National, local Urban League support President’s Executive Actions on gun violence

A statement from Marc Morial, National Urban League President and CEO:

President Barack Obama announced his new Executive Actions to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer in a hard-hitting and emotional speech at the White House on Tuesday. (A summary chart can be found at the end of this file.)

In response, I have issued the following statement outlining the National Urban League’s strong support of the President’s courageous actions:

The Urban League Movement is all too familiar with the fact that gun violence is undeniably one of the worst public health crises in American history. Despite the fact that, on average more than 32,000 people in the United States die from gun violence every year – where more than 17,000 of them are children – our elected leaders remain woefully unresponsive. During his announcement, President Obama also emphasized the limits to the actions that he can take in the Executive Branch and the need for further action by Congress. He also called upon every American to speak out and call upon their members of Congress to address those gaps in our country’s gun laws that can only be fixed through legislation.

Call to Action: With our affiliate communities especially impacted by gun violence and its tremendous physical, emotional and health consequences, Urban League affiliate CEOs are keenly poised to advocate not only in support of the President’s actions, but to hold federal, state and local officials accountable to helping stem this crisis. Suggested actions can include:

 Editorials in local newspapers.
 Letters to your Senators and Representatives.
 Sending letters and setting up meetings with your Governor; County Officials; Mayor; and State Legislators.
 Holding community meetings.
 Getting on radio and TV shows.
 Using social media.
 Passing affiliate Board Resolutions.

This ends Mr. Morial’s statement.

On Wednesday morning, Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, released the following statement:

“The communities of Cincinnati and Dayton are painfully and all-too-familiar with the scourge of gun violence on our streets,” Baker said. “We support the letter and spirit of President Obama’s Executive Actions on gun violence and urge our elected legislators in Congress to act in concert with the President.

“The Urban League in Cincinnati and Dayton, which for decades has worked to improve economic and social conditions in our neighborhoods, stands in support of the National Urban League in its resounding call to action.”

On Jan. 5, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the number of people getting shot in Cincinnati in 2015 increased 28 percent from the previous year.

In 2015, 479 people were shot, the most since 2006 when 510 people were wounded by gunfire, the newspaper reported. Also in 2015, the city recorded 71 homicides, up 13 percent from 2014, but still lower than the record high of 88 homicides in 2006.

In 2015, the most shootings occurred in Avondale (52), followed by Westwood (46), Walnut Hills (38), and Over-the-Rhine (36), The Enquirer reported.

Here is a chart explaining the contents of the President’s Executive Actions on gun violence:


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.

Lifting the black community

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus draws a large crowd Monday night.

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus draws a large crowd Monday night.

LaShonda Wright, principal, Wright Finance Group, makes her winning 60-second pitch Monday night at the African American Business Development Program kickoff event.

LaShonda Wright, principal, Wright Finance Group, makes her winning 60-second pitch Monday night at the African American Business Development Program kickoff event.


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE — Two apparently unrelated events scheduled at the same time — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at the League’s office on Reading Road — did indeed have a common goal: lifting Cincinnati’s black community.

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus held its second of five state-wide events on its 2015 Action Tour. Caucus President State Rep. Alicia Reece, 33rd District, listed the group’s accomplishments against a backdrop of second-class citizenship for blacks in Ohio.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the League’s Board Room, Class 12 of the League’s African American Business Development Program held its Pitch Contest, in which small business owners gave a 60-second pitch for their product or services. Two winners, April Clark of Apro Accounting & Tax Services and LaShonda Wright of Wright Finance Group, received full tuition scholarships of $1,250. The program is billed as a “boot camp targeted toward businesses in the first stage.”

Started in 2008, the program has graduated and helped to grow 65 African-American owned companies. The 10 member businesses of Class 12 will run from December through June 2016.

Downstairs, in the League’s Community Room, an audience estimated at 150 people heard Reece open the two-hour Black Caucus meeting by detailing the statistical odds stacked against African-Americans in Ohio:

— The unemployment rate for blacks in Ohio is more than 15 percent, compared to the overall state rate of 4.3 percent (4 percent in Hamilton County).

— Across the state, 33.6 percent of African-Americans are living below poverty levels, $28,410 for a 5-person household.

— Ohio’s infant morality rate for African-Americans (13.57 for every 1,000 live births) was third highest of the 39 states where a rate could be calculated, with only Wisconsin (at 14 per 1,000) and Kansas (14.8) faring worse.

Reece also referenced the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio’s recent study, The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities, as evidence of the race-based disparities that face African-Americans in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The data-driven report reveals that 75 percent of African-American children under 6 in Cincinnati are living in poverty, that life expectancy for black men in Cincinnati (63.8 years) is 10 years less than the average for white men, and that the home ownership rate for African-Americans in 15-county Greater Cincinnati is 33.1 percent compared to 74.5 percent for whites.

“This book highlighted how nothing has changed in 20 years,” she said. “There has been no progress in 20 years. Let’s take this report and put it into action. What are we going to do about it?”

Joined by six other members of the Black Legislative Caucus — only 15 of the General Assembly’s 132 members are African-American — Reece then listed the accomplishments of the caucus in recent years.

— $2.7 million for summer youth job programs across the state;

— $800,000 in Ohio Department of Transportation workforce development grants, including $300,000 for the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s highly successful Construction Connections program;

— $228.5 million in minority business contracts;

— $330,000 for assistance to black-owned businesses in Hamilton County through funding of the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce;

— $3.5 million in state funding for Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, a state-sponsored school, that allows it to leverage an additional $10 million in federal funding;

— $2 million toward reducing infant mortality across the state;

— $25,000 for the Center for Closing the Health Gap, Avondale, recognized nationally as a leader in publicizing the disparities in black health and black health outcomes;

— The appointment of an African-American to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPATA);

— A reentry job fair attended by 500 returning citizens coming back to the community from Ohio prisons; and

— Election day investigations, including in Hamilton County.

Reece, State Rep. Christie Bryant Kuhns, 32nd District, and State Sen. Cecil Thomas, District 9, presented reports on current legislative action undertaken by the caucus. It includes criminal justice reform to reduce Ohio’s prison population, which consists of 45 percent African-American inmates in a state in which the general population is 12.5 percent black. Thomas said African-American legislators are in communication with University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono about the increasingly tense relationship between the university and black students.

Kuhns detailed efforts to reinstate provisions of federal civil rights laws in the state’s fair housing statutes and to reform state law that protects uninsured drivers.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank came up during the question-and-answer period, when an audience member suggested the state pull its money from financial institutions that are known to have discriminatory lending practices. Within the past few months Fifth Third had to pay $18 million to black and Hispanic borrowers who had to pay higher rates for auto loans even though their credit ratings were good.

Other Black Caucus members in attendance were Rep. Herschel Craig, 26th District; Rep. Emilia Sykes, 34th District; Rep. Stephanie Howse, 11th District; and Rep. Kevin Boyce, 25th District.

Reece: Urban League vital

State Representative Alicia Reece of the 33rd District sat down recently for an interview with media students at Woodward Career Technical High School, Bond Hill.

The Greater Cincinnati Urban League is a partner with Cincinnati Public Schools at Woodward. The Afterschool League there provides support to students by offering individual and group tutoring, homework assistance, ACT preparation and college access opportunities. The Urban League has a site coordinator, Deborah Brock-Blanks, at Woodward.

Rep. Reece is a long-time supporter of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio and one of its two subsidiaries, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League. Rep. Reece most recently helped to secure a $300,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation for additional training in the League’s Construction Connections Program.

Thank you, Rep. Reece.

She is president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and will be among the local legislators attending an open house at the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, 3458 Reading Road, Avondale, from 6-8 p.m., tonight, Nov. 23.

Here is a link to that Woodward High School interview in which she articulates her support for the Urban League in Cincinnati and its many life-changing, transformative programs.


Adrian Allen receives tearful hugs of congratulations from his daughters after graduating Nov. 19. Allen completed the Urban League Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention (SOAR) job-readiness course. Photo by Greg Walker/Greater Cincinnati Urban League

Adrian Allen receives tearful hugs of congratulations from his daughters after graduating Nov. 19. Allen completed the Urban League Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention (SOAR) job-readiness course. Photo by Greg Walker/Greater Cincinnati Urban League

Black Caucus at Urban League

State Rep. Alicia Reece brings Ohio Legislative Black Caucus to Urban League.

State Rep. Alicia Reece brings Ohio Legislative Black Caucus to Urban League.

The local delegation of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, led by its president, Alicia Reece, will bring its Legislation Action Tour on Monday to the Greater Cincinnati Urban League.

Reece, who represents Ohio’s 33rd District, will be joined by Rep. Christie Kuhns, caucus parliamentarian, who represents the 32nd Ohio House District; and State Sen. Cecil Thomas.

Members say the event, from 6-8 p.m. at the League, 3458 Reading Road, Avondale, will be the opportunity for residents and business leaders to talk with the Hamilton County delegation. They will brief residents on current legislation, including one piece addressing criminal justice reform, Reece said.

Reece, a Bond Hill resident, was last at the League Oct. 1, when she announced a $300,000 workforce development grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation for the League’s Construction Connections job-readiness and skills program.

At a news conference announcing the grant, Reece credited the local Urban League for calling attention to the broad sweep of racial disparities in its State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report. Reece called the report “evidence we have been utilizing” in the Ohio Statehouse.

Construction Connections has placed about 200 of its graduates in high-paying construction jobs since its 2010 inception.

Reece, on Friday, Nov. 20, again praised the Black Cincinnati report.

“It’s no emotion,” she said in a phone call with the Urban League marketing and communications department. “It’s evidence. Now let’s get together and do something about it.”

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the League lot, at the corner of Reading Road and Prospect Place, across Reading from the League office.

Call Rep. Kuhns’ office at (614) 466-1645 for more information.

Survey: 44% black adults claim `very good’ or `excellent’ health

Interact for Health has released its 2013 Greater Cincinnati Community Health Status Survey.

In it, the survey reports that 44 percent of African-American adults answered that they considered themselves to be in “very good” or “excellent” health — compared to 52 percent of white adults.

Both numbers are far below the Bold Goal of 70 percent set by the United Way of Greater Cincinnati.

Survey results here:

Westwood anti-violence meeting: `It was a good first step’

The Community Police Partnering Center, staffed and housed by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, led a community meeting Saturday morning in Westwood.

The Westwood Civic Association, District 3 Cincinnati Police and the Partnering Center — led by Executive Director Dorothy Smoot — met with about 100 neighborhood residents to discuss the uptick in violent crime and ways to reduce it and the mounting racial and class tension in the community.

Smoot employed the SARA model of problem solving, which stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment.

“It was a good first step,” Smoot said.

Here are photos of the event from the Westwood Civic Association’s Facebook page:

Here is the link to the Urban League’s initial story advancing the event, which posted on this site last week:

League’s Partnering Center will take problem-solving process to struggling Westwood


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

WESTWOOD – Rattled by an uptick in gun violence this year and two decades of simmering racial and class tensions, this West Side neighborhood is beginning what it hopes is a healing process.

In conjunction with The Community Police Partnering Center – housed and staffed by the Greater Cincinnati Urban League — the Westwood Civic Association and Cincinnati District 3 Police will hold a community meeting Saturday morning.

“Westwood Uniting to Stop the Violence: A Call to Action” will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Nov. 14, at Westwood United Methodist Church, 3460 Epworth Ave. More than 100 people are expected to attend, organizers say.

Dorothy Smoot, Executive Director of The Community Police Partnering Center, said meeting participants will follow a proven problem-solving method known as the SARA Model. The acronym refers to the model’s four-step process: Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment.

“This process allows for inclusion and is designed to remove biases and preconceived notions,” said Smoot, also Program Director of Greater Cincinnati Urban League.

The SARA Model has been employed in the past 13 years to help residents of several Cincinnati neighborhoods work in concert with police to solve community crime and mayhem.

From January through October this year, Westwood has experience 35 fatal and non-fatal shootings, compared to 10 overall shootings in the same period in 2014, event organizers say. Neighborhood leaders are calling on residents, youth and community organizations, and the faith community to pull together to curb violence and reduce social tensions.

Westwood is among the group of conjoined West Side neighborhoods that is now home to 20 percent to 30 percent of Hamilton County’s felony probationers, registered sex offenders, and adult parolees, along with increasing numbers of people living in halfway houses and recovery programs, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in December 2013.

From 2000 to 2010, the white population of Westwood and East Westwood dropped 35 percent, from 22,700 to 14,850, according to Census data. The African-American population increased 45 percent, to 17,500. Some long-standing homeowners have blamed newcomers for the increase in crime and decrease in property value.

In Westwood and East Westwood, owner-occupied housing dropped from 47 percent in 1980 to 36 percent in 2010. The poverty rate for those two neighborhoods jumped from 6 percent to 22 percent.

“No single approach will result in reduced gun violence in our neighborhood,” said Mary Jenkins, president of Westwood Civic Association. “We will only achieve this goal if we understand the data, join together across socio-economic differences and diverse life experiences, take a multi-pronged approach to resolving this issue, and commit to action — together.”

The together piece is where The Partnering Center comes in and what it does best.


Some recent case studies:

— Working through The Partnering Center, North Avondale residents collaborated with police on a 2009 plan to eliminate calls for drug use and sales in a Reading Road apartment building.

— In 2010, The Partnering Center, police and the Su Casa Hispanic Ministry Center came together to halt the trend of unreported personal crimes in Carthage against members of growing Central American immigrant community. Trust increased between Spanish-speaking residents — some of them without legal immigration status — and police. The plan and increased communication resulted in a crime reduction of 15 percent in one year.

— In 2011, The Partnering Center used the SARA model in CUF (Clifton Heights, University Heights, and Fairview) to reduce prostitution and related drug trafficking by helping the women receive drug treatment in a residential setting.

— In 2012, coming off a year of a city neighborhood-tying high of 11 homicides, Avondale called upon The Partnering Center to create the Moral Voice program. Using data that spotlighted high-crime parts of the neighborhood, in this case, Ridgeway Avenue, residents worked with police to identify the small number of people responsible for drug dealing and gun violence. The communication and cooperation that came about through the SARA model played a major part in the reduction of homicides; in 2012, Avondale had just one homicide, and that a police shooting of an armed drug dealer who drove into Avondale from another neighborhood.

Throughout the past decade, many other neighborhoods — Northside, Madisonville, and Evanston among them — worked with The Partnering Center to address neighborhood “hot spots.” Use of the SARA model resulted in reductions of calls for police service, more community awareness and responsiveness, and drops in crimes against persons and property in all cases.

One particularly transformative process using the SARA Model in Northside led to the closing of a business catering to local drug dealers, the acquisition of the property and subsequent development of two LEED-certified single-family homes on the site.


The Community Police Partnering Center, created in 2002, grew out of Cincinnati’s ground-breaking Collaborative Agreement. The agreement, signed in 2002, resulted from Cincinnati’s period of civil unrest uncorked by the police shooting of an unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas, in April 2001 in Over-the-Rhine.

Long housed in Cincinnati’s Urban League, The Partnering Center received a needed boost in 2013, when the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio board resolved to support and maintain the center.

Now it’s Westwood, Cincinnati’s largest neighborhood, home to some 30,000 residents in a 6 square-mile community that — like many adjacent neighborhoods, East Westwood, East Price Hill and North and South Fairmount — has experienced dramatic racial and economic change since 2000.

Solid, plentiful and affordable housing stock has made Westwood and surrounding neighborhoods destinations of necessity and choice for people displaced from redevelopment of the West End in the late 1990s and the government-supported gentrification of Over-the-Rhine since the mid-2000s.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman and new District 3 Police Commander Aaron Jones are expected to participate Saturday morning. The City of Cincinnati recently approved an additional $125,000 in spending to support The Partnering Center.

“This event marks the beginning of a great effort by a community to employ problem-solving called upon in the Collaborative Agreement,” said center leader Smoot. “Working together to solve problems is the foundation of the Collaborative Agreement.”

West End next for Hand Up job-readiness SOAR

Hand Up Initiative class taking SOAR training to West End.

More information:

Hand Up West End Flyer

Dancing to praise and thank God

Tabernacle of David Dance Ministry: From left to right, Amber Brown, Tina Welch, Jasmine Johnston, and Kelli Starks-Harris.

Tabernacle of David Dance Ministry: From left to right, Amber Brown, Tina Welch, Jasmine Johnston, and Kelli Starks-Harris.


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

FOREST PARK — In the daily struggle, all people carry, in the words of Kelli Starks-Harris, “their stuff.”

Those concerns can include children, elderly parents, money and career, personal health, challenges in the larger community.

For Starks-Harris and her three fellow members of the Tabernacle of David Dance Ministry, dance, of course, is a way to release those worries and open the spiritual channel to communicate with God.

“We’ll pound on the floor. It can be dramatic and physical,” she said.

Tabernacle of David Dance Ministry, part of Zion Global Ministries in West Chester, will perform Nov. 13 at Evening of Faith. The regular event sponsored by the Urban League Guild will be held at Inspirational Baptist Church, Forest Park.

In addition to the Dance Ministry, Evening of Faith will feature national gospel music recording artists J Moss and Byron Cage. The Urban League Mass Choir will perform its own hymns and will sing with Cage on “I Will Bless the Lord” and “The Presence of the Lord Is Here.”

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 is in its fifth year under the direction of A. Michael Cunningham, minister of music at New Jerusalem Baptist Church, Carthage.

At Evening of Faith, Tabernacle of David dancers will perform to the recorded spiritual “When Sunday Comes” by Daryl Coley.

The song opens:

When Sunday comes, my trouble gone,
as soon as it gets here, I’ll have a new song.
When Sunday comes,
I won’t have to cry no more,
Jesus will soothe my troubled mind,
all of my heartaches will be left behind;
when Sunday comes.

For some faithful, music heals. For others, answers come in the preacher’s sermon. For Starks-Harris, 49, and dance ministry co-director Tina Welch, 52, dance is where they find most of their peace and the place they express their faith.

“For me, my world is so structured, analytical and bottom-line oriented,” said Welch, who works in operations for a technology company and has a computer sciences degree from the University of Dayton. “Dance is a release in a number of ways.”

The other two dance ministry members are Amber Brown, 32, who owns a daycare center, and Jasmine Johnston, 17, a Wyoming High School senior.

“Except for Jasmine, we are all parents,” Welch said. “As a parent, you carry the burdens and issues of your family. When you dance, you let it go.”

Welch and Starks-Harris, the latter a teacher in a charter school, both have formal dance training. Starks-Harris uses dance with some of her students who are struggling with behavioral or academic issues.

“We will go into a dance room, and I will start dancing,” she said. “The student will say, `Why are you dancing?’ I say, `I am relieving stress.'”

So she will start dancing, too.

“Dance allows me to express how I am feeling,” Starks-Harris said.

In a spiritual sense, for Tabernacle of David Dance Ministry members, dance is an expression of their love and trust in God.

They dance on the third Sunday of the month at services in their church. The group dances at special events, including funerals and weddings. Recent appearances include the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington in 2013 at Church of the Resurrection in Bond Hill, with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 2013, and in April at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Classical Roots performance at Cincinnati Music Hall.

The group ties its choreography to the service or event’s primary message but is anchored to Biblical foundation spelled out in Psalms 149 and 150: Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tumbrel and harp.


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.

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.

GCUL welcomes new Executive Director, Chara Fisher Jackson

Chara Fisher Jackson, executive director, Greater Cincinnati Urban League

Chara Fisher Jackson, executive director, Greater Cincinnati Urban League


The restructuring of the area’s Urban League affiliate moved another step toward completion with the hiring of Chara Fisher Jackson as Executive Director of Greater Cincinnati Urban League.

Jackson started work Sept. 10 as the head of Greater Cincinnati Urban League, which, along with Miami Valley Urban League, is an affiliate of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio.

The regional structure, developed in 2012, accommodates the creation of the Miami Valley Urban League, which replaced the Dayton Urban League, which disbanded in 2010 after 63 years of service.

Jackson is responsible for daily operations of Greater Cincinnati Urban League, those formerly managed by Donna Jones Baker, who retains her titles as President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Branford Brown, hired in November 2014, is Executive Director of Miami Valley Urban League.

Jackson worked most recently as Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. She has a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. She earned her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from the William & Mary School of Law, Williamsburg, Va. A native of Marietta, Ga., she holds Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and a minor in French from Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University, which she attended as a Coca-Cola Minority Student Scholar.

Jackson also has worked for the ACLU in North Carolina. Her hiring completes an eight-month national search.

“Chara brings a multitude of talents to the Urban League, including grant writing, fundraising, and advocacy,” Baker said. “Chara is an experienced leader who is the perfect person to move the Cincinnati Urban League into a period of greater reach and even more positive impact in our community. She is dedicated to the League’s mission of creating economic equality that helps generations of people.”

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio touches several thousands of lives annually in workforce development, youth, business development, and justice programs.

Chara Fisher Jackson on the primary role of Greater Cincinnati Urban League: “To work strategically to fulfill our mission to transform generations by promoting personal empowerment and economic self-sufficiency. Our vision is to have vibrant communities with thriving individuals, families and businesses. GCUL uses it resources to make Cincinnati and the surrounding region a desirable place to live and work.”

Jackson on why the work of GCUL so important in this place and time:
“This August, GCUL released The State of Black Cincinnati. The report highlights the many challenges faced by African-Americans in Cincinnati that come from inequalities in economics, health, education, housing and many other areas. Rather than be discouraged by the current state of affairs, GCUL is inspired and ready to work harder to make a difference. GCUL is so important because it has a successful history of strengthening the workforce, empowering individuals and supporting youth in a way that changes communities.”

On what she would like to see GCUL doing one year from now: “GCUL will be celebrating the success of even more job-readiness graduates who have worked hard to become a part of the workforce. They will use what they have learned to secure jobs and careers that allow them to support their families. Our youth programs will continue to expand and provide children with the support they need to be successful in school – as well as prepare to become a part of the workforce or move on to college. Most of all, GCUL will continue to be recognized as an organization that is a vital resource and an essential community member.”

On the hidden gems about this affiliate that the community may not know about:
“One of the many strengths of GCUL is a tireless, dedicated staff. My colleagues here are not only committed to GCUL’s vision of vibrant communities but also have the knowledge, skills, talent and tenacity to make that vision a reality. I would like the community to know we have a building filled with individuals that are ready to support them, prepare them and do everything possible to help them lead fulfilling and prosperous lives.”

On the city the Urban League serves: “Cincinnati has welcomed me, and it already feels like home. I look forward to using my talents and skills as an Urban Leaguer to contribute to the growth of Cincinnati’s communities.”

`Happy … checks and balances in place’

WCPO. Channel 9, interviews Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, about Fifth Third Bank’s payment to settle allegations that is discriminated against African-American and Hispanic customers.

Young adults focus of new Miami Valley League job program

Miami Valley Urban League, 907 W. Fifth St. Dayton.

Miami Valley Urban League, 907 W. Fifth St. Dayton.

Miami Valley Urban League, Dayton, a subsidiary of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, announces receipt of funding to begin offer job-readiness program for young people 18-24 years old.

Voter forum 2015 set for Oct. 5

The Young Professionals group of the Greater Urban League is co-sponsoring a voter forum for the 2015 election. It will be held Oct. 5. For more information:


Cincinnati Business Courier features Donna Jones Baker

In its special look at Greater Cincinnati nonprofits, the Cincinnati Business Courier offers this five questions with Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio:

WCPO covers Walnut Hills SOAR

Thank you to WCPO, Channel 9, for the sensitive story on some of our graduates of the Walnut Hills SOAR (Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention) class. Congratulations to our graduates, all of whom proudly declared in their speeches, “I am an Urban Leaguer.”

Once an Urban Leaguer, always an Urban Leaguer. We are proud of you and will stand by you as you move forward in your lives.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann, a long-time support of the Urban League, attended the ceremony. Thank you, Mr. Mann.

Job fair upcoming, Oct. 3

Greater Cincinnati Urban League and Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency are co-sponsoring a job fair Oct. 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Cintas Center at Xavier University.


October 2015 Job Fair Flyer“>October 2015 Job Fair Flyer

`Two Cities’ report authoritative

From The Cincinnati Enquirer and

State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report cited by author as evidence of the dramatic racial divide that threatens Cincinnati’s well-being a future.

Opinion: Facts, not fear, must guide UC policing

Valerie Hardcastle
2:48 p.m. EDT September 16, 2015

Valerie Gray Hardcastle is professor of philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience, as well as scholar-in-residence in the Weaver Institute for Law and Psychiatry, at the University of Cincinnati.

The tragic killing of Samuel DuBose by a University of Cincinnati police officer ignited many conversations on our campus.
As we sort through our anger, fear, and frustrations, we still need to address a larger issue the shooting illuminated with clear-eyed honesty: Why was UC Police Department patrolling the neighborhoods around UC in the first place?
The too-often-unspoken truth is that UCPD was there because people who do not live here, in the neighborhoods around the Clifton campus, are afraid of those who do. They believe we are surrounded by violence and danger. And UC responded to these fears.
It is time to confront the myths born of prejudice and ignorance directly. The truth is that UC and its surrounding neighborhoods are much safer than rumors suggest, and there is evidence to prove it.
The Cleary Act requires that all universities report their crime statistics to the federal government. According to these reports, for 2013 – the year before UC beefed up its perimeter presence and doubled the number of UC police officers – the total number of assaults, robberies, burglaries and thefts in the UC area were less than half of those at Ohio State, University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh, or Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
So, please, let us put this myth of neighborhood violence to bed, for it has done great harm.
At the same time, we are a city divided by race, as was made all too evident in the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s State of Black Cincinnati 2015 report. I am both saddened and dismayed by how many think that these massive disparities are typical or normal. That too is a myth.
Cincinnati is one of the most segregated cities in America, according to a 2011 study by the University of Michigan’s Social Science Data Analysis Network.
Greater Cincinnati ranks an embarrassing 73rd out of the U.S.’s 77 metropolitan areas in terms of median income differences between African Americans and whites, reported the National Urban League in 2014. The median household income for African Americans in Cincinnati is well under half what it is for its white citizens, and at $15,475 per individual, it is less than what is considered a basic livable wage.
The difference in life expectancy between Avondale (90 percent African American) and Mount Lookout (96 percent white) is almost 20 years. Nationally, the difference in life expectancy between blacks and whites is less than four years.
It is no wonder that the Greater Cincinnati Urban League laments, “It’s as if black citizens live in a separate Cincinnati.” They truly do, and they do in ways that African Americans don’t in other cities.
These truths about Cincinnati are uncomfortable, but we must face them head-on and no longer pander to fear or ignorance.
The Uptown neighborhoods of Clifton are part of my Cincinnati. We of the UC community can and should do better by them.
If any tiny bit of good comes from Samuel DuBose’s death, let it be that it pushes us to work together with our neighbors, in real partnerships, to communicate honestly about who and what we are, and to fix, once and for all, what is broken.

Keeping it real in Walnut Hills

Amy Harlow, 24, soaring without anger holding her down.

Amy Harlow, 24, soaring without anger holding her down.


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

WALNUT HILLS — A few weeks ago, in the middle afternoon, Amy Harlow walked along McMillan Avenue toward her small apartment.

“I was high again … smoking crack,” she said. “I remember asking God to just give me something to refocus my energy. I’d been four days without sleep. It was bad.”

About that time a car pulled up to the curb beside her. Harlow stopped. The front passenger window rolled down. From the driver’s seat, Lionell Roberts, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s workforce development recruiter, said, “Do you want a job?”

“I just have a sixth sense about it,” Roberts says. “I know who needs help. I just feel it.”

Fast forward a few weeks. Harlow, 24, is enjoying her sobriety, however fragile and new-found. On Thursday, she will join 12 other graduates of the local Urban League’s third Hand Up Initiative SOAR class at Bush Center, 2640 Kemper Lane, Walnut Hills. Mayor John Cranley’s $250,000 anti-poverty grant is allowing the Urban League to take its industry-leading job-readiness class, Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention, into Cincinnati neighborhoods. Walnut Hills is the third. Corryville and Madisonville classes already graduated.

Vice Mayor David Mann will attend the Walnut Hills SOAR graduation and has been invited to speak. Graduation will begin at 11:30 a.m.

In neighborhoods too accustomed to gun violence, Harlow inflicted a different type of violence on herself. For one year, she turned to prostitution to feed her drug addiction. She said she advertised on Craigslist, under the category “young females.”

Flowers are the euphemism for dollars.

“I would go on a date for 100 roses,” she said.

Violence — and the anger that afflicts its survivors — is a thread in Harlow’s life, running back to age 8, when sexual abuse started in her home in Indian Lake, Ohio. Social workers removed her from the home when she was 14. Though petite, at 15, as a high school freshman, she beat up a male student, was expelled and sent into the juvenile system. Upon her release, officials moved her to Cincinnati in the care of an agency that specializes in homeless youths 18 to 24 years of age.

In an out of a group home — “I was homeless three times,” she said — Harlow ended up living with an older man, who introduced her to crack and is intense but short-lived high that users say combines the best immediate effects of marijuana and cocaine. The drugs, she said, of course, helped her numb life’s pain.

The man ended up in prison. Harlow ended up with a social service agency in Northern Kentucky, where she got clean for three years and earned a medical assistant’s certificate.

At 23, her time with that agency was up, and, jobless, she filled the empty hours by smoking crack, which at least temporarily numbed the pain and muted the anger.

She attended a SOAR information session in Walnut Hills, where she again met the Urban League’s Roberts.

Roberts, in the League’s shirt-and-tie uniform for men, told his story to prospective students who at least were interested in signing up for the three-week SOAR course.

Football star in high school. Did stupid adolescent stuff. Started robbing drug dealers. Arrested and charged at 18 for aggravated robbery with gun specifications. Sentenced to 9-25 years. Served 10. Stabbed five times in prison. Served long stretch in solitary. Should have been dead three times.

Need more? Got out in 2003. Got my GED right away. Turned my life over to God because there was no other way to explain still being alive. God had a plan for me. Earned an associate’s degree and then a bachelor’s. Went through a program at Urban League and worked in its call center. Have a felony record but was hired by the Urban League. I’m 40 now. I want to be a better man. I want to give back to my community and those around me. I have been so blessed.

“He was so real,” Harlow said later of Roberts’ testimony. “I knew I was in the right place.”

Roberts’ talk about how SOAR graduates more than 80 percent of its students and how more than three of four graduates land full-time work that pays an average first-year salary of $21,625.

Roberts and SOAR trainer Greg Walker — known to his students as “Mr. G.” — gave Harlow the same message: You have to be real. It’s not going to be easy.

“I had been to so many counselors and agencies and this was the first time I felt like the people really cared about me,” Harlow said. “Mr. G. told me I was holding back. He was right. I decided I would put my guard down 100 percent and trust him.”

Walker said he admires her for having the strength, on that walk to and from class, to resist the same people who used to sell her crack.

Harlow speaks now of working to learn how to turn negatives into positives. She knows she needs to keep her mind occupied on positive work. She can’t be afraid of success. She has to deal constructively with the anger that has built up inside of her through the years.

“You start with small stuff,” she said. “Sometimes you have to fall back to get ahead. You have to back away from confrontation. You have to let it go. Arguing or fighting get you nowhere.”

She is wearing dresses and suits now, courtesy of Dress for Success and the Freestore Foodbank. She has tattoos on her right arm and wrist. Across her upper chest, another tattoo reads, “Ride or Die Chick.”

She said she was interested in an Urban League staff member’s referral to Cincinnati Union Bethel’s Off The Streets program for women involved in prostitution.

For now, she relies on her classmates for support. Two of them, Sherwin Waugh, 27, of Evanston, and Antoine Turner, 34, of Over-the-Rhine, both served time in prison. They have felony records but no jobs. Cheryl Burden, 38, of Madisonville, hasn’t worked since 2010 and wants to get into home healthcare in order to support her children, who are 5 and 15.

They are works in progress.

“We’re in this together, like a family,” Harlow said. “We want to do well. We want to see our classmates succeed, too.”

WVXU Part 2: About League’s Financial Opportunity Center

Ayanna photo

Ayanna Wallace, manager of the local Urban League’s Financial Opportunity Center, appeared Monday on WXVU radio’s Cincinnati Edition. She spoke on air, along with SOAR participant Sherwin Waugh, 27, of Evanston, to discuss the challenges that the working poor face.

Latest newsletter from League’s Young Professionals

Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Southwestern Ohio is for people ages 20 to 40 who are interested in the Urban League movement.

Here’s more:

Sept. 14 audio from WVXU `Cincinnati Edition’

(from left) WVXU Cincinnati Edition host Mark Heyne, SOAR participant Sherwin Waugh, Donna Jones Baker, and Rob Rodgers.

(from left) WVXU Cincinnati Edition host Mark Heyne, SOAR participant Sherwin Waugh, Donna Jones Baker, and Rob Rodgers.

Urban League of Southwestern Ohio executives, program participant visit WVXU-FM studios for Cincinnati Edition to discuss the State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report and what it’s like to be black and living in poverty in Cincinnati

Gala to honor 5 for `Journey’



The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio will honor five people with its inaugural Journey Awards on Saturday evening during its annual gala, “An Evening to Soar!”

SOAR is the acronym for League’s flagship job-readiness program, Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention. One of the five honorees, Richard Cunningham, is a SOAR graduate who then completed the League’s Construction Connections program – in which he earned certification in crafting, rigging, equipment operating and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA 10). Working now in construction and earning a living to support his 6-year-old son, Cunningham plans within the next year to start his own residential demolition company.

“I care deeply about the community and helping at-risk young adults to make better life choices,” said Cunningham, who puts his words into practice by frequently returning to the Urban League’s Avondale campus to speak to participants in the SOAR class.
The League’s gala and silent auction is the local affiliate’s largest fund-raiser of the year.

With presenting sponsor Macy’s, the gala – which supports work of the Greater Cincinnati Urban League and the Miami Valley Urban League – will begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, at the Duke Energy Convention Center. The first order of business is the opening of the silent auction. Doors to the grand ballroom will open at 7 p.m. The program will begin at 7:15 p.m.

The theme Evening to Soar “is quite appropriate,” said Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, of which the Greater Cincinnati and Miami Valley urban leagues are subsidiaries. “It reflects of the great work that the Urban League does through its life-changing program offerings.”

Dinner music will be provided by the Deron Bell Band. The evening ends with a concert from noted jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell. Featuring her six-octave range, Ferrell offers her unique versions of standards ranging from Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” to Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love.”

Masters of ceremonies are Mark Hayes, WLWT-TV Channel 5 morning news anchor, and Faith Daniels of WROU-FM in the Dayton market.

Other Journey Award winners are: Catherine Crosby, executive director of Dayton’s Human Relations Council, who started the Dayton Urban League’s Young Professionals group 25 years ago; Urban Leaders program graduate Gloria Samuel, senior projects manager with Messer Construction; Osford Ogis, founder and CEO of OCG Telecom and graduate of the League’s business development program; and Jordan Quinn, a Woodward Career Technical High School graduate who attended the League’s after-school program there, which he credits for launching him to enrollment at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio.

Tickets are $150 a person and are still available through the end of business Thursday, Sept. 10, at or on Friday, Sept. 11, by calling (513) 281-9955.

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio touches thousands of lives a year through its many employment and youth and business development programs. Its three primary workforce development programs – SOAR, ACE (Accelerated Customer Service Education) and Construction Connections – have trained approximately 5,000 people in the past 10 years; 4,000 of them graduated, and roughly 3,000 found and maintained full-time employment in a career track.

Media contact: Mark Curnutte, Urban League, (513) 487-6523, (513) 348-5237, or

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio is a United Way agency partner. Since 1949, one of its subsidiaries, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, has provided industry-leading job-training, business and leadership development, and youth programs.

Seeking job seekers, Sept. 8

job seekers

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.

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.

Photographs and memories

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven featured speakers presented to the group in late June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Business Development Series

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

USDA Rural Development Business & Cooperative Programs

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

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

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

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

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

Call center grad comes up ACEs

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know how it feels,” she said.


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

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

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

Miami faculty visit Avondale, Urban League, see partnership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AABDP graduate honored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dayton Weekly Article

Fox 19 covers summer tech program

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

Business Courier spotlights program

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

League program with Toyota

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

Ghosts of dead black men

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Today at the League

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

New SOAR graduates take Construction Connections test.

New SOAR graduates take Construction Connections test.

Urban Leaders program application

2016-2017 Urban Leaders Application

2016-2017 Urban Leaders Program Overview

SOAR graduates discover hope

Jamika Morris

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

Class 1: `

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

Proud dad Ras Yeremiah Tafari and graduate Ras Tosh Tafari

Dad Ras Yeremiah Tafari and graduate Ras Tosh Tafari.




The tears started before the words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Those are always the ones,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New possibility for at-risk teens

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program

Students work on video project in Toyota Connections program.

Toyota, Urban League connect to teens

through technology, peace building

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota commits resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

`We’re not all ‘hood rats’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping families displaced by fire

Angela Dews and her boyfriend, Ricardo Battle, of Forest Park, sit on some of the donated furniture the Urban League's Torrance Jones found for them. Dews and her 17-year-old daughter were among the eight people displaced by a May fire at the Somerset, Avondale. They are living temporarily in the Poinciana, also in Avondale.

Angela Dews and her boyfriend, Ricardo Battle, of Forest Park, sit on some of the donated furniture the Urban League’s Torrance Jones found for them. Dews and her 17-year-old daughter were among the eight people displaced by a May fire at the Somerset, Avondale. They are living temporarily in the Poinciana, also in Avondale. Urban League photo/Mark Curnutte


Urban League’s Jones secures used furniture, household items

AVONDALE — Angela Dews and her 17-year-old daughter, smelling thick smoke, woke at 4 o’clock on the May morning. The apartment above their first-floor unit in the Somerset, Blair Avenue and Reading Road, was on fire.

Dews and her daughter, Aiken High School junior Tekobah Lewis, escaped, but their clothes and furniture were damaged by smoke and water.

For the next week, they lived in a room at Comfort Inn and Suites, Mitchell Avenue and Interstate 75, but had no place to go afterwards. Then Torrance Jones called. He and Melissa Hill are the two community access coaches at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, charged with working with residents of the five low-income apartment buildings, including Somerset, that are part of the five-year, $29.5 million Choice Neighborhoods Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Urban League is providing social services for residents of the five buildings through 2017.

Dews’ household was one of six displaced by the three-alarm fire, which Cincinnati firefighters largely contained to one unit on the second floor.

“Torrance gave us rides from the hotel to different agencies,” said Dews, 39, who has lived in Somerset since 2001. “He took us to pick out some furniture.”

Grant recipient The Community Builders (TCB), the landlord of the five buildings, paid for the hotel room and some clothing for displaced Somerset residents. But it was Jones, residents said, who went beyond his Urban League job description to help. He gave them bus tokens if he was unable to drive them himself. Jones and TCB helped Dews and her daughter get an apartment in another of the landlord’s Choice Neighborhoods Grant’s buildings, the Poinciana, Avondale. When renovations are completed on two previously vacant apartment buildings in Avondale, the Ambassador and Commodore, Dews and her daughter will move in there. TCB purchased and remodeled those buildings.

“Torrance was the only person I saw hustling,” Dews said. “He was the one who was trying to help us put the pieces back together. He was always positive. He knew what we needed.”

Jones found used furniture at an agency in Over-the-Rhine and secured food for displaced families from the Freestore Foodbank. He came up with baby seats, toiletries and clothing. The Community Builders provided a truck, and Jones store items in the garage of his home.

“I prayed for these families, and things just kept happening,” Jones said. “These families already are suffering from generational poverty. How can we expect them by themselves to recover from a fire when they lost everything? I can’t get them back to 100 percent, but maybe I could get them from 40 percent to 60 percent, where they wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed and hopeless.”

Jones is working with Dews and her boyfriend, Ricardo Battle, 43, to help them find jobs. Dews has experience in food service. The next step is likely going to be a job-readiness program at the Urban League.

Civil rights missing from bill

Letter from Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of Urban League of Southwestern Ohio, to Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman.

Portman Letter 061815

Citizens speak; Blackwell listens

Jeffrey Blackwell

AVONDALE — An audience of more than 100 citizens — not counting a dozen police officers and handful of elected officials — squeezed into the Urban League of Southwestern Ohio’s Community Room on Friday morning to give Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell their solutions to the city’s recent spate of gun violence.

Blackwell had listened in a meeting Thursday night at New Prospect Baptist Church, Roselawn.

As of May 24, 162 were injured this year by gunfire, more shooting victims than within that time frame than at any time in the previous 10 years, according to a report presented to City Council. And as of May 30, the city had experienced 30 homicides, compared to 33 during the same period in 2014, according to Cincinnati Police data.

“Shootings are up 25 percent. Homicides are down 10 percent,” Blackwell said in brief opening remarks.

Some members of council have criticized Blackwell for the city’s violence, and The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in late May that Blackwell had been handed resignation papers, which he refused to sign. He has received many votes of confidence from citizen and organizations.

On Friday morning, during the two-hour meeting, citizens were split into several small groups and instructed to come up with three solutions to the root causes of ongoing violence, especially experience in the city’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods — primarily Avondale and Walnut Hills in recent weeks.

Citizens presented several ideas — which were written on notecards and handed to Blackwell’s staff members. Themes centered on illegal gun control, job creation, better parenting of children, and better communication and collaboration between city services.

“This is not a Chief Blackwell issue. It’s a community issue,” said Tracie Hunter, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge and Westwood church pastor.

Other community members offered various proposals: Make the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) more effective or get rid of it. Curb access to violent video games in which youths are desensitized to gun play involving police officers. Create a scared straight-type of program that would take young people to emergency rooms, prisons and the morgue to witness first hand the effects of gun violence. Community meetings such as those held Thursday night and Friday need to be a consistent happening, addressing concerns and celebrating successes.

Jobs and economic conditions came up repeatedly.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that the nation’s unemployment rate stood at 5.5 percent, yet it is double that among African-Americans.

“We know that 1 percent of people commit 85 percent of crime,” said DeAnna Hoskins, director of Hamilton County’s reentry program, which helps returning citizens remove barriers to employment. “We have to give them a reason to put guns down. We have pushed individuals into violent crime. We have to change the culture. Reentry is not a program. It is a process.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation of Corrections released more than 21,000 prisoners in calendar year 2012, not counting inmates under local transitional control, such as parole and probation. That year, 1,940 prisoners from Hamilton County came home, in addition to another 1,203 from adjacent Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

The Urban League specialty

The Urban League — nationally and in Greater Cincinnati — is the industry leader in job-readiness programs that help graduates find and maintain employment and advance on career tracks.

As a recipient of Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s Hand Up Initiative grant, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio is offering an additional 11 SOAR classes in different neighborhoods. The initial three-week course — co-sponsored by the Uptown Consortium — will begin June 15 at the Hampton Inn in Corryville. Courses during the next year will be held in several neighborhoods: Madisonville, East Price Hill, CUF, and Mount Auburn. These classes also will provide, for the first time, customer service certification from the National Retail Federation.

SOAR stands for Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention, and recent graduates found work that paid an average of nearly $22,000 in the first year. Many SOAR graduates move into the League’s Construction Connections program — which offers several construction certifications, including heavy equipment operation.

The Urban League’s call center training program – Accelerated Call Center Education (ACE) – led 2014 graduates to jobs that paid an average of $11 an hour. From 2010 through 2014, the Urban League in Cincinnati welcomed 12,000 participants through its doors into its workforce, youth, small business and women’s business programs.

Community, police find solutions In addition to leading in job-readiness programs, the Greater Cincinnati Urban League houses the Partnering Center. Created as part of the city’s groundbreaking Collaborative Agreement of 2002, now seen as a national model, the center brings residents, business leaders and police together to develop solutions to neighborhood crime problems, said Dorothy Smoot, executive director of the center and the local Urban League’s director of programs.

The Collaborate Agreement resulted from months of long negotiations that came on the heels of a police shooting of an unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas, in April 2001 in Over-the-Rhine. Days of civil unrest and a declaration of martial law followed.

“Cincinnati has a more accountable and transparent policing process in 2015 that makes the community partners in keeping it safe,” Smoot said Friday morning.

Community meetings involving police are planned for later June in Avondale and East Price Hill, Smoot said, meetings that will make use of the process known as SARA — scanning, analyzing, responding and accessing.

“Neither Chief Blackwell nor the police can do it by themselves,” Smoot said. “We have shown that when the community is an engaged partner in public safety that crime goes down.”

Avondale, Bond Hill, Corryville, Madisonville and Northside are Cincinnati neighborhoods within the past decade that have successfully employed the Partnering Center and the SARA process to develop successful solutions to crime problems.

State Sen. Cecil Thomas, a Democrat who represents District 9 in Hamilton County, attended the session and said Cincinnati has a process to involving citizens and police to reduce crime problems.

“This is part of that foundation,” said Thomas, a long-time Cincinnati Police officer.

For his part, Blackwell — though he faced a weekend of writing a 90-day plan to reduce violence, due to City Manager Harry Black on Monday — said he was enthused by community response during a tense week.

“This (meeting) demonstrates how much love this community has for each other,” he said in closing remarks. “It’s not about me. It’s about us. A negative has been turned into a positive. “Violence is not as high here as in other cities. I’m encouraged that this city is going to get this under control.”

Information on ACE, SOAR, Construction Connections and the League’s other workforce, youth and economic development programs is available on this Website or by calling (513) 281-9955.

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