Cincinnati Archdiocese in 2010. I smelled hamburgers on a charcoal gill.

Nearing my destination, I started to walk across Blair but stopped when yet another police car — its blue and red lights twirling — drove slowly past.

Hacker touches on the phenomenon of urban violence in “Two Nations.” He calls it “self-inflicted genocide” but does not completely absolve white America of responsibility. Young black men suffer, he writes, “a despair that suffuses much of their race. These are young men who don’t know whether they will live another year, and many have given up caring.”

People kill within their race. Nationally, from 1974 through 2004, white assailants committed 86 percent of white murders, and 94 percent of black victims were killed by another black, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Individuals and families within the black community have personal responsibility for their choices and conduct. So, too, does the larger society have the responsibility to invest economically and socially in intentionally deprived communities.


I crossed Blair and turned right, toward the park and away from Reading Road. At 650 steps, I reached my destination: the place where Khyren was shot in the hip on the warm evening of March 20, 2012. His blood had stained the sidewalk in front of 842 Blair for a couple of months.

I had stayed in contact with Khyren’s mother over the years. I had called her before taking off on my walk. She said a female police officer had helped her relocate to another neighborhood. Aiesha Landrum, now 33, said she and her children missed friends in Avondale but were now living in a more peaceful part of the city. I arranged to meet her that afternoon at 3 at a public library branch. She’d done temporary work for a warehouse distributor and was going to the library to fill out Online applications.

Back on that warm March evening in 2012, at the spot where I now stood, a bullet tore through Khyren’s hip and out his buttocks. I’d driven by Blair on Reading toward Downtown and The Enquirer newsroom just before the shooting. The paper’s night reporter met me at my desk and said a 4-year-old had been shot in Avondale. Did I know anything? I had gone back to insert a couple of paragraphs into my story. I added the details about the boy’s shooting and sped back to Avondale.

Later, police said, two cars, one in pursuit of the other, had turned off Reading Road onto Blair. Where Perkins dead-ends into Blair, the driver of the chase car sped past the lead car and slammed on his brakes. The passenger from the first car got out and shot at the second. One bullet struck Khyren’s left hip. He got up, tried to walk a couple of steps, stumbled and fell.

He would spend about a week in Cincinnati Children’s and then have to undergo physical therapy to learn how to walk again. Aiesha Landrum pushed her son across the neighborhood in a wheelchair.

Two days after Khyren’s shooting, Avondale and black community leaders gathered for a rally near the scene.

Khyren was big news for a while. Then he wasn’t. The story of 4-year-old Martaisha will follow the same path before disappearing from the collective media and social consciousness.

Yet what has changed? Social service agencies blanketed Avondale after Khyren was shot and then went away. The same will happen this time. Police increased patrols then but went away. Politicians made forceful speeches filled with promises and then forgot them. What will change?


Someone new to Cincinnati asked me recently which city neighborhood is my favorite.

Without hesitation, “Avondale,” I said. “I used to like Over-the-Rhine a lot. Not so much anymore.”

I know too many good, hard-working, honest people in Avondale to think otherwise. They are without pretense and manipulation. Where some people see dysfunction in Avondale, I see order. Where some people see hopelessness, I see resilience, no people more resilient than Khyren, his mother and sisters.

I drove to meet Aiesha and Khyren at the branch library. He had headphones on and was playing tic-tac-toe on a computer. He’d grown taller but was still thin. He’d lost his two front teeth. He gave me a fist bump. “Hi, Mr. Mark.”

“He is doing better,” Aiesha said. “He just started playing football.”

They had TV news on Thursday night at home. “Khyren never watches but was watching for some reason,” his mother said.

They heard about the 4-year-old girl had been shot in Avondale.

“Like me?” Khyren said to his mother. “Is she dead?”

“No, she is still alive.”

“I will pray for her.”

Aiesha said she had baby-sat the girl’s mother, who was now 28. “It crushed my heart,” Aiesha said. “It brought back so many memories. I know how the mother is feeling, and Khyren was not as bad.”

I drove back to Avondale to continue working on the $40,000 grant application. Grant writing and asking for money, I have learned, is a way of life at a nonprofit.

The Urban League provides the majority of its services free-of-change, especially those for the most disadvantaged and marginalized — the chronically unemployed, returning citizens, at-risk youths at Woodward Career Technical High School. Graduates of the League’s Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention (SOAR) program earn an average of almost $22,000 in their first year on the job. Graduates of its Accelerated Customer Service Education (ACE) program earned a starting hourly wage of $11.02. At Woodward, 146 of 175 tutored students earned grade promotion.

No matter how strong the economy, unemployment among black America is twice that of white America, and it’s not because African-Americans don’t want to work. Median black household income in Greater Cincinnati is $24,000, compared to $57,500 for whites. Hard to make a living when African-Americans make up 12.5 percent of the state’s population yet account for 45 percent of the state’s inmates.

Hacker: “Most white Americans believe that for the last (two generations) blacks have been given more than a fair chance and at least equal opportunity, if not outright advantages. (So few whites) feel obligated to ponder how membership in the major race gives them power and privileges.”

I finished work around 8 Friday night with my colleague B. Cato Mayberry, Urban League Vice President of Development. I drove home and picked at a small dinner before falling asleep on the couch with the Reds game on television. It was Avondale night at Great American Ball Park. Aiesha, Khyren and the two girls had gone. Aiesha sent me a text of Khyren wearing his new Reds tee-shirt — his first.

Fridays are fireworks night at the ballpark. Khyren, who at 4, was shot in a hail of gunfire, has had an understandable problem with sudden loud noises and sirens. They frighten him badly.

Another friend from Avondale sent me a text that I would see overnight.

“Sitting here watching Khyren hold his ears as he TRIES to enjoy this fireworks show is tearing me apart.”

Mark Curnutte is Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Key Initiatives at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. He is a 30-year newspaper reporter, the final 21 at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

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