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Out & About in Cleveland

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Painesville Chamber of Commerce

On Thursday, April 30th, we attended events that were entirely different but very rewarding. We started the day off at 8am in Painesville where we attended the Painesville Chamber of Commerce's "5th Thursday Networking" at the Grove Church in Painesville. Our friend, Pastor Jeffrey Sivyer of the Grove Church good-naturedly told everyone how we jumped when Jungle Bob starting walking towards us carrying a python at the church's recent Friday night get-together and we all had a good laugh. After all, Indiana Jones didn't like snakes either. There will be another such get-together in the next several weeks at the Grove Church except this time a local band will play so things promise to be tamer.

Painesville Chamber President David Komjati from KeyBank brought us up-to-date about the "marriage" of the Painesville and the Madison-Perry Chambers. The chambers are "engaged" right now so in December, 2015 the upcoming nuptials will be celebrated with a big party. In January, 2016 the two chambers will be legally joined and will consider themselves equal partner in their relationship.

Our friend, Mr. Tom Szabo, of A. Thomas Imaging, spoke about why he thought networking was so important. Mr. Szabo said that people will go to a service that a friend of theirs would recommend and through the chamber he has made a lot of friends and a lot of good contacts, just as we have.

We also like going to networking events because we often meet people who have businesses that produce unusual things that we find intriguing like a durable plastic glass, that we were given at this meeting, that changes color from green to white.

Our next event was the monthly First Friday Club of Cleveland meeting which is held at the City Club.

We shared a table with Father Jim O'Donnell and Sister Maggie Walsh-Conrad who founded Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist. Also at our table were Deacon Shelby and Pastor Phil of the Holy Spirit Church in Garfield Heights. We told Father O'Donnell that later in the day we would be going to an event in remembrance of the 40 year anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and he recalled how he helped a lot of Vietnamese refugees a number of years ago.

We talked for a while to Father Ted Cassidy of St. Aloysius about how Margaret W. Wong and Associates offers assistance in matters pertaining to immigration. It turned out that Father Cassidy belongs to an order of the Marianists that is very much concerned with immigration issues. He told us that he would very much like to visit a detention center so we hooked him us with our friend, Sister Rita Mary Harwood who is devoted to assisting immigrants.

On this day, we encountered our friend, Ms. Vanessa Campbell and Mr. Gerald Arnold, both from the diocese. We learned that they were both at the ClevelandPeople.com Hall of Fame banquet the night before and they enjoyed it as much as we did.

Today's speaker with Brother Bob Marva who is a native Clevelander and a Capuchin Friar for 25 years and pastor of St. Agnes & Our Lady of Fatima in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood since 2004. The title of his presentation was "The Catholic Church in the City: Still Thriving!" in which he talked about the history of his church, which is one of five African-American Catholic Churches in the Cleveland area, and what he believes helps to make it a success.

First of all, his church was created as a result of a merger between two churches (St. Agnes and Our Lady of Fatima) in 1980 and officially dedicated in 1983. It has certainly grown over the years; in the late 1990's 350 families worshipped there but today that number has grown to 450 families and over 700 members total. St. Agnes and Our Lady of Fatima is a physically rather small but a new structure will be dedicated in Thanksgiving, 2015.

Brother Bob Marva believes that the keys to the creation of a thriving church are the ability to respond to changing times, good leadership on the Pastor's part, engagement of youth, and, in this case, the intentional embrace of African American culture in worship.

Brother Bob Marva's presentation made us want to visit his church which he referred as truly "the neighborhood church where everyone knows your name" but he quietly advised the attendees to wait until after November 25th when there will be more room for everyone. After all, as things stand now, it is 700 people attending a church whose structure was meant to contain less than 200. Clearly, the church is thriving.

Next we parked at Margaret W. Wong and Associates and walked a few blocks over to the "Block Party for Housing Justice" held at the Housing Research and Advocacy Center at 2800 Euclid Avenue. The mission of this organization is to "promote fair housing and diverse communities and work to eliminate housing discrimination in Northeast Ohio by providing effective research, education and advocacy."This event was organized by Mr. Khalid Ali, Volunteer Coordinator, and everyone praised him for his hard work.

Several people who we knew were there on this day like Ohio State Representative Kent Smith, Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed, and Mr. Isam Zaiem who recently gave a presentation about discrimination against Muslims at the Westshore Unitarian Church.

There was a band, miniature basketball, and plenty of pizza. We talked to Ms. Carrie Pleasants, Assistant Director of the Housing Center, who told us that April is Fair Housing Month and the Center tries to do something every year. For instance, last year a mural was created at Six Chimneys Apartments.

Special guests who spoke today were former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, and noted journalist Mr. Mansfield Frazier who works closely with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Jones said that we have come a long way since the civil rights era but still, "issues persist and the struggle continues" and called for a new multicultural and multigenerational approach.

Mr. Frazier recalled that he bought a house in Warrensville Heights back in the 1960's and within several years there were hardly any white families left in his neighborhood. He likes living in Hough now because all ethnicities are welcomed. But, as he said firmly, "you shouldn't have to move to live in a better neighborhood."

Councilwoman Cleveland remembered working as a Fair Housing Advocate for the Cleveland Tenants Organization. She was very surprised, as we all were, when it was reported that complaints about housing discrimination tripled last year. She contended that all things are interrelated and good affordable housing necessary to maintain good quality of life. She pledged to help all that she could to achieve this.

Ms. Hilary Mason King, Executive Director, reiterated that they keys to success were a combination of "research, education and advocacy" and Mr. Carlton Moore, President of the Board of Directors, urged us all to "mix, mingle and ask questions!"

As we said earlier April 30, 2015 is the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon and its commemoration was in two parts. First, at 5pm some (including our friend Mr. Joseph Meissner) gathered at the Veterans Memorial just off Public Square in Cleveland for a ceremony that included the reading of the names of the approximately 800 Greater Clevelanders who died in the Vietnam conflict. After this ceremony concluded, its attendees were to go to the West Park Community Center at West 130th Street and Lorain Avenue to join a gathering of the Vietnamese-American community which would celebrate their integration into the Cleveland community and there subsequent successes.

Due to the traffic around 5pm and the parking situation of downtown Cleveland, we decided to go directly to the West Park Community Center where we stayed and visited for an hour with Mr. Ron Schwachenwald of the Joint Veterans Council and Mr. Ken Kabb. Unfortunately, the ceremony taking place downtown took longer than anticipated so we had to leave before the proceedings could start at West Park.

We were very fortunate, though, to have met Mr. Toan Huynh, a former lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Navy. Mr. Huynh was captured by the North Vietnamese and held as a prisoner of war before he escaped to the Philippines and made it to the United States in 1980. He is very happy to be here and has been an ESL teacher at Lincoln-West High School for years. Before we left, Mr. Huynh was only too happy to pose for photos and had his friends, who were fellow South Vietnamese armed forces veterans, to pose also.

Our last event for the day was a quick stop at the Lakewood Democratic Club which meets at the Women's Pavilion in Lakewood Park. Actually tonight was a gathering of all of the Westside democratic clubs including Bay Village, Westlake, North Olmsted, Rocky River, and Fairview Park.

The occasion was a visit from Mr. P.G. Sittenfeld (P.G. stands for Paul George), a member of the Cincinnati City Council who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Rob Portman which will be contested in 2016. At this point, Councilman Sittenfeld's major opponent for the democratic nomination is former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Thankfully, Councilman Sittenfeld did not use his time here to put down Governor Strickland. In fact, he said that he admired and respected him very much.

He mostly talked about his record as a councilman and was proud of his contributions concerning education, police/community relations, and making Cincinnati a more LGBT friendly city. We asked him about immigration reform and he told everyone that he would have strongly supported the bill that was passed by the United States Senate in 2014 but turned down by the U.S. House of Representatives. He went on to say that he favors a path to citizenship wherein the undocumented would be allowed to stay but would not be given preference for citizenship over those who have immigrated to the United States legally. He also favors strong border protection.

We found Councilman Sittenfeld, who is only 30 years old, to be a very personable individual and we applaud his accomplishments. Of course, it is a long way until the primary election in 2016, let alone the general election. Even if Councilman Sittenfeld does not become a U.S. Senator in 2016 we believe that we will hear a lot more from him in the future.

Out & Aboutimwong