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11th Annual Summit on the State of the International Community in Northeast Ohio; Embracing Diversity: Fostering Equity and Inclusion In Lakewood; 2018 Nursi Chair Iftar Dinner

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On Wednesday evening, May 23, we attempted to attend three gatherings and managed to do so with varying degrees of success regarding the length of time we were able to spend at each event.

First, we went to the Rotunda at Cleveland City Hall for the 11th Annual Summit on the State of the International Community in Northeast Ohio put on by the International Community Council-Worldwide Intercultural Network aka ICC-WIN and sponsored by Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC.

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We had dinner (provided by the Siam Cafe on St. Clair Avenue) and chatted for a while with the program participants. We were not able to stay for the actual program, but our friend and colleague, Mr. George Koussa, remained and took part in it. Read his article about the ICC-WIN Summit. 

The purpose of this event was to provide "a forum for leaders of organizations serving international constituents with the purpose of identifying key challenges and opportunities for the international community and establishing priorities for action from 2018 to 2020."

Along these lines, Mr. Ken Kovach, President of the Board of Directors of ICC-WIN, kicked off the program by speaking of the great success of "The World in Your Backyard" series, which has been conducted over the last two years in quite a few locations throughout Cuyahoga County, especially in Solon (we have been to several of these meetings), where a forum on life in Sweden is scheduled for next week.

The list of those scheduled to speak was truly impressive and included both Mr. Koussa and Mr. Richard Drucker from our office as well as fellow immigration attorney, Ms. Svetlana Schreiber. Additional speakers included community leaders Ms. Gia Hoa Ryan, Mr. Alassane Fall, and Mr. Tim Russo, all of whom we know well.

We were also pleased to note that Mr. Steve Salvi, the Founder of Ohio Jobs & Justice PAC was scheduled to present a viewpoint on immigration very much in line with that of the Trump Administration; we believe this was good because this it would prompt constructive discussion.

Another person who should be commended is our good friend, Mr. Joseph Meissner, who put together a great information booklet containing a wide array of articles about immigrants/refugees and their impact upon the United States. The syllabus featured articles on such subjects as DACA; sanctuary; what Governor Kasich has done to assist immigrants; and one we especially want to read entitled "How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration," which should prove to be interesting.

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Second, we managed to negotiate our way through the traffic on Highway 2 to get to the main branch of the Lakewood Library to attend the program "Embracing Diversity: Fostering Equity and Inclusion In Lakewood," put on by LakewoodAlive with the assistance and cooperation of the Lakewood Community Relations Advisory Commission.

The proceedings were in the form of a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Tameka L. Taylor, President and Co-Founder of Compass Consulting, which the program notes describe as "a minority certified and women-owned organizational development firm that helps companies meet their optimal performance by maximizing employee relationships and fostering inclusive work environments."

The panelists were: 

  • Ms. Samantha Walters, trained as a central community capacity builder in the First Food field. She facilitates community conversations about structural race, racially equitable policy and strategy development, and organizational change strategies. She is Founder of the She Collective in Lakewood and a member of the National First Food Racial Equity Cohort through Race Forward/Center for Social Inclusion.
  • Ms. Gabrielle Jackson, committed to promoting the ideals in which she was raised and lives: responsible citizenship, strength of African-American heritage, and that women and children, especially minority women and children, must be valued, encouraged, and supported. She serves on the Lakewood Community Relations Advisory Commission and is a Deputy Political Director for U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. 
  • Mr. Jay Tamilio, who just graduated from Lakewood High School.
  • Mr. Murat Gurer, Director of the Turkish Cultural Center and Business Development Manager at Taazaa, Inc. Just like us, Mr. Gurer was at the ICC-WIN function but left early to attend this event in Lakewood. He is from Turkey and first came to the U.S. as a student in 2000; he presented the point-of-view of an immigrant.

Under Ms. Taylor's guidance, the panelists explored such questions as:

  • How do we celebrate diversity?
  • How do you examine your own implicit biases, and what suggestions do you have for the audience?
  • What are the assets around diversity that Lakewood has to offer, and what are some of our challenges as a community?
  • What are the strategies and/or programs that are working to promote equity in the community?
  • What are some behaviors that promote creating an inclusive community?
  • What are some of the ways that I can be a "change agent" in my community?

Among the wise things said was that when connecting with a person of a different culture or background, it is all right to ask them questions about where they came from or their beliefs. Of course, one must also be prepared to be told that his/her actions or queries (which might be all right in our culture) might be offensive to him/her. Therefore, one must be accepting of the other party's sensitivity and sincerely apologize so that the relationship can move forward. What's more, one must be forgiving of oneself for unintentionally saying or doing something that troubled the other party.

In terms of assisting immigrants/refugees, it was said that great rewards can be produced for all concerned by offering to initially help them navigate their way around the community (i.e., shopping and other errands) and encouraging them to volunteer at social functions wherein the atmosphere is very accepting. Accordingly the classes at the Beck Center for the Arts are a marvelous opportunity for foreign-born young people (with limited English skills) to participate in hands-on activities and make new friends.

We especially liked hearing the views and experiences of Mr. Tamilio, who was quite mature for his age. Among these was how he started a friendship with a young man from Iraq simply by asking if they could eat lunch together when he noticed the boy was sitting all alone.

Third, we stayed for the lion's share of the Lakewood program, but had to leave just as the Q & A was starting because we had to speed up to University Heights to attend the 2018 Nursi Chair Iftar Dinner at the Lombardo Student Center at John Carroll University.

We managed to go the distance in about 45 minutes just before the dinner started at 8:45 pm. Sadly, we missed the first part of the evening in which a film was shown about Ramadan customs in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.

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Nevertheless, we were warmly greeted by Professor Zeki Saritoprak, the B.S. Nursi Chair in Islamic Studies, and also got to visit with Professor Sheila E. McGinn, the Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies (wherein Prof. Saritoprak's office is located), during the course of the evening.

As we ate dinner, we shared a table with the Salti family, which included two sons studying to be physicians at John Carroll University. In addition, we met Ms. Carla Bailey and Ms. Joy Henderson, volunteers at Cleveland Heights High School, who escorted eight international high school students who appreciated being able to partake in this affair.

Lastly, let it be said that Ms. Seyma Gurer, the wife of Mr. Murat Gurer, was there waiting for him to make the journey from Lakewood but, as it turned out, the ensuing discussion at the LakewoodAlive program regarding "Embracing Diversity" (which we didn't stay for) proved to be so engrossing that he couldn't make it to John Carroll University after all.

This was indeed all right because we witnessed Mr. Gurer contributing a lot to the discussion while we were there, and we know from our own experience, that making it to two out of three events in one night was a feat by itself.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC