Archives for October 2015

League welcomes Vanessa White as new VP of Youth Services

Vanessa White

Vanessa White

AVONDALE – Vanessa Y. White brings her expertise on issues facing urban youths and public education to her new position as Vice President of Youth Services.

White oversees programming for the Greater Cincinnati Urban League that touches the lives of several hundred teenagers and young adults.

In 2009, she was the only non-incumbent of 12 candidates elected to the Cincinnati Board of Education. At the time of her election, White, a Walnut Hills High School graduate, had all of her five children enrolled in Cincinnati Public Schools. In 2013, she was a candidate for City Council.

“We are so pleased to have someone with Ms. White’s commitment, experience and talents lead our youth work,” said Chara Fisher Jackson, Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League. “The League’s work with youth is so important, and Ms. White is the best person to lead our innovative efforts to change the lives of children in Cincinnati.”

White is known as a strong advocate for children and families. She previously was president of the board of Parents for Public Schools of Greater Cincinnati and a member of the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Committee of Management at the Melrose branch. She also served as a member of the Lighthouse Youth Services board of directors and as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Hamilton County’s juvenile court system.

She was a contributing author to the Urban League’s influential report, The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities. White’s essay examined performance of African-American students in Cincinnati Public Schools.

White worked 15 years as a child and family welfare professional. She served in various nonprofit management roles, including five years at ArtsWave as Vice President of Community Engagement & Strategic Initiatives before leaving to concentrate on her doctoral studies and volunteer board positions.

She currently serves on the board of directors of the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the Charter Committee, and the Charter Amendment Task Force.

“Greater Cincinnati has long benefitted from Vanessa White’s energy, vision and wisdom,” said Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, of which the Greater Cincinnati Urban League is a subsidiary. “Her passion for ensuring that all children thrive is unquestioned. The Urban League is incredibly fortunate to have attracted someone of her caliber to join our team.”

White is an alumna of the Urban League’s African American Leadership Development Program (AALDP) Class 16 and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s WE (Women Excel) Lead, Class 2.

She has a bachelor’s of science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati and a master of business administration from Xavier University. She and her husband, Byron White, have two adult children and live with their three teen-aged children in North Avondale.


The mission of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League is to transform generations by promoting personal empowerment and economic sufficiency.

Children who are academically prepared and who have developed the skills to succeed in life make up the first building block of a healthy and vibrant community. The League works to secure equity in access to opportunities and better futures for all youth in the Greater Cincinnati area, particularly those most often left behind.

At the center of this vision is a commitment to ensure that:

• Children enter school ready to learn and are prepared to succeed;
• Youth are provided a quality education;
• Youth develop the civic leadership skills that are important to them becoming productive citizens; and
• Youth are prepared to succeed as adults.

To achieve these results, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League improves public policies, systems and neighborhoods by building protective factors, reducing risk factors and by creating opportunities that contribute to the academic, social-emotional, and economic success of our youth and their families.

Urban League programs work to ensure that youth are being educated in a safe, nurturing environment by fostering academic experiences that help students to develop leadership, social and emotional and 21st century skills to prepare them to be successful in their educational and professional careers. Contact us at (513) 281-9955 for more information on these programs.

Academic Success

The Afterschool League provides support to students at Woodward Career Technical High School by offering individual and group tutoring, homework assistance, ACT preparation and college access opportunities.

Civic Leadership

Peace Builders is social-emotional curriculum. This collaboration with the Community Police Partnering Center incorporates a science based, research validated violence prevention curriculum designed to create a common language for peace. This model sets behavior expectations and transforms the climate and culture into one that is cooperative, productive and academically successful.

Career Preparedness

— Year Round Youth Employment Opportunities is geared to help youth get jobs and internships and expose them to potential careers.

— Face Forward seeks to improve the long-term prospects of both juvenile offenders and court- involved youth prior to adjudication. Through diversion and the expungement of criminal records – as well as education, training, job placement assistance, and supportive services – this program gives youth a chance to avoid the stigma of a juvenile record, succeed in the workplace, and leave past behaviors behind so that they can secure employment and be positioned in the workplace.

Going to the River

Stax Records Story Official


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

EVANSTON – When Martin Shore, a musician-turned-filmmaker, sees racial tension explode into violence as it did in contemporary Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, his thoughts most often turn to his art.

“We as artists and musicians around the world can be responsible for social, political and economic change,” he said. “What we give is unique in its ability to bring people together so they can start to communicate.”

Communication, Shore added, most often leads to collaboration and creation of real and lasting community.

That idealistic social thread runs through Shore’s directorial debut, “Take Me to the River,” a 2014 release that tells the story of the color- and gender-blind Memphis music scene and legendary Stax Records label.

Shore, Stax vocalist William Bell and rapper Al Kapone will participate Tuesday, Nov. 3, in Xavier University’s “Touching History” series, “The Stax Records Story 1961-1977.” The award-winning “Take Me to the River” will be shown, followed by a question-and-answer session. A live musical performance that includes members of the Grammy Award-winning Hi Rhythm Section — original members and brothers Charles (organ) and Leroy Hodges (bass) — and Stax Music Academy will cap the evening.

The film documents the cultural significance of Memphis-based Stax in the 1960s and its relationship to key events in the Civil Rights movement, most notably the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 in Memphis.

Shore, who helped write and directed the film, tells a parallel narrative that shows legendary Memphis artists – Bobby “Blue” Bland, Mavis Staples, Booker T. Jones and Bell among them – recording the film’s multi-generational soundtrack album with a roster of rap stars that includes Snoop Dogg, Yo Gotti and Kapone.

Sponsored by Xavier’s Center for Interfaith Community Engagement, the event will begin at 7 p.m. in the Cintas Banquet Center and is free and open to the public. Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, is a member of the Xavier University board of directors.

Last year, Xavier’s Touching History Series featured the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved the lives of 669 Jewish children from the Holocaust in 1939 in Czechoslovakia.

A generation later, in 1957 – the dawn of another pivotal period in history – Stax Records was founded in Memphis, Tennessee, as Satellite Records before changing its name in 1961. The Stax label, instrumental in the creation and distribution of Memphis and Southern soul music, stood tall as an integrated enterprise against forces of segregation.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson refers to Stax in the film as “a piece of culture. It was a movement of conscience and an experience of mankind at the right time.”

The film and soundtrack are promoted as a re-imagining of “the utopia of racial, gender and generational collaboration of Memphis in its heyday.”

Bell, 76, best known for writing or singing such hits as “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Private Number” and I Forgot to Be Your Lover” – the latter he performs on the soundtrack with Snoop Dogg and Stax Music Academy musicians – remembers the racial tension.

“We just didn’t see color,” Bell says in the film. “Stax was a musical oasis in the ghetto desert. The minute we walked out the door (of Stax studio) it hit us in the face.”

The film arcs from a tribute to one of the best known Stax artists, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Isaac Hayes, to the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the aftermath of King’s assassination.

“They couldn’t feed their families,” Jones, leader of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, says in the film. “Once they stood up, everything started to change.”

The M.G.’s, Stax house band and 1992 Rock Hall inductee, was integrated. Jones recalls in the film that its mixed lineup prevented it from playing both white and black clubs.

But inside the Stax studio, color was not an issue.

“One of the important parts of the film,” director Shore said in an interview, “is that when you walked through the door, it was about what you had to offer – not what you were.”

The inter-racial Stax story remains relevant today.

Rabbi Abie Ingber, director Interfaith Engagement at Xavier and Touching History program organizer, referenced Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet and essayist, to explain what could happen Tuesday night.

“Heine writes, `Where words leave off, music begins.’ Words and music will come together at the Cintas Center to soothe us in these troubled times. In Touching History, we reach across the generations to be inspired and to heal.”

How troubled? African-Americans praying in a South Carolina church were gunned down in June by an avowed white supremacist. A string of incidents in which unarmed black men died in police custody shook communities across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported dramatic increases in the number of anti-black hate groups and anti-government “Patriot” and paramilitary “militia” organizations nationally in the wake of the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.

Cincinnati, which experienced racial violence in spring 2001 after the police shooting death of unarmed black man Timothy Thomas by a white Cincinnati Police officer, teetered again on the same brink this past summer. Unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose was shot and killed July 19 in Mount Auburn after being stopped for a missing front license plate, an incident captured on the officer’s body camera. Ray Tensing, formerly of the University of Cincinnati police department, awaits trial on a murder charge.

Music, of course, cannot solve such complex problems as those inherent to police-community relations or the stunning economic and social disparities revealed in the Urban League report The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.

Yet, Shore said, music provides a model, a humble and most basic one: communication. Even once-disparate stakeholders in Cincinnati came together to do the hard work of forging police reforms in the groundbreaking 2002 Collaborative Agreement, still considered a national model.

If viewers get any message from “Take Me to the River,” Shore hopes it is “the power of communication and cooperation that leads to collaboration and community. It is something that should seep into all of our lives. Step No. 1 is communication.”

Miami U. features Urban League

Miami University is featuring the Greater Cincinnati Urban League in its campus-wide email newsletter. Thank you, Miami, a new League partner.

Oxford and Avondale: Disparate worlds merge in new partnership


Miami University's Lori Tanzer helps Johathon Turner with his resume.

Miami University’s Lori Tanzer helps Johathon Turner with his resume.

By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE — Johathon Turner, 19, who spells his first name with two h’s, lives with relatives and within walking distance of the Urban League campus in one of Cincinnati’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods. He has a high school diploma but has never had a job.

He entered the League’s SOAR job-readiness program with little self-confidence. Reserved and quiet, he needed the support of two friends — who also enrolled — to register for the three-week course.

Lori Tanzer has an undergraduate degree in public administration and personnel management from Miami University, a master’s in counseling from the University of Cincinnati and 34 years of work experience.

Yet, on a warm fall afternoon this week at the Urban League, their worlds met. They sat together at the end of a table and focused on the same piece of paper: Turner’s resume.

“What more can you tell me about that?” asked Tanzer, assistant director of Career Services at Miami’s Oxford campus.

“It’s recreation, measuring materials for layout, building recreational family … ”

“Structures?” said Tanzer, who works with students in Miami’s College of Creative Arts, part of a student body that is largely white and upscale.

“Yeah, structures,” Turner said in a voice so muted that Tanzer had to lean in to hear him.

Tanzer and six of her colleagues from Miami’s Career Services office volunteered two days at the Urban League, where they conducted mock interviews and worked with participants of the SOAR class on resume development. During the visit, the Miami team also met with the League’s Workforce Development staff for a professional discussion on how to better prepare students for mock interviews and how to help them write resumes. The exchange is the first of a new partnership that will next move into a staff development outing to the Oxford campus for League trainers and social workers and possible development of an intern/extern program for Miami social work students.

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League offers SOAR programs monthly, and thanks to a Hand Up Initiative grant from Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, 11 additional neighborhood courses are ongoing. Urban League SOAR has graduated classes in Corryville, Madisonville, Walnut Hills and Millvale. The next Hand Up class will begin Oct. 26 at the Evanston Recreation Center. Miami Valley Urban League offers the same kind of job-readiness development in its Youth Employment and Training Program (YETP) for 18-24 year olds in Dayton.

Whether the destination is Cincinnati or Dayton, more volunteer visits by Miami staff appear certain. Career Services professionals who couldn’t rearrange schedules to make the first volunteer visit now want their turn to work with participants of SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) and other League workforce programs.

“It could become a regular thing,” said Kia Nalls, Career Services Program Coordinator who worked with the Urban League to organize this first Miami visit. “When can we do it again?”

Miami President David Hodge encouraged the Miami-Urban League partnership and sees it as a positive experiential learning opportunity for Miami students and staff. Miami, one of the nation’s elite public universities, promotes community service by requiring it in various forms for graduation.

Faculty member Lee Harrington, Co-coordinator of Miami’s Social Justice Studies Program, has served as the primary contact with the Urban League. Harrington and three other Miami professors made an initial visit to the Greater Cincinnati Urban League in July,

The Urban League, serving Cincinnati since 1949, is home to industry-leading job-readiness, youth and business development programs. It is an anchor institution in the city’s black community, which represents 46 percent of the city’s population but suffers from major economic and social disparities compared to its white residents.

The League works with the hardest-to-employ, including many people who are returning to the community after serving prison sentences. The League’s staff works with Hamilton County’s Department of Job & Family Services to manage child support arrearages and reinstate driver’s license’s — both major barriers to employment.

More than 80 percent of workforce development classes graduate and find work. About 75 percent of them then maintain employment for at least 12 months with the help of League wrap-around services. The result is creation of $7 million in taxable income. The League’s other major job-readiness programs are ACE (Accelerated Customer Service Education) and Construction Connections, the latter requiring completion of SOAR.

The mock interview process is a vital piece.

“If our participants have had work, it’s often not the kind of work that required an interview,” said Rob Rodgers, SOAR Program Manager who set up the schedule for students to interview with Miami staff. “So this is new for them. It can be overwhelming. But this (interviewing) is the piece where they are trying to put everything they’ve learned into action.”

Rodgers, SOAR trainer Greg Walker and job developer Vince Palmer met both days with Miami staff. They talked about how to best prepare SOAR participants to discuss “gaps in their resume,” where they might have been incarcerated. They talked about whether to have students write an objective statement or bullet points detailing their skills. Miami provided each SOAR student with a folder of material that included an interviewing guide, a second booklet on job search strategies and tip sheets on writing resumes.

“We’re going to incorporate some of this material into our training ahead of the mock interviews,” Rodgers said.

SOAR participants already impressed.

“Most of them had a real good idea of what they were getting into,” said Miami’s Jennifer McLaughlin, senior assistant director in Career Services who serves as liaison to the university’s College of Education, Health and Society. “Some of our Miami students could take notes (from Urban League students).”

Said SOAR trainer Walker, “We were ready. Our participants know Miami is a world-class school, and they wanted to prove they could measure up with the best.”

Mock interviews often are conducted by volunteers from businesses in and around Cincinnati, and mock interviews have led to SOAR students being hired for jobs, Rodgers said. Miami experts brought a different approach than corporate volunteers.

“They are from academia,” Rodgers said. “They’ve done research on how to do this best. If they see a hiccup in a mock interview, they become teachers. They were about helping the participant learn. It’s not bad, but our corporate volunteers move onto the next one.”

SOAR participants — who graduated Thursday, Miami’s Nalls drove from Oxford to attend the noon-hour ceremony at the League — appreciated the knowledge and manner in which Miami experts worked with them.

“She really knew what she was doing,” Turner said. “I learned a lot.”

Other SOAR participants said the mock interviews prepared them well for the real thing and helped increase their level of self-confidence moving forward.

The Miami group consisted of Tanzer, Nalls, McLaughlin, Angelina LaLima, Janie Robinson, Shamika Karikari and Kelly Thompson.

They left, they said, feeling “reassured” that the population served by the Urban League was already receiving top training and instruction. They also summarized the environment as one filled with — in one word — “hope.”

Another word, Tanzer added, “Inspiring. I am inspired by what goes on here.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities in one of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s workforce development courses, call (513) 281-9955. For information on programs at Miami Valley Urban League in Dayton, call (937) 226-1513.

Interact for Health survey: Health of African-Americans in Greater Cincinnati

Interact for Health, a United Way of Greater Cincinnati partner agency, has released its report “Health of African Americans in Greater Cincinnati Report.”

It is results from the 2013 Greater Cincinnati Community Health Status Survey.

The link:

Health of African Americans in Greater Cincinnati

Miami Valley League offers help

Miami Valley Urban League in Dayton offers opportunity for people 18-24. See more:


One City, One Symphony


From our friends at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a way to engage with classical music:

One City, One Symphony is the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s community-wide initiative that brings us together through music. This year’s theme: FREEDOM!

How can you participate?

— Join the discussion at a FREE CSO LISTENING PARTY near you OCT 19–NOV 5. Explore the theme of FREEDOM as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and our community commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment and celebrate the legacy of CSO creative collaborator, the late Dr. Maya Angelou. Leaders from the CSO and National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will discuss freedom through the lens of classical music— Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 From the New World as well as newly commissioned pieces featuring the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou. Listen to recorded musical excerpts, hear the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou that will be featured in a newly commissioned orchestral work, and enjoy a Q&A with the speakers.

OCT 22, 7:00 PM: Avondale: Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church | 3655 Harvey Ave, 45229
OCT 27, 7:00 PM: Madisonville: Madisonville Recreation Center | 5320 Stewart Ave, 45227
NOV 2, 7:00 PM: Covington: Kenton County Public Library | 502 Scott Blvd, 41011
NOV 5, 6:30 PM: Price Hill: MYCincinnati | 3120 Warsaw Ave, 45205

— Winning poets of the CSO’s Freedom Poetry Contest (winners announced NOV 1) will be invited to read their poems at FREE POETRY READINGS at The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. At these special events you will also learn about Dr. Maya Angelou’s poetry and how it inspired composers to create new pieces of music.

NOV, 7 2:00 PM: Grades 9-12 Winners, Corryville Branch
NOV, 11 7:00 PM: Adult (Age 18+) Winners, Main Library

— Want to learn more about Dr. Maya Angelou? Participate in The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s November BOOK OF THE MONTH program as our community collectively reads Dr. Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Enjoy a pre-concert Classical Conversation and a live CONCERT by the CSO at Music Hall on NOV 13-14. The concert program features a CSO commission of three world premiere works inspired by the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 From the New World. Concert tickets from $12! We will celebrate the completion of One City, One Symphony 2015 with a post-concert celebration in the Music Hall lobby after the SAT, NOV 14 concert, free to concert ticketholders. This concert will be broadcast on WGUC on Feb 7, 2016.

For more information visit We hope you will participate and spread the word.

An Evening of Faith, 2015

The local Urban League Mass Choir performs `Ezekiel Saw the Wheel' at the Urban League National Conference in July 2014 at the Duke Energy Convention Center. A. Michael Cunningham directs.

Urban League Mass Choir performs `Ezekiel Saw the Wheel’ at the Urban League National Conference in July 2014 at Duke Energy Convention Center. A. Michael Cunningham directs.


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE – In the mid-1950s, the fledgling modern civil rights movement found its home in the black church. Its leaders, many of them preachers, organized mass meetings held in their sanctuaries and undercrofts.

Black church music – filled with images of overcoming injustice and oppression through perseverance and faith – became the movement’s soundtrack, strengthening its foot soldiers’ steps, sustaining them, and keeping their eyes fixed on the prize.

The marriage of music and black community struggle remains strong even today, in the face of stubborn and sometimes widening racial disparities, detailed here in the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio’s report The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.

So it’s natural that this Urban League, part of the 93-affiliate national civil rights movement, has a choir. Resurrected in 2009 by President and CEO Donna Jones Baker, the Urban League Mass Choir consists of up to 75 voices from 35 congregations and performs at special events.

One such event is An Evening of Faith on Nov. 13 at Inspirational Baptist Church, Forest Park.

A regular Urban League fundraiser presented by the League’s Guild, Evening of Faith features national acts, this year Byron Cage and J Moss, and the TOD Dance Ministry from Zion Global Ministries.

Cage, 52 — music minister at churches in Maryland and Virginia — has released seven gospel music albums, including “An Invitation to Worship.” It was nominated for a Grammy for New Gospel Album of the Year in 2006. Moss, 44, a Detroit native, is a singer, songwriter and producer whose 2007 album, “V2,” was nominated for a Grammy and rose into the Top 20 on Billboard’s R&B chart.

The Urban League Mass Choir, in its fifth year under the direction of A. Michael Cunningham, is preparing to perform solo and two songs with Cage: “I Will Bless the Lord” and “The Presence of the Lord Is Here.”

“When we put that Urban League logo on the (choir members’) collar, it represents the spiritual element to what we do,” said Baker, who has led the local League since 2003. “You can be spiritual without being overzealously religious.

“Having the Urban League Mass Choir underscores our connection to the people we serve.”

The Urban League in Cincinnati and Dayton offers industry-leading job-readiness, youth and business development programs.

The League helps at-risk youths stay in school, earn academic promotion, graduate with their peers, and prepare them for the college application process.

The League helps 80 percent of its job-readiness graduates – many of them returning citizens – find work and keep it for at least 12 months.

The League certifies minority- and women-owned in three states, opening the door for them to lucrative supplier chains.

To Cunningham, Minister of Music at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, Carthage, black church music and the Urban League’s mission are a good fit.

“The vision and direction of the Urban League is about second chances at jobs and life,” Cunningham said. “Black music lines up with the community even in times when things seem down. Black church music is uplifting. It draws people in. It gets everybody on the same page.”

Not counting his position at New Jerusalem, Cunningham is musical director of four choirs, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Classical Roots Mass Choir. He surely knows music and he knows the Urban League.

In 2009, he graduated in Class 16 of its Urban Leaders program, formerly known as the African-American Leadership Development Program. His wife, Takiyah Cunningham, formerly worked in the local League’s development department and sings in the mass choir. So does their 13-year-old daughter, Dylan Aria.

Takiyah Cunningham also once worked as a job-readiness trainer in the Urban League’s program best known by its acronym, SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention). It pairs with Accelerated Call Center Education (ACE) as the core of the League’s entry-level, life-readiness courses.

Rebranded this month as the Accelerated Customer Service Education program, ACE is taught by Teri Dixon. She sings alto in the Urban League Mass Choir and in the choir at the Catholic Church of the Resurrection, her home parish in Bond Hill.

Historically, in the black community, mass choirs are made up of members of several standing choirs, normally church choirs.

“It’s a great bunch of people, people of different faiths who come together out of a common bond,” said Dixon, an Urban Leaguer since 2008.

That bond is the love of gospel music.

“It helps me,” Dixon said. “It’s feel-good music. It makes me (spiritually) full.”


What: An Evening of Faith, presented by the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio Guild

When: Friday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.

Where: Inspirational Baptist Church, 11450 Sebring Drive, Forest Park, 45240.

Tickets: $35 for the main floor and $25 for the balcony in advance; $40 for main floor and $30 for balcony at the door.

Available in advance at, or at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, 3458 Reading Road, Avondale, 45229. Tickets also are available at Inspirational Baptist Church; I Hear Music in the Air, 11804 Conrey Road, Suite 150, Sharonville, 45249; and Lifeway Christian Store, 1183 Smiley Ave., Forest Park, 45240.

More information: Contact Candie Simmons, (513) 559-5443.

New wheels for Urban League

Donna Jones Baker (center) and Angela J. Williams accept the Prius.

Donna Jones Baker (center) and Angela J. Williams accept the Prius.

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio accepted Thursday the delivery of a new hybrid Toyota Prius from the National Urban League.

Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO, received the keys, along with Angela J. Williams, Vice President of Administrative Services, who manages the League’s small automobile fleet.

Then local League is one of 93 affiliates of the National Urban League and received the gift of the car because it is one of the highest-rated, receiving the coveted 5-star designation for several consecutive review periods. The Greater Cincinnati Urban League has served the community since 1949. Miami Valley Urban League was established in 2013, three years after the Dayton Urban League dissolved.

Greater Cincinnati and Miami Valley are subsidiaries of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.

Chara Fisher Jackson is executive director of Greater Cincinnati, with headquarters in Avondale.

Branford Brown is executive director of Miami Valley, located on Dayton’s West Side.

Honoring local civil rights heroes

Schuyler Smith and wife, Merri Gaither Smith, inducted into Ohio's Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Schuyler Smith and wife, Merri Gaither Smith, inducted into Ohio’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Greater Cincinnati Urban League staff and friends in Columbus today for induction of Merri Gaither Smith and husband Schuyler Smith into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame. The Urban League sponsored the Smiths for induction.

Friends of Smiths wait in Statehouse for induction.

Friends of Smiths wait in Statehouse for induction.

Candie Simmons, Marian Spencer and the Hon. Nathaniel Jones wait for ceremony,

Candie Simmons, Marian Spencer and the Hon. Nathaniel Jones wait for ceremony,

SOAR moving to Evanston

The fourth Hand Up Initiative class will graduate Thursday, Oct. 15, at noon, at the Millvale Recreation Center.

The fifth class is scheduled for Evanston. Here are dates and location, including information sessions.

Hand Up Evanston Flyer

Donna Jones Baker on spread of child poverty: `We took our eye off the ball’

Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, interviewed by Joe Webb as part of Local 12’s initial report in ongoing series that will examine child poverty in Cincinnati.

Recap of League gala

Express recaps the Urban League of Southwestern Ohio gala, attended by 750 people.

Cincinnati couple to enter Ohio’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame

Merri Gaither Smith, Schuyler Smith

Merri Gaither Smith, Schuyler Smith

Schuyler Smith and his wife, Merri Gaither Smith, East Walnut Hills, will be two of five Ohioans inducted Thursday, Oct. 15, into the state’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, married for 44 years, have a long association with the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, which placed them into nomination for recognition. The Hall of Fame acknowledges Ohioans who are pioneers in human and civil rights work and who have advanced the goals of equality and inclusion.

The ceremony will be at 10 a.m., Oct. 15, at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium in Columbus.

Mr. Smith is a retired business owner, who in 1955 founded Acme Wrecking Co. and ran it for more than 50 years, making it the largest minority-owned wrecking company in the Midwest. Through his business, Mr. Smith trained dozens of African-Americans to operate heavy machinery and provided employment to hundreds more over time. Mr. Smith grew his business at a time when he could not get financing from a bank because he was African-American. He operated his business at the highest ethical and production standards, earning the respect of customers in the white community who otherwise would not have worked with him.

Mrs. Gaither Smith, who started her 31-year Cincinnati Public Schools career as an elementary school teacher, co-founded two still-active community organizations that provide cultural enrichment and education opportunities to young women (Women’s Alliance, 1966) and college scholarships (Advocates for Youth Education, 1988). In its first 18 years, Advocates provided $350,000 in scholarship money for college-bound youths.

The other three inductees are: Nimrod B. Allen (1886-1977), founder of the Urban League of Columbus and creator of the Friendly Service Bureau in Columbus, a model that was adopted in more than 90 U.S. cities; Nirmal K. Sinha, Columbus, Commissioner of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for 15 years and advocate of the Asian-Indian community; and Louis Stokes (1925-2015), Cleveland, a noted civil rights attorney who became the first African-American Congressman from Ohio in 1968 and who would serve 15 terms in Washington.

Together, the Smiths have raised money or contributed directly to many Greater Cincinnati organizations: the Girl Scouts, Cincinnati Speech and Hearing Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, Institute of Fine Arts, May Festival, and Dress for Success — the latter which provides free professional clothing for women entering or re-entering the workforce after incarceration or joblessness.

“The Smiths were trailblazers in a time when Jim Crow still thwarted the way for many,” said Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. “They never made excuses or used those intended roadblocks as a reason to stop. They kept going, setting a high bar for personal excellence, which allowed them to achieve great things individually and as a couple. And for many years now, they have returned their financial blessings to the benefit of many people in Greater Cincinnati.”

Mr. Smith wrote about his business experience in an essay titled “Acme Wrecking’s history provides lessons in savvy, excellence,” in the local Urban League’s The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report, published in August. It begins on Page 24.

Here is the link to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s web page on its hall of fame:

Several Cincinnatians are Hall of Fame members: among them the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Emily Spicer, Marjorie B. Parham, the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., the Hon. Nathaniel Jones, William L. Mallory Sr., Karla Irvine, and Marian Spencer.

League seeks `Lion’ nominations

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio is seeking nominations for its annual Glorifying the Lions awards, presenting at its February annual meeting.

For more information, nominee requirements and deadline, please see the following links:

2016 Lion Nomination Form

Lions Award Criteria

Catching up with …

Catching up with ACE (Accelerated Customer Service Education) graduate Joe Scott as he does the hard work of moving his life forward. Congratulations, Joe.

Free health screenings at churches on Sunday, Oct. 11

On Sunday, Oct. 11, as part of First Lady Dena Cranley’s health initiative, free medical screens will be offered at predominantly black churches. Screenings will cover diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, HIV, behavioral health and other conditions. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said 800 volunteers from 30 community partners and five hospitals are involved in making the screens available.

Here are lists from the Mayor’s office of churches and screens available:

Services Guide for Health Day

Neighborhoods List of Churches

Cranley announced the program Monday evening during his State of the City address at Great American Ball Park.

League CEO Baker to serve on mayor’s anti-poverty task force


Donna Jones Baker: A leader of Mayor John Cranley's anti-poverty task force.

Donna Jones Baker: A leader of Mayor John Cranley’s anti-poverty task force.

DOWNTOWN — Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, is one of six co-chairs selected by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley to work on the mayor’s task force to address child poverty.

The latest estimates, according to the American Community Survey, show Cincinnati’s rate has dropped to 44.3 percent, down from 53.1 percent in 2012.

The Urban League’s State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report shows that 3 in 4 African-American children under age 6 are living in poverty. Poverty is defined as an annual income of $24,250 for a four-person household, according to 2015 federal guidelines.

Cincinnati Enquirer City Hall reporter Sharon Coolidge reported first on the mayor’s anti-poverty effort aimed at children. The goal, which Cranley spoke of during his annual State of City address Monday night at Great American Ball Park, is to lift 10,000 children out of poverty in the next three to five years and to help 5,000 underemployed or unemployed people find jobs or better-paying jobs in order to move them outside of the poverty index.

In addition to Baker, the other co-chairs are: Cranley; Sally Duffy, a Catholic nun in the Sisters of Charity order; Michael Fisher, President and CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Dr. O’dell Owens, newly appointed as the city’s medical director and former president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College; and Tom Williams, co-owner of the Cincinnati Reds.

For Baker, involvement in this anti-poverty task force is consistent with the Urban League mission to transform generations through personal empowerment and economic self-sufficiency.

“The work we do is make sure people are not living in poverty,” she said when asked why she agreed to join the Mayor’s effort as a co-chair. “We’re about our mission in our work.”

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will convene the summit. Its recommendations are expected to be submitted June 30 and are supposed to be ready to put into motion.

“We have a lot to be proud of, but we must be ashamed at our childhood poverty rate,” Cranley said during his address. “Our great civic renewal will not be complete without lifting up those who do not choose the dire and desperate circumstances in which they live.”

Cranley acknowledged that poverty and child poverty are bigger problems among the city’s African-Americans, who comprise 46 percent of Cincinnati’s population.

On Sunday, Oct. 11, as part of First Lady Dena Cranley’s, health initiative, free medical screens will be offered at predominantly black churches. Screenings will cover diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, HIV, behavioral health and other conditions. Cranley said 800 volunteers from 30 community partners and five hospitals are involved in making the screens available.

Here are lists from the Mayor’s office of churches and screens available:

Services Guide for Health Day

Neighborhoods List of Churches

$300K grant for League training program caps exciting 24 hours

State Rep. Alicia Reece: $300,000 grant for Urban League construction training program.

State Rep. Alicia Reece: $300,000 grant for Urban League construction training program.

By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE – Desperately needed economic opportunity is headed to Cincinnati’s black community.

State Rep. Alicia Reece announced a $300,000 grant this morning to the Greater Cincinnati Urban League for a construction training program. It comes a day after a memorable Wednesday in which two government votes and expansion of a faith-based effort could add up to more jobs for African-Americans.

Reece, who represents Ohio’s 33rd District, said the Ohio Department of Transportation grant would go to pay for the Urban League’s Construction Connections program – a successful, six-week course that has placed about 200 people in high-paying construction jobs since 2010.

“Let’s put some money into job training,” said Reece, while holding up a copy of the Urban League’s new State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report, which she called “evidence we have been utilizing” in the Ohio Statehouse.

“We don’t need a start-up program. We have an organization (Greater Cincinnati Urban League) that is vested in this community.”

The State of Black Cincinnati 2015 reveals dramatic economic and social disparities negatively affecting African-Americans in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Among its findings: 74 percent of African-American children in the city live in poverty. Median income for black households in Greater Cincinnati is $24,000, compared to $57,000 for white households. Blacks have poorer health outcomes, ranging to higher rates of preventable and fatal diseases to shorter life expectancies.

Community advocates welcomed a flurry of good news Wednesday and Thursday:

 — City Council voted to create programs designed to increase the number of municipal contracts going to minority- and women-owned businesses. On Monday, Mayor John Cranley’s office released a report revealing that the city gave less than 5 percent of all contracts to women- and minority-owned firms from 2009 through 2013. “The study confirms that the City can do a much better job in how it spends taxpayer dollars to ensure it reflects the diversity of our community,” Cranley said in a press release e-mailed Thursday by his office.

 — In Columbus, also on Wednesday, the Ohio House of Representatives voted 89-1 to pass the Ohio Fair Hiring Act. Reece, a Democrat from Bond Hill, was one of 17 bi-partisan co-sponsors of the bill that bans public employers from asking on job applications of the candidate has past criminal convictions. Known as House Bill 56, which now goes to the state Senate, is especially meaningful in the black community. Though Ohio’s black population stands at 12 percent, 45 percent of the state’s prison population is African-American. Cincinnati and Hamilton County are already among municipalities that do not ask about previous criminal activity on applications.

 — And a group of 30 people – the fledgling Beacon of Hope Business Alliance – met at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Urban League’s board room to expand its membership base in an effort to help the 2,500 ex-offenders returning annually to Greater Cincinnati find work. “We want to bring employers to the table and, beginning in 2018, find those 2,500 people of record jobs,” said Beacon founder Chris Beard, Lead Pastor of Peoples Church, Corryville.

In addition to Greater Cincinnati Urban League, Nehemiah Manufacturing, Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency and Cincinnati Works made program presentations.

“Optimism about the future, recognition of the things we (as a society) have done to hold people back from opportunity, a need to open doors of opportunity and change practices,” said Donna Jones Baker when asked about the accumulative meaning of Wednesday and Thursday’s announcements.

Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern, runs an organization that provides industry-leading job-readiness programs through Greater Cincinnati Urban League and Miami Valley Urban League, Dayton.

Construction Connections is one of those programs. To be eligible, a participant must first graduate from the three-week SOAR course, which stands for Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention. Nine-hundred job-seekers a year enroll in job- and life-readiness classes at Greater Cincinnati Urban League, said Brian Harris, its Associate Vice President of Workforce Development. Eighty percent of participants have at least one major employment barrier, Harris said, whether a felony or misdemeanor conviction or inability to pass a drug screen.

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has solely sponsored Construction Connections. Since program inception in 2010, 250 of 268 enrollees have graduated, and 199 are employed today, 24 from department of transportation contractors. Construction Connections graduates generate $2.7 million in taxable income each year.

“The success rate of graduates demonstrates program strength,” said Kimberly Watson, Acting Deputy Director of the Division of Opportunity, Diversity and Inclusion for ODOT. The grant to the Urban League is federal money appropriated to on-job training for women, minorities and the disadvantaged, she added.

The $300,000 grant will allow the Urban League to expand its Construction Connections program from five to six weeks and add topics such as signage and new technology to the course, Harris said. The grant took effect today, Oct. 1, and lasts through June 30, 2016. Sixty people will participate in the four course sessions, the first scheduled to begin in late November. Participants, who do not pay for the program, will receive a stipend.

Construction Connections graduates receive multiple certifications: National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), Green Environment, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA 10). The Urban League also gives them a set of hand tools and a hard hat, which they wear in their graduation ceremony.

“Companies call us looking for our graduates, and we have had graduates go from 0 to 33,” said Harris, referring to hourly salary in dollars that some Construction Connections graduates earn.

Harris met today with a minority-owned construction company, L.A. Williams. Reece referred Harris to the Mount Healthy-based firm, which wants to hire Urban League program graduates.

Reece summarized the two days’ worth of events this way. “We need to connect the building dollars we have to rebuilding the community,” she said. “We have to make sure people are not looking out their windows and watching the work going on. They need to be doing the work.”

Reece also announced an additional $60,000 state grant for the Community Police Partnering Center, housed in the Greater Cincinnati Urban League. Created by the City of Cincinnati’s 2002 Collaborative Agreement, the center helps community members and police work together to create solutions for crime and mayhem issues.

Go to to download The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities.

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