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Activists disappointed with Cleveland NAACP

Cuyahoga Politics Today

Social Justice concerns fuel startup of new county NAACP


A core of civic activists is working to create a second National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Northeast Ohio. Their goal is to create a Cuyahoga Branch of the NAACP that would co-exist and hopefully collaborate with the long-established Cleveland branch.

About 35 people, including several with notable community activism resumes, met last night at the county library’s South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch on Green Road to discuss formation of a county-based NAACP chapter.
After an introductory summary of the NAACP’s storied local history, Dick Peery voiced the type of non-partisan support the activists want to build upon. “I am not here representing the Cleveland branch. I am only here as an individual,” said Dick Peery, noted former Plain Dealer reporter and political activist. “Any time people want to do the right work, and especially younger people, I want to do whatever I can to encourage it.”
Peery is a current executive committee member of the Cleveland NAACP.
Leading the new effort is Cassandra McDonald, a recent law school graduate who says she is currently pursuing a doctorate in law at Walden University. She explained the rationale for an NAACP local reboot during last night’s meeting.  “Some of you might get a little uncomfortable about the things I might say, but I believe the truth shall set us free,” she said.
“I sat back and waited and watched, then waited and watched again while all our children — my children — were dying. They were dying not just dying because of gun violence and murder, but because of racism, hatred, ignorance, and a lack of love and support, and souls that were lost.  I watched and waited for consistent advocacy against gentrification, against the school-to-prison pipeline, against mass incarceration, against educational disparities in the urban communities, against self-serving politicians trying to interfere with our right to vote, against poor race relations, against discrimination of those who identify as LGBTQ, against gender discrimination, and I got tired of sitting and waiting. So I got up and took a stand,” McDonald said.
The Cleveland chapter, despite electing a new leadership team about two years ago and initiating an ongoing membership growth and retention campaign, has not attracted the necessary grassroots support to respond effectively in the eyes of many to the area’s most critical civil rights issues. Many citizens were dismayed at the Cleveland NAACP’s support of the Quicken Loans Arena expansion for what seemed to some a [cheap] payoff of $25,000 from Dan Gilbert, owner of the Q’s principal tenant, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland NAACP chapter president Michael Nelson is currently campaigning for election to Cleveland Municipal Court.
A panel presentation at the meeting featured East Cleveland-based telecommunications consultant Zakee Rashid, ex-offender employment advocate Louis Hawkins, Kent State University NAACP founder Dr. Richard Montgomery, anti-racism activist Robert M. Korecky, Minister Ray Greene, and Cleveland chapter Black Lives Matter member Kareem Henton. 
Each expressed gratitude for the past work of the Cleveland NAACP chapter while acknowledging widespread perceptions that dissension had set in and new blood is needed.
“We appreciate what the NAACP has done in our past and for our future,” said Hawkins, who aligned with McDonald around the still-smoldering issue of deadly force by the City of Euclid police that resulted in the death of Luke Stewart on March 13. That issue was further stoked by the recent automobile stop by Euclid police that ended in the public assault of a motorist recorded on a citizen's cell phone video.

“But what I’ve heard people say is ‘Where is the relevancy (in the Cleveland chapter)? Is there relevancy today?’,” said Rashid. He noted the need for a renewed focus toward economic empowerment. “(Minorities) cannot continue, I think, in America to just sustain by looking for jobs.  We have to start looking for ownership, primary responsibility, and general contracting as much as anybody else in this country,” he stated.  “Especially in Cuyahoga County, looking at the numbers, we should realistically be able to bid on any contract coming up, particularly in a project like the Q.  I mean, our people were not even figured into that process. So I think that by joining a new organization where there are some new ideas … we can be walking through the process from beginning all the way to the end, instead of running from the end and asking for some crumbs after everybody else has divided up the pie.”
Henton, of Black Lives Matter, who is also a member of the Cleveland NAACP, also offered his support for a county NAACP.  “I have a reminiscent respect for some of the pioneering organizations that really did a lot for us in the past… But we didn’t get to the place we are right now because they’ve been doing their job well.” He said that too often an advocate for a social cause on the public scene “is often a member of a particular board” whose mission undermines that same greater cause.
Near the meeting’s end, after this reporter’s departure, longtime NAACP Cleveland attorney and near-perpetual top Cleveland branch officer James Hardiman appeared. A heated debate ensued during which Hardiman reportedly questioned the authority of those assembled to form a new branch. Pre-publication attempts to reach Hardiman by phone and email for comment were unsuccessful.
Afterward, McDonald held a Q&A session. She said that questions about funding for the organization would be answered at a later time.  She also pointed out that the minimum required membership number was “very close”, but not yet achieved.
McDonald gained some local notoriety last year when she ran for the Ohio House of Representatives as a Republican. After she lost, she announced that she was a Democrat.
Membership dues for all NAACP chapters start at $30. Those wishing to join the new branch or seeking more information can reach McDonald at 216.245.2115 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
R. T. Andrews contributed to the reporting of this article.

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Cleveland's crumbling political order

Cuyahoga Politics Today:

Desperate Times: Dark Money, Gatekeepers and the Public Square, Part I

 The emergence of "dark money" in this year's mayoral campaign is a harsh but illuminating case study on how the intersection of race, power and privilege in Cleveland retards the region's redevelopment into a first class twenty-first century metropolis.

Ironically, this object lesson of primitive politics is on display front and center this week as Cleveland hosts not one but two national conferences focused on smart cities and intelligent planning for urban communities. 

We will have more to say about our national visitors in a companion post, but suffice it to say here that they are some of the brightest minds currently operating on the cutting edge of technology, urban planning and intelligent design. Stepping outside their conference headquarters to experience our downtown vibrancy, the more attuned can hear disturbing echoes from the local corridors of power emanating from our airwaves, unlike the soothing welcomes they are receiving from official local representatives.

Like most big cities, a status Cleveland now holds more in memory, longing and pretense, our direction and pace are largely set by the interplay between our business and civic leaders. In healthy communities, these forces are complementary competitors. Like Howard and Hampton, two of the nation’s best historically black universities, they battle fiercely but enjoy both a mutual respect with the understanding that beyond the struggle on the playing field, they each share a common interest in the other's prosperity and well-being.

More than a century ago, Cleveland was at the national forefront of municipal leadership. We had nearly one million residents within our borders. We had a progressive mayor, Tom Johnson, who left a successful business career to run for public office in service to his community — not just to his class. While Johnson is justly celebrated today for his bold, visionary and courageous leadership — his statue adorns our Public Square — his former business associates at the time vilified him for daring to represent the public interest at the expense of their immediate profits.

Mostly since then, it seems that our business community has made it a cardinal principle to ensure that organic leadership in the public interest would never reemerge. The dominance of that first principle has coincided with Cleveland's steady decline ever since 1930.

Cleveland's population growth was fueled first by middle and Eastern European immigrants who came to toil in the filthy factories, foundries and refineries that forged the area's wealth. The unhealthiness of those sweatshops and the griminess of the teeming masses in their ethnic central city enclaves led people with means to seek greener pastures. Even Millionaires Row did not escape the exodus as wealthy Clevelanders moved outward to create some of the world's first and finest modern suburbs: Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland.

In so doing, they had to abandon direct control of city politics. By and large, good government forces refocused on emerging suburban city halls, replaced in Cleveland City Hall by waves of competing ethnic politicians sent downtown from their respective enclaves — Little Italy, Slavic Village, Collinwood, Clark-Fulton, and so forth — to gain public power to improve their neighborhood's and living conditions.

A tacit bargain was struck between the business community and the ethnics. The latter could run the city politically but would not interfere with the city's powerful money making apparatus, which was slowly becoming more corporate, with the attendant development of powerful legal and financial service muscle centers.

Cleveland ethnics developed a unique and powerful "Cosmopolitan" political machine, best exemplified by Frank Lausche, who blazed a trail to stunning success as judge, mayor, governor, and ultimately US Senator. (George Voinovich would follow Lausche's Cosmo path a generation later, but even though he took some of his rough and tumble homies along to ride shotgun, his saddlebags always carried a corporate agenda.)

Black people, eventually to become the area's largest and most indigestible ethnic group, were initially barely a blip on Cleveland's municipal radar. Restricted initially to the city's Central neighborhood, they were only a minor irritant in the civic arena until a modest immigrant from Alabama, John O. Holly, began agitating for equity in 1935. Seemingly overnight he organized 10,000 working class black to support his contention that black lives mattered. Under the banner of “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work”, his Future Outlook League forced dozens of businesses in the central area and then downtown, to begin desegregating their workforces by hiring Negroes.

Holly's intrusion into how the city did business had political overtones and fostered the business community's resort to gatekeepers, respectable black people whose primary chore was to keep their unwashed and rebellious kinfolk under control.

This quasi-colonial system has been in place ever since, with continuous refinements that extend until the present day. Its use was instrumental in the undermining of the opposition to the Q deal, and can now be seen in the ferocious effort to derail the populist challenge to City Hall that threatens to put neighborhood native son Zack Reed from sitting in the mayor's seat.

What Cleveland’s civic leaders continually fail to understand its that its adherence to a post-colonial reliance upon a gatekeeper mentality retards our entire community, keeps us in a defensive stance, limits our attractiveness to immigration from anywhere, makes us wholly ill-equipped to compete for Amazon HQ2, and ultimately undermines our most earnest efforts to enter world class competition even at the middleweight level, notwithstanding our enormous public assets.

We approach today the 50th anniversary of the election of Carl Stokes as mayor. We are right to celebrate that achievement: Cleveland was the FIRST big city in America to elect a black man as mayor.

(Richard Hatcher was elected mayor in Gary, Indiana the same night in November 1967; however, Gary barely registered on the roster of the city’s larger cities, Its 178,000 citizens ranked it #70 in 1960, while Cleveland came in as the nation’s 8th largest city, with a population of 876,000. 

Today, Cleveland has shrunk to a ranking outside the top fifty cities, with a population of about 385,000, placing it below such lustrous venues as Tulsa OK, Arlington TX, Colorado Springs CO, and Mesa AZ.)

The Stokes era at City Hall, 1967-1971, busted open the old order. Black people, confined almost exclusively to the overcrowded neighborhoods of Cedar-Central, Hough, Glenville, and Mt. Pleasant, used their concentrated mass to break down decades of exclusion, and to bring a measure of meritocracy to the public space. The establishment, which had long resisted such a development, embraced it in the wake of Stokes’ near-election in 1965, and in fear of the tumultuous conditions erupting nationwide in places like Newark, Watts, and Detroit.

Those were exhilarating years for black people in Cleveland. Doors were kicked open on every front as black people found new opportunities in employment, housing, and the civic space. There was opposition all along the way, but led by Carl and his brother Lou, who became Ohio’s first black Congressman in 1968, the black community stuck together and persevered.

While the Stokes years at City Hall led to unquestioned improvement in the quality of civic life for all Clevelanders, certain problems, most notably in the justice and public education systems, proved intractable even as significant progress was made in other arenas. Hardcore resistance to public school integration was tolerated and even supported by key elements of the business community, and the promise of the Stokes years quickly waned. And when an ambitious, audacious inner city ethnic westside kid named Dennis Kucinich rode the unrest into City Hall, all hell broke loose.

Kucinich was mayor for only two years, every day of which seemed as tumultuous as what we currently observe in the White House. The business community found George Voinovich, a Cosmo Republican, retook control of City Hall and community politics, and found complicit partners it could control with a multifaceted system of financial controls in the form of salaries, grants, contracts, and other more nefarious fiscal tools.

Today, Frank Jackson sits in City Hall as the embodiment of that system. A good man, conscientious, diligent, he is the virtual embodiment of a political metronome. Super dependable, predictable to a fault, he can be counted upon to support almost every business community initiative, irrespective of its merit or the disproportionate aspects of its benefits and burdens.

Jackson has done a lot of good during his unsurpassed twelve years as mayor, but almost everybody knows and believes the baton should be passed.

And therein lies the problem: the natural stream of selection has been corrupted, choked with pesticides, and clogged, perhaps inadvertently but nonetheless primarily as a direct consequence of the gatekeeper system that restricts access, development and advancement of talent, ambition, and potential in the civic, commercial and cultural spaces that matter in Greater Cleveland.