Liberian Economic Development Initiative (LEDI) Youth Scholarship and Library Project
On Friday night we went to the The Club at Key Center for the "Giving Hope Beyond Our Borders" awards and fundraising dinner benefiting the Liberian Economic Development Initiative (LEDI) Youth Scholarship and Library Project. LEDI was founded in 2007 by Mr. Rufus S. Darkortey, himself a immigrant from Liberia, and his wife Ms. Joan Curran Darkortey, in order to "reduce poverty and increase the economic capacity of the severely marginalized and disadvantaged people of Liberia, West Africa, who have been burdened by years of chronic poverty, following a 15 year civil crisis and the recent West Africa Ebola epidemic."
Liberia has a special relationship with the United States since it was founded in 1821 by the American Colonization Society to settle freed American slaves, and declared its independence in 1847. Its capital city, Monrovia, was named after U.S. President James Monroe, and its government, constitution, flag and currency were modeled after the United States.
In recent times, its 15 year civil war decimated the country and killed 250,000 people. It is now the 4th poorest nation in the world with an unemployment rate of 84% and a literacy rate of 60.8% (188 out of 194 African nations). Due to the civil war, the vast majority of the schools were destroyed and those that exist now are in terrible conditions. Accordingly, the money raised at this event will go towards the scholarship fund and to build a library there.
During the program, Mr. Darkortey shared some of his experiences as a small child growing up in Liberia, at the time of the civil war, which was responsible for the deaths of several members of his family. He was born in poverty, and had to leave home at age eight in order to obtain an education. He and his wife, Joan, have held down full-time jobs so they can devote themselves, at least part time to doing something to change the situation for the young people growing up in Liberia.
The local philanthropists chosen to receive 2015's International Life Changers Award included, as we are proud to say, our Ms. Margaret W. Wong. The other honorees were Dr. Ronald M. Berkman, President of Cleveland State University; Mr. Eric N.
Peiffer, Managing Director of KeyBanc Capital Markets; and Mr. Felton Thomas, Jr., Director of the Cleveland Public Library.
Ms. Wong had to leave the banquet early due to a family emergency -- our Mr. Gordon Landefeld accepted her award -- but she got to say a few words when she was introduced as a sponsor. Ms. Wong talked about how one shouldn't assume that just because people may have the same skin color that they have the same perspectives. For example, an African American born and raised in the United States has probably had a totally different life experience and history than a person born and raised in Liberia who has immigrated to the United States. Nevertheless, we must lay aside our differences and work together for the common good.
Mr. Harry Boomer from Channel 19 who did a fine job as the master of ceremonies. Throughout the evening we were treated to musical selections by such artists as Ms. Arshawna Williams, Ms. Danielle Barnes, and Ms. Stephanie Childers. There was also a student skit in which three young women presented facts about Liberia in an off-beat, colorful way.
The evening started to wind down when Mr. Felton Thomas, Jr., award recipient and Director of the Cleveland Public Library, delivered the keynote address. Mr. Thomas told us that Cleveland was regarded as the "city of hope" during the days of the underground railroad because if a slave fleeing persecution could make it to Cleveland, then Canada was only a short distance away. Mr. Thomas' statement that "we (i.e. Cleveland) are going to be there for you to move on," which could apply to the relationship that he would like to see be established with Liberia. We applaud Mr. Thomas efforts via his position at the Cleveland Public Library; he mentioned that he had recently talked to the Gates Foundation about obtaining computers for the Liberian libraries and schools.
He ended his presentation with a story about U.S. Navy ships confronted dead-on by a light in the distance which was growing increasingly close. Our ships kept on sending radio messages to the light (which they assumed was another ship), telling it to change course or there would be a collision. Finally the recipient of the messages replied that it was a lighthouse and that the ships were the ones which had to change course. "We are the lighthouse," said Mr. Thomas, "and challenges must go around us."
Not the other way around.