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A Conversation on Race at the City Club's Youth Forum

On Wednesday, January 14th, we attended a City Club Youth Forum titled "A Conversation on Race" moderated by Anthony Price, Youth Forum Council Member, and featuring Ms. Shakyra Diaz, Policy Manager of the ACLU of Ohio; Mr. Andres Gonzalez, Chief of Police of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority; Professor Jonathan Gordon, Professor of Lawyering Skills at CWRU; and Mr. Basheer Jones who is a writer, poet, and community activist. When we first arrived we spoke to Mr. Dom Zagara, a student at Shaker Heights High School who was one of the key movers (along with Mr. Nick Rutherford of Walsh Jesuit High School who couldn't be there due to finals) in putting this forum together. Mr. Zagara told us that the motivation for this was to provide a forum for young people to come together and have a discussion after the recent police shootings. Another student leader was Mr. Phillip Hedayatnia who introduced the program by saying that freedom has been granted to people of color but there is a difference between freedom and liberty. Mr. Hedayatnia hoped that this gathering would shed some light on just how far we actually have come. We also spoke to Mr. Kenneth Hale, Executive Director of Tri-C's Early College Programs, who told us that in terms of organizing projects like this "the young people take the lead and I help to guide." Also there today was civil rights attorney Ms. Sandhya Gupta, who encouraged the young people to take part in the Princeton Prize in Race Relations essay contest.

During lunch we sat with we thought were very aware students from Shaker Heights High School and from Cleveland Central Catholic and it was fascinating to hear them compare the policies of their schools and discuss what they thought could be approved. We met Mr. Celan Meza who immigrated to the United States from Honduras 15 years ago with his family; ten years ago they all became citizens. We also met Ms. Truc Tran who immigrated from Vietnam with her parents when she was only six years old; she and her parents became citizens fairly recently.

The forum, itself, was best described by Ms. Autumn Lilly Faithwalker of Laurel School as an "intense and enlightening discussion" from beginning to end. Among the questions that Mr. Price put to the panelists were, "when you hear race what first comes to mind?"; "in order to acquire greater understanding, where do you start?"; and "what can teens do?"

Mr. Jones said that he was disappointed that it was mostly people of color present at this event because in order to have a true dialogue there would have to be a wider cross section. He talked about the role that the media plays in molding the public's perception of different races. He questioned about how effective the current leadership of Cleveland has been in getting doing things to help the people. For example, he was amazed at how fast the Convention Center was built whereas he has been trying to obtain funding for projects like Lee Park for years. He really challenged the young people, though, to fight to better their schools and, what's more, to better themselves. He told them that if you can change yourself then the world around you will change.

Ms. Diaz said that race and racism affects all aspects of our society and a discussion must be ongoing. She said that "we must learn to walk in each other's shoes." She was cautioning as she shared her experience that policies and budgets are not created with genuine equity in mind. She told the young people that if they saw someone being treated unfairly then they must speak up about that. She really liked it that young people seem to have a "zero tolerance for hypocrisy" and that talking with them was very enlightening for her.

Chief Gonzalez agreed that it was important to establish a "paradigm" which meant understanding people by seeing the world "through their lenses" and said that he prevails upon his staff to treat everyone equally under the law. He was very aware of his own heritage and acknowledged that if it were not for equal opportunity he would not be a Hispanic police chief in Cuyahoga County. He told the young people that the future is up to them and if they did not like the way that the police were doing their job then they should do something about it because "a police department is only as strong as the community allows it to be" and once the police lose the confidence of the community "it is the beginning of the end."

Professor Gordon said that he was "acutely aware" that discrimination does exist and was concerned because people are "not always aware of their biases." He cited the Department of Justice report and said that it was time for action to be taken and the Cleveland Police Department must make changes. He said money must be provided for things that would make a genuine difference in people's lives such as better training for police, and also to improve the schools. He talked about the need to stress "Black Lives Matter" at this time instead of "All Lives Matter". On a positive note, though, he said that we have a long way to go but we need to celebrate how far we have come so far. He called upon the students to embrace our differences and walk in the path of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his vision.

Likewise Mr. Jones said that when he went to Ferguson regarding the Michael Brown tragedy, he was heartened to discover that he was marching with people of all races who came together over this matter. "We must work with those who want to work with us," he said.

On Wednesday evening we stopped off at the Annual Post Holiday Reception of the International Business Network that was held at the Club at Key Center located within the Marriott Hotel in Public Square. The turnout for this event was pretty sizable also and we got to see a lot of people that we know like Mr. Murat Gurer, Mr. Richard Crepage (who we saw at the City Club program earlier), Ms. Ingrida Bublys, and Ms. Maura O' Donnell McCarthy from the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. We also said hello to Mr. Joseph A. Marinucci, President and CEO of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance who told us to say hello to Ms. Wong and tell her that he really appreciates being invited to our Holiday Party each year. We also had a fairly long conversation with Mr. Neil A. Dick from DickGroup Consultants about Chicago which he described as "a very welcoming city for immigrants." Unfortunately we could not stay here as long as we would have liked because we still had one more event to attend.

And that event was the monthly meeting of CAMEO held every second Wednesday of the month at the Holiday Inn on Rockside Road in Independence. At this particular meeting, we mostly concerned ourselves with nominating people to fill the various positions within the club for 2015 and we were very happy that Ms. Sara Elaqad from Margaret W. Wong and Associates will be running unopposed in next month's election to be the new corresponding secretary. The newly elected officers will be installed at the annual banquet which will probably take place in the middle of April which is a very fine affair and such dignitaries as Governor Robert Taft and Congressman Dennis Kucinich have attended it in the past. The club president, Mr. Pierre Bejjani (who also will be running unopposed for another term) shared with us some interesting CAMEO facts such as it has been in existence for 45 years and has approximately 270 members. In the last election cycle in 2014, CAMEO endorsed 36 candidates, both democrats and republicans, and 30 of these went on to win their contests. An impressive number indeed!

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