$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 www.gcul.org 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.