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Out & About in Cleveland

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Being Black and Biracial in America; Dinner with a Slice of History Program; 44th Flag Raising Ceremony; 17th Annual Casino Royale fundraiser for WomenSafe, Inc.

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On Friday, February 2nd, the City Club featured a program titled "Being Black and Biracial in America" which featured Mr. Bakari Kitwana, Senior Media Fellow at "The Jamestown Project" and author of the "The Hip-Hop Generation", interviewing Ms. Julie Lythcott-Haims author of "Real American: A Memoir" (her latest) as well as "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over-parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success".

A biracial child of a white mother and an African-American father, Ms. Lythcott-Haims spoke of her struggle to develop an identity that she was comfortable with. She recalled the gut-wrenching pain of being a high achiever in high school (she was student body president) and how demoralizing it was to find a racial slur painted on her locker. She then embarked on a fruitless quest to please others while despising herself for being a person of color.

It was a long journey but ultimately she overcame feelings of self-loathing and to love herself for the individual that she is. Her own children are biracial and she believes that the most important thing that she can to help them is to let them know that they are loved and to help them establish their own sense of self-worth and to help them navigate their way through racially-sensitive situations.

She believed that a good life is not about performing to people's expectations of you but who you are and how you wish to portray yourself to others. When one African-American student questioned her about whether or not she could eat chicken and watermelon in public because she didn't want to be labelled as a black stereotype, Ms. Lythcott-Haims identified very much with what she was saying but indicated to her that if, as an individual, she really liked those foods then she should eat them and if those around her can't get over it then she should seek out other companions.

A good number of people that we spoke to were closely connected to biracial children and really respected the views and the writings of Ms. Lythcott-Haims who received a standing ovation at the conclusion.

It was one of those City Club programs that held us spellbound and we really admired Ms. Lythcott-Halms for her brilliant analysis of the racism that is unfortunately ever-present and taking place all around us. Moreover, we loved her for her authenticity and really believe that she spoke to us from her heart.

Once again, we don't think that what we can write here can really capture it so we encourage our readers to please go to the City Club website at cityclub.org to listen to the entire program; it is very much worth one's time.  We daresay that immigrants could probably relate to what Ms. Lythcott-Haims was talking about in terms of feeling out of place.

In fact, during the course of the conversation with Mr. Kitwana, Ms. Lythcott-Haims talked about how her mother immigrated to the United States from England and expressed outrage over the treatment of immigrants by the current administration which is trying to dictate standards of what immigrants need to be to be here.

Another moving part of the program, was when Ms. Moonisa Halim, a former Cleveland Heights teen poet laureate, read a poem that she wrote about what it is like to be biracial. Ms. Lythcott-Halms liked it too and said that she loves to include local poets wherever she speaks.

One of the community partners for this event was the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, Ms. Sandra Fletcher, Director of Administration, spoke at the start of the program and set the tone for the what we were about to hear when she said that this forum speaks to the goals of the YWCA which are gender and racial equity and standing up for social justice.

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That evening we went to the International Women's Air and Space Museum to partake in a "Dinner with a Slice of History Program" featuring Captain Stephanie Johnson who is the first African-American captain to be hired by Delta Airlines.

After hearing Ms. Lythcott-Halms speak earlier, we didn't think the odds were too good that we would but attending another program with such an inspirational speaker in the time of one day but Captain Johnson surprised us by being very bright and upbeat as she discussed her career.

Like Ms. Lythcott-Halms, she gave a lot of credit to her family for being very supportive. Even as a little girl, she knew she wanted to do something in the field of aviation. Thus, when her dad (who was there at the Museum too) asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up and she replied that she wanted to be a pilot, he said, "well, there are thousands of pilots up there and if they can do it, then you can do it!"

And Captain Johnson did do it one step at a time. She went into detail as she talked about how she took her first plane ride as a high school student with one of her teachers who let her fly his private plane for a few minutes. From that point on, she knew the career that she wanted. Subsequently, she attended KSU where she earned a degree in aerospace technology and became certified as a private and commercial pilot and flight engineer. Eventually she was employed as a pilot by Mesa Airlines which lead to her being hired by Northwest Airlines in 1997 as its first female African-American pilot and became Delta's first African-American female pilot when the two airlines merged.

Today there are 14,000 pilots working for Delta Airlines and probably less than ten of them are black women. Of course this gets her some attention which is understandable to Captain Johnson who realizes that not too many people who do what she does "look like me."

Thus she devotes a lot of her time to doing inspirational outreach to young people and is a key figure in Cleveland's Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy which, as its website states, "provides unique summer aviation education programs for elementary, middle and high school students who are interested in aviation and aerospace..."

One of the key points of Captain Johnson's message was that in order to succeed a person needs to really love and believe in themselves and what they are working towards and be willing to progress slowly but steadily towards her/his goals.  

This was echoed by a person named Delores who shared a table with us. Delores is now retired but drove a school bus for CMSD for 30 years in fair and foul weather. "Loving my job," said Dolores, "made all the difference in the world." 

On Saturday morning , February 3rd, we drove to Cleveland City Hall to take part in the 44th Flag Raising Ceremony at noon for Black History Month. As we were pulling into the parking lot, we encountered our good friend Ohio gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Congressperson Dennis J. Kucinich so we ran in together just in time for the start of the program which was presided over by Dr. Eugene "Dr. J" Jordan, President of the Underground Railroad Society and Amir Khalid A. Samad, CEO of Coalition for a Better Life/Peace in the Hood, Inc.

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Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson greeted all of us and recalled that the Flag Raising Ceremony had been taking place at City Hall for decades now. He had to leave early for another appointment but wished us all well.

Then Amir Khalid introduced Congressperson Kucinich (himself a former Cleveland mayor) calling him another brother in the struggle for social justice. He went on to say that there is only one species in the human race and "we are all joined in spirits and souls."

Congressperson Kucinich spoke for a couple of minutes. He said that it was "great to be here in this moment of community empowerment.."He noted that a lot of progress has been made in terms of people coming together regardless of race. He recalled that his family never owned a home and that they moved around a lot when he was younger so he grew up around many African-American people who became his friends and his relationships with them really affected his political views. He introduced Akron Councilperson Tara Samples who is his running mate for Lt. Governor and herself an African-American. He closed with the words, "I say to the sound of drums, lift every voice and sing!"

Then all of us there joined forces to sing a chorus of "Life Every Voice and Sing." Soon we all walked outside to the sound of drums to watch the red, black and green Pan-African Flag being raised above Cleveland City Hall below the American Flag.

Dr. Jordan said that on this day we should remember our ancestors both local and international and how they persevered. He agreed that the struggle is for racial and social justice is ongoing. He remembered a time when people of color were forced to enter a building through its back door but times have changed; we have grown stronger so even if a situation arises where there is "no door at all" then "one will be carved" so that everyone can enter because, as he eloquently stated, "we who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes."

We left Cleveland City Hall feeling very upbeat and these positive feelings stayed with us throughout the day carrying over to our second event for Saturday and our last event for the weekend which was the 17th Annual Casino Royale fundraiser for "WomenSafe, Inc. the Green House" on Ravenna Road in Chardon which is described by its literature as being, "a non-profit organization that provides free support to anyone experiencing violence in their home or relationships. This includes comprehensive programming for adults, children, and federal victims of crime."

The event took place at Patrician Catering on Lakeland Blvd. in Eastlake and featured all sorts of auctions, raffles and fun opportunities to try one's hand at blackjack and the crap tables. Along these lines, we had never played craps before but, largely due to beginners' luck, we embarked on a winning streak and got to shoot the dice for at least ten minutes.

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There was a family-style dinner consisting of pasta, meat, chicken, potatoes, and veggies which really filled us up and we enjoyed sharing a table with Mr. Andy Bushman, a Geauga County Munson Township Trustee, who is very supportive of "WomenSafe, Inc. ... " and shared with us a lot of information about its good works. We urge our readers to read about it too at www.womensafe.org

We said hello to Ms. Megan Fisher, the Assistant Director of Community Affairs, who arranged for us to attend and, of course, Ms. Tameka Taylor, President of the Board of Trustees, who we see frequently at Cleveland events because she is also the President and Founder of "Compass Consulting Services, LLC", a very prominent organizational development firm. We brought with us to this event our good friend, Ms. Tracey Schveder whose niece Ms. Katie Velecheck volunteered her time to work at the fundraiser.

To no surprise, our friend Mr. Christopher G. Axelrod aka "Peacock" greeted everyone as they arrived. He also conducted the official welcome in which thanked the event sponsors and everyone there for showing up on a very cold night to support this worthy enterprise. "It took a village to get here," said Mr. Axelrod, "we have so many individuals we need to recognize because without their support, none of this would be possible."

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

 

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