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Islamic Day; Cleveland Bridge Builders' 15th Anniversary Celebration

Our first event for Saturday, October 10th, was the 28th Annual Islamic Day luncheon put on by the Islamic Council of Ohio (ICO) that took place at the Islamic Center of Cleveland on West 130th Street. When we arrived one of the first people that we talked to was Mr. Sohail Khan who had journeyed here from Columbus. Mr. Khan let us know that Islamic Day in Ohio is an annual event established in 1987 by Governor Richard Celeste that always takes place on the second Saturday of October but each year the ICO chooses a different city to have its own celebration. Nevertheless, there would be gatherings of Muslims in most of the urban centers in Ohio. Mr. Khan estimated that maybe 12 to 14 people drove here from Columbus, though.

Coming even farther was Mr. Bashir G. Ahmed, ICO Trustee, who had traveled 18 hours from Kashmir to attend this luncheon. He said that decided to do it because he had missed several of them in the past, really liked the theme of today's happening which was "Regaining Humanity and Healing the World", was troubled by recent demonstrations against Muslims at their houses of worship, and because a gathering like this was a very positive experience.

Mr. Michael Orra, ICO President, said that the stereotyping of Muslims was indeed very troubling and one of the goals of the ICO was to promote public awareness programs, like this one, that involve the interactions between the Muslim community and those of other faiths. Along these lines, we, ourselves, shared a table with Ms. Gloria Bemer, Ms. Bridget Crist, and Ms. Anne Osborne from the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. Mr. Tariq Ata, who worships at the this mosque, soon joined us and offered conduct a tour of the facility if we would like it.

Mr. Orra said that Governor Kasich was invited to attend so, even though he couldn't make it, he sent a statement saying how important Islam is to the diversity of Ohio. Mr. Orra then introduced our friends, Mr. Pierre Bejjani of CAMEO and Mr. Faris Alameh of the Northern Ohio Lebanese American Organization as special guests.

The issue of discriminatory profiling was explored further by two fine speakers who were Imam Fouad Saeed, Imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland and Mr. Shiekh Musa Sugapong, an Islamic Scholar.

Imam Saeed said that God created all kinds of people to live on this earth so we could all work together to realize our potential as human beings.

Mr. Sugapong, the keynote speaker, told us that young Muslims had shared with him the ugly experiences that they had had with people who sometimes went as far as to say that all Muslims were terrorists. He advised them to "use this as a point of learning" and to make sure that they never make someone feel as uncomfortable as they felt because it only leads to bitterness and hate. Instead he encouraged the youngsters to let those who are behaving in an unkind fashion know that they believe in God and want "a life of goodness."

At lunch, Mr. Ata recalled how he had been a high school student during 9/11 and he believed that it was his responsibility to represent his community in the best way that he could.

A fine addition to the program was U.S. Attorney Steve Dettlebach who came wife his wife and young son. During his remarks Mr. Dettlebach first praised our friend Ms. Julia Shearson by saying that this community had no finer advocate than her. He then said that he very much agreed that "islamophobia is real" and that it was very "un-American" because this country was founded on religious pluralism including the tradition of Islam. He said that he and his office "pledged to do our part to root out intolerance and embrace diversity."

As Mr. Sugapong stated, it is all about placing ourselves in the shoes of other people and having "empathy."

On Saturday night we went to the Cleveland Bridge Builders' 15th Anniversary Celebration which was held at Stillwater Place at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. We are proud to say that Margaret W. Wong and Associates was recognized as a major sponsor of this event.

As its website states, "Cleveland Bridge Builders prepares mid-career professionals of all ages for meaningful, fulfilling and impactful engagement in the community. The program provides a unique environment that fosters teamwork, growth and learning to create a transformative experience that promotes and supports participants for a greater role in the community. Through experiential collaboration, hands-on experiences and interactive civic education, participants hone their leadership skills, engage in self-discovery and build bonds with classmates - and the extended Cleveland Leadership Center network. The CBB class is a diverse group of leaders who participate in a team-based, customized curriculum that inspires them to embrace civic action by committing time, effort, talent, resources and/or networks to issues and challenges facing the community."

Mr. Jaywant Masurekar, of KeyBanc Capital Markets, explained to us that each year a group of about 64 individuals from diverse professions is gathered together. He, himself, was in the "class of 2013" and, as a person who immigrated to the United States from India, was probably one of the first foreign born people in the program. They are then divided into groups composed of 8 people and assigned a leadership action project to work on.

According to the program notes, such actions "have created transformative experiences for Bridge Builders and the community. The projects enable small groups of class members to focus attention and apply newly acquired skills and approaches to civic leadership on a specific issue facing a community organization. More than 100 projects have helped advance the missions of organizations since the Cleveland Bridge Builders' inception."

We spoke to some of the participants about the projects that they worked on including Mr. Richard Oliver (Class of 2011) who worked with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank to help create Ohio Benefit Banks to develop outreach programs in the community. Ms. Saber VanDetta (Class of 2014) worked with the City Club of Cleveland to create an energized volunteer program. Mr. Ben Kroeck (Class of 2015) worked to make more people aware of the services being offered by Eliza Bryant Village.

Ms. Maryann Crosley, President and CEO of the Cleveland Leadership Center, said that what was going on here was not so much an "anniversary" as much as it was a "recognition" that it only took a few people (in this case seven) to initiate something as important as what the Cleveland Bridge Builders which has proved to be a tremendous asset to Cleveland. These seven people (four of whom were present) were Mr. David Akers and his wife, Ms. Susan Akers; Ms. Margy Judd; Ms. Meg Natchwey; Ms. Jakki Nance; Ms. Laura Steinbrink; and Mr. Brad Withers. Those present were called forward to receive a much-deserved round of applause.

Throughout the years, our friend Mr. Richard Pogue of Jones Day and former Mayor of Pepper Pike Bruce Akers have been consistently available for their counsel and this was duly noted and appreciation was expressed.

There were several other important addresses such as those given by Ms. Leslie Dunford of the Cleveland Foundation, Ms. Lisa Oliver of KeyBank, Mr. Bob Aber of Aber Advisors, and Ms. Kelly McGlumphy of GOJO Industries in which the history of Cleveland Bridge Builders and the extensive efforts to bring everyone together for this celebration were discussed. We were very glad that Ms. Rachel Ciomcia, Director of Cleveland Bridge Builders and Alumni Engagement, who we have been working with received the appropriate credit for her role in putting all of this together.

Along the way, we talked to Mr. Robert Bray, a young man who wasn't part of the organization but was here with a friend of his who was. Mr. Bray is a law student at CSU and when we told him that we worked with Margaret W. Wong and Associates, he told us that it was strange that we would meet at this time because only a few weeks ago he had read Ms. Margaret W. Wong's book "The Immigrant's Way" and found it very interesting and "easy to understand." To be sure, Mr. Bray is now busy with law school but it wouldn't surprise us (or him for that matter) to see his name on a Cleveland Bridge Builders class roster in a few years.

As for the immediate future, we were delighted to see our Mr. Francis Fungsang in attendance. Mr. Fungsang, part of the Cleveland Bridge Builders Class of 2016, will be working on leadership action involving the Cleveland Adoption Network, as his Bridge Builders project.

In addition to the Cleveland Bridge Builders Anniversary on Saturday, Margaret W. Wong and Associates sponsored our only event for Sunday which was the "Gospel Testimony Explosion" at the Mt. Zion Congregational Church on Magnolia Drive near University Circle.

This wonderful musical celebration featured gospel songs by seven artists, a spoken world presentation by Ms. Free-Tia Heard, a one-person dance number of Mr. Kevin Marr and a stunning talk by Reverend MacArthur Flournoy of the Human Rights Campaign.

All of it was put largely by Reverend Detra Evans of the Whosoever Ministry which meets at Mt. Zion. and, according to their website, is overwhelmingly composed of heterosexual African American Christians who work very closely with the LGBT community and are very respectful of diversity because they believe in equality for all. Absolutely no one is turned away from worshipping there. In fact, they are the first and only African American congregation to participate in Cleveland Pride since 2012.

Even though other events were taking place on Sunday, the turnout for this one was very good and Reverend Evans was in joyfully high spirits as she introduced each artist and talked for a moment about how much their friendship meant to her. Then the artist gave a testimony about how grateful she was that God blessed her with talent and how she used her talents to inspire and assist those in need. From there, each went on to sing an exuberant gospel song that frequently brought us to our feet clapping and swaying.

The seven women who performed were Ms. Andrenee Fant Priest (who left a wedding celebration to be there for a few minutes before she had to return), Ms. Arlene Peterson Bowie (who is in recovery from cancer), Ms. Annie Congress, Ms. Bobette Hurst-Suddeth (who refused to let a fall she had yesterday stop her from being there so she sang from a wheelchair), Ms. Barbara J. Barrett, Ms. Colleen Evans (the daughter of Reverend Evans and a new mother herself), and Ms. Roschelle Brown (who couldn't make it last year due to a very serious stroke but she vowed to regain her power to sing in one year's time and she succeeded).

During his talk, Reverend Flournoy gave an impassioned plea to the Cleveland City Council, as well as to the rest of us, to support the passage of Ordinance 1446-13 which gives transgender people full access "to bathrooms, show, locker rooms, or dressing facilities consistent with their gender identity or expression." He asked us all to remember a time not that long ago when African Americans were not allowed to use such public facilities either.

Towards the end of the program, Rev. Evans appeared on stage with her lovely baby granddaughter who she adored and told the child (who had solemn expression on her face like she was aware of what was being said) that "no matter what they tell you God loves all people not just some of them."

Earlier in the program Reverend Evans told all of the attendees that she was proud to be there with a room full of special people and "that's all of you!"

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