Archives for December 2015

Urban League trainers, staff, sharpen craft at Miami University


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Michael Goldman, Director of Career Services at Miami University, welcomes Urban League staff members to campus Tuesday morning.

By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio
OXFORD — The Miami University-Urban League partnership continues to build momentum, following an inspiring one-day professional training seminar held Tuesday for 20 League trainers and teachers on Miami’s Oxford campus.

Six members of Miami’s Career Services department led the day-long session tailored to the classroom and client-service needs of League trainers, social workers and teachers who have direct contact with its program participants and clients.

In October, seven members of Miami’s Career Services Department volunteered for two days at the Urban League in Avondale, where the conducted mock interviews for job-readiness program participants and help them develop their resumes.

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, which provides Greater Cincinnati and Greater Dayton with industry-leading job-readiness, business development and youth programs, often works with the hardest-to-serve clients who have multiple barriers to employment — such as criminal backgrounds, transportation, educational shortcomings, and a mindset shaped by generational poverty.

Still, the League in Cincinnati and Dayton has historically graduated more than 80 percent of participants from classes, including the flagship three-week job-readiness boot camp known SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention). With a roster of employers who appreciate the quality preparation and supports that job-seekers receive by the Urban League, more than 80 percent of program graduates are employed within three months.

The goal of Tuesday’s session at Miami’s Hoyt Hall, in the words of League SOAR trainer Greg Walker, was “to learn how to do it better.”

To that end, Miami’s career development experts, led by Kia Nalls, Miami’s Career Success Certificate and Mock Interview Coordinator, asked Urban League staff members what topics they wanted to cover.

The answers: classroom teaching techniques for adult learners, motivational interviewing, identifying skills sets employers seek, and refining job-search materials such as resumes and cover letters.

Heather Christman, Senior Assistant Director of Employer Relations and Career Development, led the session Adult Learning and Career Development. Much of her 75-minute presentation examined the learning process that leads to “self-authorship” of one’s life.

“I loved that piece,” said Rob Rodgers, SOAR Program Manager for Greater Cincinnati Urban League. “It’s going to help us, it reinforces, what we do to help folks transfer lessons learned in one part of their life to another part. Everyone has got their way of doing things. You have to help them see that what they’re doing might not be working and that they need to try it another way.”

Mary Beth Barnes, Miami’s Senior Assistant Director and Liaison to the College of Arts and Sciences, led a session on “Defining Skill Sets,” which involves helping students develop self-confidence by seeing how their skills often can transfer to other parts — the workplace, for example — of their lives.

Janie Robinson and Kelly Thompson co-taught the session on “Job Search Materials,” which went deep into the process of writing effective resumes and cover letters. Robinson, Assistant Director and Liaison to the College of Arts and Sciences; and Thompson, Assistant Director and Liaison to the College of Engineering and Computing, were two of Miami staff who volunteered at the League in October.

League trainers and staff spend a great deal of time helping program participants develop their first resumes and write cover letters for the first time. The exchange Tuesday was lively.

“They way I kind of think about it,” Thompson said of writing cover letters and teaching how to write on, “is to think about when you are in third or fourth grade and learning how to write an essay.”

Nalls, who also volunteered at the League in October, presented on “Motivational Interviewing,” a type of counseling.

At the Urban League, program participants — many of whom have criminal records — receive coaching in how to interview.

“There are ways that you can explain to an employer why you had that gap in employment,” Nalls said during the session. “You can communicate it in a non-threatening way.”

Michael Goldman, Director of Career Services and a lawyer who worked much of his career in human resources, wrapped up the day with a session what questions prospective employers can legally ask in an interview — especially as they relate to a job-seekers criminal record.

Urban League staff members said they took a great deal from the day-long training, besides a six-hour certification.

“A lot of it reinforced what we already do but gave us another way to look at things,” said Kenetra Mathis, Manager of Workforce Initiatives at Greater Cincinnati Urban League.

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.

Nalls and 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.

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Heather Christman (right) leads a sessions on adult learning. Urban League Workforce Development staff Brian Harris (from left), Lionell Roberts and Greg Walker listen.

Career development students dream big of future success

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Staff and students from the Career Exploration Program celebrate graduation at a Tuesday evening party at Dohn Community High School.

WALNUT HILLS — The compact classroom could hardly contain the expressed college and career dreams of the dozen students who — just a few months ago — might not have known such aspirations.

They talked about where they want to go: University of Oklahoma, Miami University, Northern Kentucky University.

They talked about what they want to study: nursing, engineering, information technology, medical administration.

The event was listed as a holiday party for the students from Dohn Community, Hughes STEM, and Princeton high schools. They had completed the Career Exploration Program co-sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and Easter Seals Tristate.

Students heard from two mentors, members of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio’s Young Professionals group, Ashlee Young and Chris James. Young, 30, is an evaluation associate at Interact for Health. James, 32, is pursuing his Ph.D. in chemistry at Miami University following a professional career that included a stretch at Procter & Gamble.

“You don’t have to have the world figured out at 17,” James told students.

To help students have a better idea of what educational and career possibilities exist for them, staff had them put together a portfolio. It contained information related to interviewing, goal setting, “smart” goal setting, and resume development.

Karen Bouquet, Urban League Youth Employment Manager, taking note that several students expressed concern or lack of knowledge about the college financial aid application process, promised that additional sessions would be held to provide information.

Staff said it would continue to work with students to ensure they are on track toward high school graduation and college enrollment.

Toy Craze nets Bengals stars

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Cincinnati Bengals players George Iloka (left), Reggie Nelson and Brandon Tate pose for a photograph with Avondale residents Franchae Walker and her sons Romansjai, 3, and Faiven, 2, during a holiday party Tuesday afternoon at the Urban League. Urban League photo/Mark Curnutte


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE — For the third consecutive December, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and nonprofit developer The Community Builders teamed up to throw a holiday party for 190 households in Avondale.

The Community Builders is redeveloping housing units in eight Avondale buildings and has put up a new building at the corner of Reading Road and Maple Avenue as part of a $29.5 million federal housing grant. The Greater Cincinnati Urban League — in the persons of Melissa Hill and Torrance Jones — is a subcontractor providing social services to all residents of these households.

Toy Craze, an inclusive holiday party, provided toys to the children in the 140 Choice buildings households as well as children living in two other large Avondale low-income apartment communities, the Shiloh and Hale. The U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and The Community Builders provided toys.

“A great event, a wonderful time,” said Franchae Walker, a residents of the Poinciana, one of the Choice buildings, who brought her two preschool-aged sons to the party.

She wore a No. 99 Bengals jersey and posed with her sons with three Bengals players on hand for the event — safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka and wide receiver Brandon Tate. Nelson said he was unaware of the scope of the Urban League programs but said he volunteered to return to the party for the second consecutive year. NFL players commonly make community appearances or perform community service on Tuesdays, their only off-day during the grueling season.

The Bengals players, part of a 10-2 start that has many national pundits predicting a Super Bowl appearance, interacted effortlessly with children and their parents, slapping hands, chatting and posing for a long series of photographs.

“It’s nice here,” Nelson said.

The Bengals’ start, tied for the 1975 team for best in franchise history, can clinch the AFC North division title Sunday with a victory at home against their most heated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Choice Neighborhoods families struggle with poverty and related issues, such as access to health care and stable employment. The Community Builders, said agency executive Cinnamon Pelly, provided access to an array of services during the holiday party: PNC Bank, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, The Center for Closing the Health Gap, Greater Cincinnati Urban League, Freestore Foodbank, SMX Staffing.

Woodward talent show Dec. 10

BOND HILL — Woodward Career Technical High School, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League Guild, and the Greater Cincinnati Urban League After School League Program will present a talent show featuring Woodward students on Dec. 10.

Woodward is at 7500 Reading Road.

More information:


Free tax prep available

Free tax preparation is one way the families you serve can meet legal obligations, get the refunds they’ve earned, and claim poverty-reducing credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit can bring up to $6,242 to families with children.

Starting in January, hundreds of volunteers throughout the community will offer free tax preparation services through a United Way, IRS and Agency Volunteer Tax Assistance collaborative. We encourage families of Urban League participants to take advantage of this resource. They’ll avoid predatory lending and keep more dollars in their pockets.

For more information visit:

Positive energy at your League

Evans Ob’Saint, born of Haitian parents in the Little Haiti section of Miami, Fla., has found a new life and new opportunities in Cincinnati.

And, he says, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League is the catalyst.

On Dec. 3, Evans joined his fellow graduates of our four-week Accelerated Customer Service Education (ACE) Program.

A gifted public speaker, Evans gave this testimonial in his remarks, “The Urban League is Mecca. That’s no overstatement.”

He and other graduates referenced the positive energy in our Avondale building, the sincere and genuine nature of Urban League staff, and their willingness to provide whatever is needed, whether it’s a smile or a hug.

SOAR going to Queesgate

The next of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s Hand Up Initiative SOAR classes will be in Queensgate.

Thank you to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley for your support of and belief in the Urban League to affect positive change in our communities.


Remembering Rosa Parks, 60 years after her silent protest

`I think the most important message … is that an ordinary person — a quiet, humble person — can ignite a movement.’

Rosa Parks in 1998 Photo courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer/Yoni Pozner

Sixty years ago Tuesday, on Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in Montgomery, Ala., bringing to full bloom the fledgling modern civil rights movement.

Earlier this year, in February 2015, Mrs. Parks’ papers, photographs and other artifacts went on display at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where they joined the papers and effects of Bayard Rustin, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, the NAACP, and the National Urban League.

At Mrs. Parks’ 2005 funeral, National Urban League President Marc Morial captured her appeal and place in American history. “I think the most important message today is that an ordinary person — a quiet, humble person — can ignite a movement,” he said.

In 1998, Mrs. Parks received the first Freedom Conductor award from Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Prior to that event, Mark Curnutte — then social justice reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer — spent a day with Mrs. Parks in suburban Detroit and wrote the following story illustrating how Mrs. Parks still worked to advance the cause of human equality and dignity. (Curnutte is now Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Key Initiatives at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.)

Sept. 25, 1998

Rosa Parks, Freedom Center award winner, keeps spirit of movement alive

The Cincinnati Enquirer
FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. – Forty-three years after refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., bus – the peaceful protest that ignited a national movement – Rosa Parks remains on the civil rights watch.

Mrs. Parks will receive the first International Freedom Conductor Award from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Saturday in Cincinnati. The black-tie event at the Westin Hotel is sold out.

“We’re trying to set a standard,” Freedom Center President and CEO Ed Rigaud said. “Conductors on the Underground Railroad were courageous people, but they were common people. Not celebrities. Rosa Parks exemplifies that.”

Mrs. Parks appreciates the many accolades and acknowledgement of her role in the civil rights movement. But she is a woman still eager to contribute. At age 85, frail and with pacemaker in place, she wants to be more current than her five-paragraph entry in the World Book Encyclopedia.

She stays in the public eye, even though she is intensely private and humble. The former seamstress is comfortable making quilts or attending Sunday service at St. Matthew AME Church in Detroit. She stands in line at the grocery store and waits her turn to talk on radio call-in shows.

But she also knows that the name Rosa Parks and her mere presence draws attention to social causes she supports.

“I will do whatever I can to further education, economic opportunity and prosperity for all people,” Mrs. Parks said in an interview in a suburban Detroit nursing home, where she dedicated a computer learning center earlier this month. “I will do as much as I can for as long as I can.”

These days, making a contribution means showing up, saying a few words and meeting people. That was the case at Botsford Commons, the nursing home in Farmington Hills.

Mrs. Parks wore a flowered-print dress and a white baseball cap over her full head of braided gray hair. She walked slowly, sometimes using a wheelchair to cover long distances.

Nursing home staff and residents waited in line to meet her. A food-service employee, James Beckom, 39, couldn’t control his glee after his introduction.

“She inspired me when I was a kid and she still inspires me today,” said Mr. Beckom, a Mississippi native. “Our people pay homage to her for what she has done for us. Meeting her is like touching a piece of history.”

Mrs. Parks will always have a place in history. She’s the mother of the movement, civil rights activists say, an example that common people can accomplish the uncommon.

“The importance of Rosa Parks in American culture is almost singular in that it’s not just what she did, but God’s use of her in the fullness of time,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “There’s something divine about her.”

Even an attack in 1994 couldn’t stop her. She was beaten in her house and robbed of $53. The assailant, a black man and a drug abuser, reportedly recognized her but hit her in the face anyway.

“I’m a little bruised. I believe I can go on with what I planned to do,” Mrs. Parks said at the time. She now lives in a secured apartment building in downtown Detroit.

That response, short and to the point, is typical of Mrs. Parks these days. Her voice comes out softly but evenly, and she sometimes defers to her assistant, Elaine Eason Steele, to elaborate.

A fiercely loyal staff of six and dozens of volunteers organize Mrs. Parks’ more than 100 carefully selected public appearances a year. She approves each one.

“It’s much better to be friendly and not be selfish,” Mrs. Parks said. “I just like to see people happy and be as happy as I can myself. Life is what you make it.”

Thousands of requests

She no longer makes speeches. She prefers settings in which she answers children’s questions or dedicates programs or buildings that bear her name.

The Farmington Hills event was the dedication of the Rosa L. Parks Learning Center of Michigan. Come Oct. 5, high school students will teach seniors there how to use computers and, in turn, learn life lessons. Mrs. Parks, who enrolled in swimming classes for the first time three years ago, will be one of the senior computer students.

The program is the model that Mrs. Parks and her staff plan to expand nationwide; a similar program bearing Mrs. Parks’ name is under way in Los Angeles.

In 1997, Mrs. Parks received more than 2,000 requests for speeches, appearances and endorsements, including one from an author who was writing a book about celebrity feet and wanted a photograph of Mrs. Parks’ toes. (Her staff didn’t respond to that one.)

She has never cashed in on her celebrity by endorsing a product, although she has filmed public service announcements to promote voter registration.

Mrs. Steele and Mrs. Parks are co-founders of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. The Detroit-based organization honors Mrs. Parks’ late husband, promotes human development programs and coordinates Mrs. Parks’ schedule.

Mrs. Parks’ lawyer, Gregory Reed, co-founded the Parks Legacy with Mrs. Parks to maintain the history and lessons of the civil rights movement.

Mr. Reed and Mrs. Steele work to ensure that Mrs. Parks is remembered. They negotiated with Troy State University in Montgomery for more than a year before reaching an agreement on a building that will house Mrs. Parks’ artifacts and writings.

Mrs. Parks is “a living example of what individuals can do if they put their minds to it,” Troy State board member Lamar Higgins said at the dedication.

Ground was broken in April on the $7.5 million Rosa Louise Parks Library-Museum near the site where Mrs. Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat. The 40,000-square-foot library will include a 7,000-square-foot museum honoring Mrs. Parks and other civil rights pioneers. It will open in two years.

There are hundreds of other roadways, elementary schools, parks and youth programs around the country that bear her name. Among them:

• Interstate 475, which rings Toledo, is known as Rosa Parks Highway. Her likeness hangs on a plaque in a Los Angeles bus station.

• Her adopted hometown, Detroit, has a Rosa Parks elementary school and boulevard.

• She is featured prominently in displays at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., and the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Ala.

100 most influential

Mrs. Parks’ peaceful defiance on the bus is immortalized now – in April, Time magazine, citing Mrs. Parks’ heroism, selected her one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century – but the act caused her and her husband immediate harm. Raymond and Rosa Parks, who had no children, left Montgomery to escape threats and harassing telephone calls related to the bus boycott.

Mrs. Parks was a seamstress at a Montgomery department store at the time of her arrest. The store soon eliminated its tailoring service, and Mrs. Parks lost her job. With Raymond Parks in poor health, the couple moved to Detroit in 1957, where Mrs. Park’s brother, Sylvester McCauley, lived.

In 1965, she Parks went to work as the receptionist for Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in his Detroit office. When she retired in 1988, she was office manager.

Mrs. Steele worked in the same building in the federal courts office. Mrs. Parks often gave the younger woman a ride home. It was during those commutes that they discovered a shared concern for young people.

Mrs. Parks considers Mrs. Steele the daughter she never had. No elderly parent ever had a more protective adult child.

As Mrs. Parks neared retirement, Mrs. Steele came up with a way to focus her remaining years.

They co-founded the Parks Institute to fulfill their ambition to help children excel and become productive members of society. In 13 years, the institute’s programs have attempted to improve the self-esteem of more than 5,000 children of all races, ages 11-17.

Mrs. Parks’ favorite program is “Pathways to Freedom,” a two-week summer educational and historical research activity for 70 students who trace American history from the Underground Railroad to the civil rights movement. It takes the form of a summer freedom ride on a bus and stops at several Underground Railroad sites.

Breaking down barriers

But on that warm September afternoon at a Michigan nursing home, Mrs. Parks’ attention turned to her primary interest: breaking down barriers that keep people apart. And attention, of course, is turned on her. Mrs. Parks, surrounded by a half-dozen assistants, arrived at the nursing home at noon.

Her entourage consisted of Mrs. Steele and the four employees of the Parks Institute, one of whom is a registered nurse, an institute volunteer, the volunteer computer specialist who designed the Botsford program, a makeup artist and a photographer. Mrs. Parks’ every move was choreographed by Mrs. Steele.

A standing ovation greeted Mrs. Parks. She acknowledged it with a wave and smile. Many of the 200 guests at the dedication wore blue buttons that read “I (heart shape) Rosa Parks,” which Mrs. Parks’ staff members distribute before each of her public appearances.

“We never seem to have enough,” one of her assistants said.

Smiling, Mrs. Parks sat and listened to several speeches before being helped to the podium: “My late husband and I had always been concerned about freedom and equality for all people,” she said. “We suffered a lot in the South.”

The Botsford learning center open house was held in a dining room. Six computer stations ringed the area.

After speaking at a short news conference and meeting visitors, Mrs. Parks and her staff ate lunch in a private room.

Seventy-five minutes later, she came out to work on a computer and pose for more photographs.

Mrs. Parks spent 15 minutes at a Botsford computer with her tutor, Thiajuan Williamson, 13, a freshman at Detroit’s Cooley High School.

First, Thiajuan showed Mrs. Parks a video golf game.

“Oh, my,” she said as she watched a tee shot fly toward a virtual green. Next was solitaire. Children gathered behind her chair. Photographers snapped the moment.

“It felt good. It’s sort of like giving back,” Thiajuan said. “She did something for me. So it was like I was able to do something for her.”

Mrs. Parks said, “I want young people to get an education, take care of their bodies and have a good life.”

Her public time ended with the receiving line of nursing home residents and staff.

Mrs. Steele arranged 20 Pathways to Freedom students behind Mrs. Parks. They wore white-and-blue T-shirts and blue baseball caps and were told to stand quietly and smile. Their presence made for a better picture.

No one seemed to mind the sometimes awkward staging.

After all, this is Rosa Parks. People of all races and many nationalities are drawn to her

. Baseball players Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez, both all-stars with the Texas Rangers, had driven out to the suburbs from downtown Detroit, where they had played the night before against the Tigers. They wanted to meet the woman they studied in school in Puerto Rico.

Mrs. Parks didn’t know who they were, and the fact they are celebrity athletes meant nothing to her. She treated them respectfully, as she does all people.

The ballplayers, however, were in awe.

“It is a dream come true to see her,” said Mr. Gonzalez, 28, the 1996 American League Most Valuable Player and a candidate to win the award this season.

Added Mr. Rodriguez, 26, a catcher, “It is an honor to meet her.”

With that, they tucked in behind Mrs. Parks, one off each of her shoulders, and asked to have their picture taken with her.

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