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Hispanic Business Expo; Peace Action; Cleveland Pride; Human Trafficking; PFLAG

On Thursday, August 6th, we got up early and drove to Warrensville Heights to attend the "2015 Northeast Ohio Hispanic Business Expo" put on by the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Business Center at Corporate College East on Richmond Road. All told, we estimated that there were probably 100 people there and over 20 businesses/organizations had exhibitor tables there including the Asian Health Center, CareSource, COSE, First Energy Corp. and the Cleveland Clinic.

First of all, we attended a panel discussion moderated by Mr. Jason Estremera, Director of Business Services of the Hispanic Business Center, titled "Diversity as an Ingredient to Success" featuring our friend Dr. Tameka Taylor, President of Compass Consulting Services, LLC; Mr. Richard K. Levitz, President of R.K. Levitz, LLC an architectural firm; Ms. Ronda Toth, Principal of the Legacy Group who we know through her work with Plexus; and Ms. LaShawn Reed, Director of Corporate Relations for the Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council. All agreed that it was well worth the time of a business to obtain a certification as being a woman, minority or LGBT owned because this opened the door to many opportunities on the county, state and national levels who reward a certain percentage of contracts to such firms.

Ms. Toth said that the first contract that you obtain "catapults" you to the next one. For example the Cleveland Clinic goes out of its way to help companies who do business with them.

Ms. Reed said that being certified helps one to connect with other small business owners and thus more opportunities could be created.

Mr. Levitz said that he was committed to diversity but governments must lead the way in terms of opening doors. He stressed, however, that a contract is not a gift so the firm obtaining it must "show up and deliver" if it wants to be successful and obtain more.

Dr. Taylor said that certification is the "ticket to the dance" and "it gets you into the door" but also talked about the importance of relationship building as a key to success.

The next session we attended was a workshop coordinated by Ms. Jane Stewart, Director of the Ohio Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) titled "How to do Business with the Government and Succeed!". What we liked about this one was hearing from Mr. Chris Murillo with GPI Enterprises who talked about how his firm decided on which contracts it was worth the time to go for. He said that it really helps that one knows the agency that one is trying to work with "and its in's and out's." He said that it is also useful to request a debriefing so one can see why his/her firm did not obtain the contract that was bid on.

At lunch, the speaker was Ms. Pam Osborne, Assistant Deputy Director and Program Manager of the Construction Compliance Unit of the Equal Opportunity Division of the State of Ohio. Ms. Osborne talked about how the certification process has been streamlined since Governor Kasich took office and how committed her office was to assisting minority owned businesses because "we all have products and services and if we succeed, then the customer succeeds."

Ms. Osborne was introduced by Mr. Timothy D. Dixon, Senior Vice President/SBA Program Manager of First Merit Bank who told us that he used to work with Ms. Margaret W. Wong back in the 1980's when he worked for Society Bank.

Of course, there was a lot of networking and we made about 20 new contacts including some businesspeople who were thinking about helping some people immigrate to the United States from Mexico in order to work for their firm.

Other people that we met included Mr. Pedro Herrera, Financial Representative from Prudential. Mr. Herrera is, himself, a permanent resident of the United States and has been living here since 1997. He was born in Peru to a financially successfully family but one day, years ago, his father decided to pursue a lead and came to the United States for what he thought would be a very short period of time but liked it so much that he brought his a lot of his family here. The Herrera family has, however, always maintained their ties to Peru.

We also visited with Ms. Liliana Cardona who immigrated to the United States 14 years ago from Columbia and now owns Gelato Star on Broadview Road. Her husband, Gonzalo, who we also met, immigrated here 12 years ago from Uruguay.

And then there was Mr. John C. Hull, VP of Business Development for the JV Soltis Group. Mr. Hull said that the name of Margaret W. Wong sounded familiar to him but at first he couldn't place it. Then he remembered that years ago he had a friend who immigrated to the United States from Germany when he was a boy. Years later the boy from Germany became an adult and soon learned that the necessary paperwork for him to remain in the United States had never been done. Needless to say, the party who worked everything out for him was Ms. Margaret W. Wong!

Thursday night we decided to forgo watching the presidential debate (we knew that we could get the gist of it on the news later on) and instead attended the 2015 annual PAND concert put on by Cleveland Peace Action which was located this year at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in the Tremont Area. It had been a long day and it was good to be able to relax and see old friends like Jeff and Deneen Kassouf who we work with each year at the St. Elias Festival.

Tonight's event consisted of mostly local musicians playing short, lovely pieces of music by such international artists as Toshio Hosokawa, Francis Poulenc, Kazuo Fukushima, Shawn Head and Maurice Ravel that signified the tragedies of war and the beauty of nonviolent solutions to our problems.

In between the musical pieces, members of Cleveland Peace Action spoke for a few minutes including Ms. Diane Mather who asked, "how best can we contribute as performers and artists to this end?" She went on to talk about Mr. Pablo Casals who died at age 96 in 1973. During his life, Mr. Casals had written a "peace oratorio" which finally performed in 1962 saying that he "was using the only weapon he had -- his music."

When Mr. Casals played before the United Nations in New York in 1963, he said, "Music, that wonderful universal language should be a source of communication among men. I exhort my fellow musicians throughout the world to put the purity of their art at the service of mankind in order to unite all people in fraternal ties. Let each of us contribute as he is able until this ideal is attained in all its glory."

On Saturday, August 8th, we tabled all day at the 27th annual Cleveland Pride Festival in Voinovich Park which was originally scheduled to take place on June 27th but had to be cancelled due to stormy weather.

To be sure, the disappointment was tremendous so the Pride Board of Directors resolved to re-schedule the event and subsequently received the new August 8th date from the City of Cleveland several weeks ago. Even though time was short, the dedicated board members lead by Mr. Todd Saporito, Board President/CEO, were determined to pull this one off and worked tirelessly to raise the necessary funds and to reorganize. And, to the happiness of many, they succeeded and Pride 2015 moved forward.

We really enjoyed working with the director assigned to us, Mr. Ben Gibbs who kept us informed on what was going on and secured for us a very good location. Our booth was directly between CWRU's AIDS Clinical Trials Unit and the Log Cabin Republican Club. We, of course, handed out nectarines to those who wanted them and had some good conversations. One of the people we talked to was trying to help a person in another country that she had met on line immigrate to the United States to escape persecution. Another foreign born person who was here on a tourist visa asked us if she would have to marry her partner in order to remain in the United States. Then there was a young man who was a law student at CWRU Law School and wanted to know if our Ms. Margaret W. Wong was the same Ms. Margaret W. Wong who taught a class there. We assured him that it was and talked to him about his prospects of becoming an immigration attorney.

Among the speakers was our friend, Ohio State Senator Mike Skindell who said that he was speaking on behalf of both her and Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio who could not be with us due to a previous commitment. Senator Skindell pledged to continue to fight to pass legislation in Ohio that would curtail discrimination against the LGBT in housing and employment and he said he knew that State Rep Antonio felt the same way.

As evidenced by the number of vendors at this event, we were very glad to see that the LGBT community is being looked at potential clients by such mainstream businesses as Renewal by Andersen, Gutter Helmet, American Greetings, USA Insulation, and Vector Security. In fact, we have seen them tabling at chamber of commerce events and festivals of all ethnicities.

If Pride 2015 had been able to take place on June 27th, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the barriers regarding gay marriage, the crowd probably would have been a bit larger but this does not matter, what matters is that challenges were overcome and thus, we believe, this made the day sweeter. It would be tough to say how many people actually took part especially since we couldn't attend the parade since we had to take care of our booth but it was a big crowd, no doubt about it.

On Friday, August 7th, we attended the 2015 Northeast Ohio Annual Human Trafficking Symposium put on by the Renee Jones Empowerment Center. This event took place at Notre Dame College in South Euclid. This was the 6th year that this symposium has taken place and was attended by about 30 people many of whom were social workers and people involved with the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services.

Sister Cecilia Liberatore of the Sisters of Notre Dame who works with Renee Jones served as coordinator for the program. Sister Cecilia said that each year they try to explore different aspects of the problem through a variety of speakers.

Accordingly, the first speaker was Ms. Biana Smith, Assistant Bailiff to the Honorable Judge Denise N. Rini of the Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Court Division. Ms. Smith discussed the "Safe Harbor Pilot Project" based on Ohio's Safe Harbor Law that was enacted in 2012 in order to provide the framework to handle minor victims in juvenile court and offers protection for both labor and human trafficking victims. The advisory board consists of representatives from Children and Family Services, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, Abraxas Family and Youth Services, Bellefaire Jewish Children's Bureau, Renee Jones Empowerment Center and the Probation Department. Ms. Smith told us that it has been discovered that stays in residential care are often needed for who have been victimized in human trafficking instances due to mental health and safety concerns. Thus in the future, increased residential treatment options will be explored and there will be more staff trainings and conferences related to human trafficking.

Then Mr. Sheldon Lovejoy, MSSA and LSW; Mr. Timothy Moran from the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and Mr. Matt Goins stepped forward to talk about a program that they were all involved with titled "Men of Purpose" (facilitated by Mr. Goins), in which 2 young inmates named John and Dan from the Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility were selected to learn all about human trafficking and how to help its victims. John and Dan were then assigned the task of imparting their message to other young men in order to reduce the currently high demand for prostitutes/sex slaves. We then got to hear from these young men who were an excellent team working together to discourage others from glamorizing pimps, seeing prostitution as a victimless crime, patronizing strip clubs, stop consuming pornography, taking part in chauvinistic and sexist on-line dialogues, and taking part in sex tourism. Instead, they encouraged men and boys having conversations about what constitutes a good male role model and the support of anti-trafficking policies.

The next presenter was Professor Maureen Kenny, Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve School of Law, who knows Ms. Margaret W. Wong and told us to say hello to her. Dr. Kenny was there with her husband, Dr. Michael M. Guirguis, D.D.S. who was also very concerned about human trafficking. Dr. Kenny went into great detail talking the content and the impact of two relatively recent laws pertaining to human trafficking which were the Safe Harbor Law (2012) and House Bill 130 (2014). The latter was authored by Ohio State Representative Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) and includes provisions that call for the protection of children from parents promoting prostitution and trafficking; stiffening the penalties for those who prey upon disabled people and those under sixteen years of age; allowing for intervention if the victim has been using illegal drugs; and allows a victim of human trafficking to testify in court via closed circuit TV so that they will not be intimidated.

After lunch, Ms. Jones said that in the discussions of human trafficking not much time has been devoted to the plight of LGBT youth so she was proud to say that her organization and the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland have agreed to partner and work together on this issue. Accordingly, our next speaker was our friend, Dr. Maya Simek, Director of Programs at the LGBT Community Center as well as a lawyer and a law professor at Cleveland Marshall School of Law. Dr. Simek talked about the pertinent services offered by the LGBT Center before she showed a harrowing video about a teenage boy who was thrown out of his home by his parents for being gay and how he had to turn to prostitution in order to survive.

The next part of the program consisted of a former human trafficking victim named Rachel being interviewed by Ms. Jones which was even tougher to listen to as Rachel talked about how her pimp psychologically manipulated her into abandoning her family, and later her child, as he molded her into a completely different person. Nevertheless, her parents never gave up on her and after Rachel's mother died, she returned home and had to learn to love her family all over again. Rachel said that without the help of Ms. Renee Jones she would not be here today and Ms. Jones credited Rachel for having the courage to put her life back together and devote a lot of her time to counseling other human trafficking victims.

Law enforcement's point of view was presented by Detective John Morgan of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department who had addressed this seminar many times in the past. Det. Morgan said that it was a matter of getting the right people involved who can help the human trafficking victims and, along these lines, praised the efforts of our friend, Judge Marilyn Cassidy of the Cleveland Municipal Court. He said that he could probably "bust one pimp per week" but it was very hard to keep track of the human trafficking victims who often run away or do not make court appearances. Two other points that he stressed was that human trafficking was going on all around us even in areas one would never expect like Seven Hills and Bay Village. Another contributing factor was the "huge" heroin problem because many of the victims become addicts and often have to undergo drug treatment several times before it works.

Det. Morgan opened it up for questions and among the things that was talked about was the upcoming RNC and the possibilities of widespread crimes of this nature during this duration. Another attendee spoke up and said that Judge Cassidy is already forming alliances with law enforcement, educators, and social service agencies that will not only address the human trafficking issue within the timespan of the RNC but, hopefully, an even longer duration. Det. Morgan said that he has already taken part in several episodes of the TV show "Sex Slaves in America" that will help get the word out that Cleveland is gearing up for the RNC in this regard as well as getting the word out to the victims that there are places that they can go for help.

Our last presenter was Mr. Matt Goins, a businessman who considers himself a "stocks person", who we had already heard from as the facilitator of "Men of Purpose" and Ms. Kim Bartholomew, who is an Agent of the Investigative Unit of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. They reviewed the economics of human trafficking and we collected a lot of statistics like 80% of those involved are victimized for sex and 19% for labor; 700,000 to 800,000 are trafficked across international borders annually; and, according to UNICEF, 55% of victims are women and children. Not surprisingly, human trafficking is the second largest illegal business in the world placing behind drugs (still #1) but ahead of guns (#3). Pertaining to underdeveloped, depressed countries where the annual income is low, the victim's parents have a lot to do with their child becoming a human trafficking victim.

During the course of the day, we asked several times about undocumented immigrants who were human trafficking victims but were afraid to come forward out of fear of being deported. Ms. Smith said that it certainly was a matter worth investigating but she could not cite a particular instance that she, herself, has been involved with and Det. Morgan said that it was very difficult to get the victims to come forward, period. Mr. Goins and Ms. Bartholomew put forth some interesting information, though, like a potential au pere entering the U.S. on a J1 visa hoping in time to obtain an H visa before he/she became entrapped into doing slave labor or sex. Mr. Goins also said that a migrant worker pays a coyote an average of $7,500.00 to get him/her across the U.S./Mexican border after which the worker has to perform slave labor to pay off the debt.

When the program ended, we felt like we had been through a long, draining but worthwhile day. We made several new friends like Ms. Susan Reis from the National Council of Jewish Women and both Ms. Renee Jones and Sister Cecilia Liberatore appreciated our being there and asked us to express their appreciation to Ms. Wong for all of the counsel and support that she has given to them over the years.

On Sunday, August 9th, we decided to start the day by attending mass at the 4th annual Ohio Celtic Festival held this year at Classic Park in Eastlake. This event is organized each year by our friend Mr. Patrick Coyne who immigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was only 19 and, according to an article we read about him and the festival in the "News Herald" dated 6/23/2014, Mr. Coyne considers it "his mission to promote his native Irish heritage" and, by all looks, he does a pretty good job of it.

Another person who loves Ireland is Father Tom Johns of St. Vianney Church in Mentor who presided over the mass. Father Johns told us that his grandmother immigrated here from Ireland years ago and instilled in him a love for the Irish people and their customs. Father Johns has visited Ireland five times over the years and just loves everything about it. He smiled when he said that when it is time for gifts (birthday and holidays) one of his parishioners always bakes him soda bread and another always sends him a bottle of Guinness.

About 200 people were there and we recognized several of our friends from the East Side Irish American Club like Ms. Linda Burke, Mr. Michael Gronick, and Mr. Dave Clemens.  Also on proud display was the float that the East Side Club created for the 2015 St. Patrick's Day parade which won the prize for Best in the Parade/First Place Float. It depicted the 69th NYS Irish Brigade during the Civil War.

During the mass, Father Johns talked the Catholic Church and its affect on U.S. Presidents. Of course, we knew that President John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic but we were not aware that President Lyndon B. Johnson was also close to the Catholic faith. Father Johns said that President Johnson's daughter Lucy converted to Catholicism after she married in 1966 and the President often went to mass in Washington, D.C. After he left office, back in Texas President Johnson went to attended the local Catholic church quite frequently and became a good friend of the priest. Another point that we found interesting was that when President Johnson hurriedly took the oath of office on Air Force One after President Kennedy was assassinated, he laid his hand on what was thought to be a Bible but was actually President Kennedy's missal which is a liturgical guide to celebrating mass.

In order to make the church service at the Ohio Celtic Festival more accessible, admittance was only 2 cans of non-perishable food per person which would be donated to a local food bank. As we were leaving, we stopped to say goodbye to the ticket taker and he turned out to be our friend, Ms. Debbie Hanson from who told us that she would be going to an event in Wickliffe after her duties were completed.

We didn't go to Wickcliffe, but we did go to the Maltz Museum in Beachwood which was putting on an event that attracted us titled "Straight to the Toppings-Kosher Hotdog Cookout Challenge" in which hot dogs, for $2.00 each, were provided to the attendees who would then take them to various condiment booths where they could experiment with onions pickles, relish, catsup, peanut butter-you name it. Then, at the end of the condiment tour, the attendees could vote on which booth provided the tastiest items to make the hot dogs extra special. Competing for the big prize were representatives from the Happy Dog, the Temple-Tifereth Israel, Sudow Lefkovitz Great Debate, B'Nai Jeshurun Men's Club and several others.

In the notes provided by the Maltz Musem, we read that this event was "in memory of Earl Lefkovitz, who, along with Tom Sudow, first introduced a rabbinically-supervised Kosher Hot Dog stand to the home of the Cleveland Indians."

Special guest of the day was Mr. Moe Savransky, retired Cincinnati Reds pitcher and native of Cleveland. We got to meet him and take his picture with Mr. Jeffrey Allen, Director of Education and Public Programs for the Maltz Museum.

One person who recognized us there was Mr. David Schaefer, Director of Development for the Maltz Museum. Even though he was busy cooking hot dogs, Mr. Schaefer remembered us meeting at the City Club and very graciously walked over to say hello.

We also got to say hello to Mr. Victor Goodman (who played President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Maltz Museum last President's Day) and his wife, Ms. Audrey Kaplan Goodman; and Ms. Kathy Gottlieb, Manager of Volunteer Services who was instrumental in putting on this fun event.

We got to spend a few minutes talking to Ms. Eda Weiss who has been volunteering at the Maltz Museum for nine years now. We told Ms. Weiss that we, ourselves, were not really sports fans but we really enjoyed the "Chasing Dreams" baseball series and found it inspiring and she agreed. She also told us that there was a very promising exhibition coming up concerning violins that had survived the holocaust titled "Violins of Hope," and we look forward to going.

As vegetarians, we could not eat the hot dogs but we still had a wonderful time at the Kosher Hotdog Cookout Challenge talking to people. We can eat pickles, though, so we bought a couple for $1.00 which we munched on as we walked around.

On Tuesday, August 11th, we went to the monthly meeting of PFLAG Cleveland (Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at Trinity Commons.

We looked forward to attending this meeting because it included a training session for those who wish to be stronger allies of the transgender community. This portion of the program was coordinated by Ms. Brooke Smith, a PFLAG National Field and Policy Manager whose territory includes 15 states and 120 PFLAG chapters. Ms. Smith said that during the course of her presentation, "we'll discuss some of the common challenges faced by trans people, the challenges that exist for people who are straight and LGBT to becoming trans allies, and learn some of the core competencies of trans allies."

In order to do this, however, certain ground rules needed to be established and among these was that this was to be a safe place where people could say what they wanted and be able to ask questions without fear of violations of confidentially.

We discussed this matter for nearly 90 minutes and came away with some good suggestions that a person who wants to advocate for transgender people or any group or issue might find helpful. Among these are the importance of being a listener with empathy; ask questions that are respectful and appropriate; the need to know the terminology, history, and issues facing the group one is advocating for; how helpful it is to have up-to-date statistics that are easily accessible; speak out if you hear others saying things that are not true; and realize that although you are sincere you probably have never experienced what the group that you are advocating for has gone through.

After we got home we realized that a lot of what we learned on this occasion could be of use when one advocates for undocumented workers and immigration reform.

We were sad, however, that we were unable to attend PFLAG Cleveland's 30th anniversary celebration on July 25th where Dr. Jes Sellers and Ms. Jane Daroff were honored for the founding of PFLAG Cleveland back in 1985 and many years of devoted service. Over 175 people attended the celebration and Dr. Sellers estimated that nearly 500,000 people have benefited from PFLAG Cleveland over the years as LGBT attendees, accompanying allies, extended family and others who were involved in the organization.

Ms. Smith believes that on a national level PFLAG will continue to grow because she receives at least 5 emails a week from people who want to start chapters-even in rural areas which is interesting. To be sure, there is still a lot to be done but people are much more comfortable than they used to be in terms of dealing with LGBT and discussing the issues which pertain to them.