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Out & About in Cleveland

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Leif Erikson Day, CCWA Global Impact Award, and LGBT Heritage Day

We started our day at 11:45 at Shooters in the Flats where we gathered with various Scandinavian organizations to celebrate Leif Erikson Day in Cleveland. This place was chosen because it is the location of the Leif Erikson bust that was dedicated in 2001 and because it is very close to the Cleveland waterfront which is significant because Erikson traveled by sea. As far as historical background, more than 1,000 years ago Leif Erikson, whose roots were those of Iceland and Norway, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Canada thus making he and his crew the first Europeans to reach North America. They established the settlement of Vinland. Some people believe that he should be credited with discovering America instead of Christopher Columbus. The reason that October 9th is Leif Erikson Day is because in 1925 a shipful of Norwegians also sailed across the Atlantic and arrived in New York on October 9th. This made them the first organized group of Norwegian immigrants to travel to the United States. In 1964 a law was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Johnson designating October 9th of each year to be Leif Erikson day.

Among those gathered at Shooters were people of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish descent. We introduced ourselves to Mr. Bengt Gerborg who lightened up immediately when he heard that we worked for Margaret W. Wong and Associates because Ms. Wong helped his son Tomas around 1990 with visa problems. Mr. Gerborg introduced us to his wife Margerita and both of them told us that their family will always be grateful to Ms. Wong.

We visited with Councilwoman Mary Dunbar of Cleveland Heights who proudly told us about another immigrant to this country who happened to be her father, Dr. Vigfus Samundur Asmundson who was a noted professor of poultry genetics at UC Davis in California. Dr. Asmundson was born 1895 in Iceland and lost his father when he was two; thus his family became impoverished. By arrangement, he was sent to Saskatchewan to live with a relative. When he was older he became a scholar and studied at the University of Saskatchewan, Cornell University, University of British Columbia, University of Wisconsin before settling at UC Davis in 1933 where he stayed until he retired in 1967. Dr. Asmundson passed in 1974 but Asmundson Hall at UC Davis is named after him and Councilwoman Dunbar regards her father as a genuine American success story and we agree.

We also sat down and talked with Ms. Gloria Syverson about her background. She told us that both her maternal and paternal grandfathers immigrated to the United States from Norway in the early 1900's where they settled in the Norwegian community in Minnesota where they both met their wives and started families. Ms. Syverson was wearing a "Leif Landed First!" button.

The ceremony consisted of Mr. Gerborg standing on a ladder, which enabled everyone in the sizable crowd to see and hear him, and reading the annual Presidential Proclamation about Leif Erikson Day. Mr. Michael Miller, Consul of Sweden, then led everyone in a celebratory toast before most of the crowd went into Shooters to have lunch together. Also present at the ceremony was the Mr. Chris Langmack, the Danish Consul.

Mr. Gerborg gave us a copy of the Presidential Proclamation because we liked what it said. The proclamation started with a review of Leif Erikson landing in Canada and the Norwegian immigrants landing in New York. It went on to say we also celebrate the 200th anniversary of the adoption of Norway's constitution that has a lot in common with our own. Specifically, it said that "we redicate ourselves to preserving all that has brought us together: the story of a fearless leader who reached for new possibilites; our shared commitment to self-determination and freedom; and the simple truth that has drawn immigrants to our shores-in America, anyone who works hard should be able to get ahead. Today, there is more work to do to strengthen these promises, and we require bold thinkers and explorers to achieve what we know is possible. The far reaches of our universe and the depths of our oceans remain unexplored, and the next frontiers in science, medicine and technology await a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. As a nation, let us carry forward in the spirit of Leif Erikson and seize the future together."

Thursday evening we went to Cleveland City Hall rotunda for the 6th Annual LGBT Heritage Day Celebration wherein four people that we know were honored for their contributions to the LGBT Community of Cleveland as well as the community as a whole. Distinguished guests were Councilman Joe Cimperman, Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio, and Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson who told the honorees that he appreciated all of the things that they had done for Cleveland and the things that they were being honored for.

The honorees were Dr. Swagata Banik, M.Sc.,PhD (for Education and Social Services); Dr. Carlos Julio Aponte (for Health Care); Minister Detra Evans (for Faith Based); and Mr. Thomas Nobbe (for Advocacy, Civic Engagement, and Community Leadership) who was the key mover for Gay Games 9 which most people agree was a wonderful success. All of the honorees and the people who introduced them gave very moving speeches and tributes.

Dr. Henry Ng introduced Dr. Banik and mentioned that summer Dr. Banik, who immigrated here from India, had problems with his visa and his friends were very worried that he would not be able to stay but people like Ms. Margaret W. Wong stood up for him and everything turned out all right. During his speech Dr. Banik said that he considers himself to be a "proud Clevelander" now.

We really liked the telling "Welcome and Opening Remarks" presented by Ms. Phyllis Harris, Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center and Ms. Deirdre Jones, Heritage Day Committee Chair of the LGBT Center. Ms. Evans said that she has worked with and enjoyed working with all of the honorees and is very grateful that she could get any of them on the phone at any time if she really needed them. She confessed a special love for Dr. Aponte because he taught her how to dance. Ms. Jones reminded everyone that she is a sergeant in the Cleveland Police Dept. and works in the homicide unit. She went to say that marriage equality is important but there are other issues facing the LGBT community like health care, education, and discrimination. She praised the work of the people being honored to correct those problems. Ms. Hall concluded by saying that she is glad that their "diligence, passion, expertise, and leadership" have moved us to take notice and now others can follow their example and act accordingly.

We loved being at City Hall with our friends but we had to leave a little early to travel over to the Ritz-Carlton, find a parking spot, and hurry inside to attend the 2nd Annual Global Impact Award presented by the Cleveland Council of World Affairs (CCWA). The Global Impact Award "seeks to recognize an individual or organization whose actions have had positive impact in helping to create greater understanding and cooperation among people or countries around the world." The honoree for this year was Mr. Strobe Talbott, President of the Brookings Institution and Former Deputy Secretary of State. He was also the "Brooks Emery Distinguished Speaker" for the evening.

Fortunately, we arrived as salad was being served and were escorted to a table that we shared with Ms. Patty Ajdukiewicz of CCWA, Ms. Anna Rostafinski, Mr. Stephen Myers, Mr. Duane J. Deskins of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, and Ms. Caroline Merk. We were taken back by how many of our table companions had dealt with Ms. Margaret W. Wong in some capacity. Ms. Merk is an old friend of Ms. Wong's; Mr. Myers once served on the Diversity Center Board with her; and Mr. Deskins attends the same church as Ms. Wong. We all got along well together.

Regrettably, we missed the opening remarks by Dr. Wael Khoury but we were there for the rest of the program. First, Mr. Richard Pogue; Chairman, Global Impact Award Dinner; introduced Mr. Ronn Richard, President and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation who gave a very warm introduction to Mr. Talbott and mentioned that Mr. Talbott late father, Bud, was a really good friend of his and both of them were very environmentally conscious. Before he begain his speech which was titled "America's Role in the Unsettled World" he mentioned that his parents had lived in Cleveland since 1952 and this was his first time back in the city since his father's memorial. Ms. Heather Hodges, Ambassador-in-Residence to CCWA had picked him up at the airport that afternoon and gave him a little tour of Cleveland and he believed that he was true that Cleveland was coming back.

Mr. Talbott spoke for about 20 minutes and, to briefly summarize, he said that things are certainly "unsettled" right now due to such world crises as the rise of Isis and Russia's dealings with Ukraine but he was optimistic that if the United States can demonstrate the right kind of leadership we can meet these challenges and overcome them because both Isis and what Russia is doing under Putin are attempts to do things that have failed in the past. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that it will take a long time to win both battles. Mr. Talbott also expressed concern about environmental conditions and said Mother Nature is "shaking us by the scruff of the neck". He reminded the attendees that things are not as bad now as they were in the past when we had the Cold War which didn't always go our way and McCarthyism on the domestic front. He said that "let's not pin for the good old days" because, in fact, they were much more complicated and that the world has always been unsettled although in the 1990's things were looking up largely due to the rise of globalization. Mr. Talbott said that today the United States is underperforming as a leader because "our democracy is polarized and dysfunctional." He said that we need more bipartisanship and governmental ethics and praised civic organizations like the CCWA which can help us achieve this.

During the Q and A, Mr. Talbott said that the three priorities now would be to make sure that the sanctions against Russia stay in effect until it changes its policy regarding Ukraine; the President must find ways to put a coalition together to deal with Isis; and to deal with climate change. He expressed another note of optimism (combined with humor) when he said that he was really sorry that his father was not here to see the Browns beat the Titans last Sunday.

At the conclusion of his speech, Mr. Talbott received a much-deserved standing ovation.

Out & Aboutimwong