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Out & About in Cleveland

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From Carpatho-Rusyn Vatra Fest, to Sparx City Hop, Famine Memorial Mass, and the Human Rights Campaign Gala

On Saturday, September 20th, our first event was the 10th Annual Carpatho-Rusyn Vatra Festival at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist on Carlton Road in Parma. First of all, we picked up some literature with the heading "Who are the Rusyns?" and learned that "Carpatho-Rusyns belong to the Slavic branch of the Indo-European peoples and have lived in subcarpathia since the 14th century. Their homeland, known as Carpathian Rus', is situated where the borders of Ukraine, Slovakia, and Poland meet. Today smaller numbers of Rusyns live in Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and the Czech Republic. Those of Rusyn descent number over 1.2 million in Europe and over 650,000 in North America, with a small population in South America and Australia. The Carpatho-Rusyns have been known as the 'People from Nowhere". They have been stateless and dominated by many countries..." Actually the first thing that we did on our visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was encounter our very good friend Ms. Laurel Tombazzi who was there working at the festival. It was Ms. Tombazzi who helped us locate the above literature and told us a bit about the Carpatho-Rusyns herself. All together, without the help of Ms. Tombazzi today's visit would not have been as successful as it was because she also introduced us to the festival coordinator Ms. Bonnie Burke as well as two very prominent clergymen. First, we met Bishop John Kudrick, the Bishop of Parma and the Ruthenian Jurisdiction covering 12 states. And then we were introduced to the Very Reverend Archpriest Michael Hayduk of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. We got to sit with Father Hayduk for a little while and learned that he is a native Clevelander who even attended high school at the school of this very church. Father Hayduk has served here for 11 years now. He also told us that this is the first time that this festival has been held here. It is usually located in Burton.

Another thing that Ms. Tombazzi did for us is take us to a map and showed us where Drienca, Slovakia was located because that is where the dress she was wearing came from and  Jakubjany, Slovakia was located because that is where the first musical group for the day came from. That group was the Kecera Rusyn Folk Ensemble and we watched them perform their first song as we had quite a good lunch.

Our next event was called the "Sparx City Hop" and it was located in the Galleries at CSU on Euclid Avenue as part of the "At Home in Africa" exhibit. What we did here was take part in a scavenger hunt wherein all who completed it were eligible to take part in a multi-prize drawing on October 4th. The scavenger hunt consisted of the participants  being given a series of small snapshots of pieces of costumes, tapestries and other items in the exhibit and then it was our job to match the snapshot of the piece of the item with the actual item. It took us over a half hour to match them all up but we finally completed our task.

We spoke for a few minutes with the gallery attendant, Mr. Jimmy Hall who is a sophomore and a Studio Art Major at CSU. Mr. Hall told us that so far 150 people had visited the Galleries so far on this day and at least 100 of them had done the scavenger hunt perhaps because a couple of classes made it a requirement.

We were also given a paper were we had to select the prize that we wanted if we were to win the drawing. We chose some African toys and if we win them we will donate them to a worthy party. The scavenger hunt which was a good way to get people to study each item  in the exhibit in depth; we had a challenging time but, nevertheless, a fun time.

Later in the day we drove over to the flats for the Annual Famine Memorial Mass at the Celtic Cross near the Flat Iron Cafe on Center Street. This event is conducted annually as a remembrance of the horrible potato famine in Ireland that took place between 1845 and 1852 wherein one million people died and one million emigrated from Ireland both of which caused Ireland's population to drastically decrease.

This mass was presided over by Father Jim O'Donnell, who has been doing this every year since 1990. Father O'Donnell is also known for his involvement with the organization, "Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist" and was inducted into the Cleveland International Hall of Fame in 2012. The lovely music and singing for this event was provided by the parishioners at St. Malachi and about 100 people turned out for it.

Among the people that we spoke with here were Mr. John O'Brien, President of the West Side Irish American Club where we are going on Sunday for the Annual Clambake, and Ms. Sue Liddell who is a friend of our own Mr. Gordon Landefeld.

We had to struggle a bit due to the revolving bridge to get down to the flats but Father O'Donnell and the sincerity of the attendees made it worthwhile.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that "encourages gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans to live their lives openly. The foundation also seeks to change the hearts and minds of Americans to the side of equality." Accordingly our last event for Saturday was the 21st Annual HRC Cleveland Gala and Auction which was held this year at the public auditorium on Lakeside Avenue.

As the Tri-Chairs of the Gala Ms. Luz Pellot, Ms. Melanie Falls, and Mr. Eugene Walters said at the start of the program, "let's celebrate our victories. Let's take an evening to laugh, talk, enjoy, and learn from one another!" And we did as we had the good fortune to be seated with our good friend, the Reverend Detra Evans from Mt. Zion Church and her spouse Ms. Terry Moore and Reverend Evans' lovely daughter Ms. Colleen Evans. Reverend Evans embraced us when she saw us and they were wonderful dinner companions for the evening.

We met so many people and saw so many people that we knew that it would be tough to mention them all but we really liked speaking with Reverend Brian Wilbert of the Christ Episcopal Church in Oberlin who told us that Ms. Margaret W. Wong tried to help his partner obtain a green card in 2010 and they both really appreciated her efforts as did another person who said that Ms. Wong helped a friend of hers from Japan remain in the United States. The excellent food was provided by Executive Caterers and the owner, Mr. Harlan Diamond, was there himself tonight and he greeted us warmly.

We got to talk for a few minutes with Reverend Dr. Edward Smith Davis from the United Church of Christ which received the Torch Award for its support of the LGBT as well as for its work on behalf of social justice throughout the years. Dr. Davis, along with Reverend Michael Schuenemeyer, accepted this award and gave a fiery speech in which he said that the church should driving the fight for equality and that "our voices must be loud while others are silent!"

To be sure there were several speeches throughout the evening in which the speakers seemed to agree that the battle for LGBT equality had a long way to go but it had accomplished a lot in a very short time. Everyone expressed optimism that the quest for marriage equality in Ohio will be resolved soon by the courts in our favor. And there was swell entertainment by comedienne Ms. Dana Goldberg and actor/entertainer Mr. Alex Newell of the hit series "Glee" who sang a couple of songs for us including "Last Dance".

But what we really liked is when the Leadership Award was presented to Ohio State Representative Nickie Antonio. State Rep. Antonio was obviously very moved by the honor and compared it to winning an Academy Award because, like the Academy Award winners, she was chosen by a vote of her peers. She went on to praise her partner Ms. Jean Kosmac and the two daughters that they raised together. State Rep. Antonio was at the forum the Stonewall Democrats gave last week, as were we, and she credited Mr. Mark Szabo and Ms. Phyllis Harris (of the LGBT Center) for calling everyone's attention for the need to address the problems of homelessness amongst LGBT youth and for LGBT seniors in care facilities who are often subject to harassment. Of course State Rep. Antonio spoke about marriage but she also emphasized the need to pass legislation aimed at stopping workplace discrimination against the LGBT and legislation against hate crimes. She quoted Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when she said that "the moral arc of the universe is long but bends towards justice." She concluded by stressing the need for those involved in the struggle for social justice "to be kind to each other "and tone down the "internal strife" because "together we are unstoppable!"

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