Perseverance in Hope at Joseph's Home, Cleveland Pride Parade Rained Out, PFLAG in Old Stone Church, Victory Day in Estonia
We attended many events that could have been labeled: "Cleveland Pride." On Friday, June 26th, we attended "Perseverance in Hope" the annual Joseph's Home Benefit Luncheon which was held at Window's on the River. As the program notes stated, "Joseph's Home is the only organization in Northeast Ohio dedicated to helping acutely ill homeless men recover their health and successfully transition to permanent housing."
We shared a table with Mr. Paul Siemborski, a principal with Westlake, Reed and Leskosky, an architectural firm. Mr. Siemborski recalled that Margaret W. Wong and Associates once helped his office find an interpreter when they were in need of one. We also knew Dr. Michael Schoop from a recent Horizon Science Academy breakfast that we both attended. Sitting just to the left side of us were Dr. Lindsay S. English, Ph.D, Dean of Academic Affairs and Ms. Denise McCory, Dean of Student Affairs both from Tri-C Metropolitan Campus.
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley acted as the emcee for the program because he respected Joseph's Home for its positive impact on the Cleveland community. Another thing he said was that when he was coming of age the topic of homelessness was talked about much more often that it is now; in fact candidates for the U.S. Presidency discussed once it but in 2008 and 2012 he couldn't remember any reference to it in the Presidential campaigns. Thus, he was very grateful to Joseph's Home for helping raise awareness around this issue.
The opening remarks were given by Ms. Kathy Heigle and Ms. Nadine Ezzie, respectively the Chair and Vice Chair of Joseph's Home Board of Directors who said that we were all there on this day to celebrate hope because in times of need hope is the bridge to the confidence that things will be better.
Our good friend Sister Judith Ann Karam, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine gave the invocation in which she expressed appreciation for Ms. Georgette Jackson who will be stepping down as the Executive Director of Joseph's Home after 8 years of service on June 30th.
At this time there was recognition of the nine Sisters of Charity or the "Dream Team" whose research, fundraising and planning finally resulted in the founding of Joseph's Home in 2000. Sister Evelyn Flowers, one of the leading "dreamers" talked about how they had to work for 4.5 years to make Joseph's Home a reality. A plaque which will be on display at Joseph's Home was presented in their honor and all nine sisters except one who had passed were present.
The keynote speaker was Mr. Sam Rutigliano, who was head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1978 to 1984. One of his most noteworthy accomplishments was making the Browns the first to comply with the league mandate that each team hire a psychiatric professional specializing in substance abuse. He took things one step farther, however, when he created the "Inner Circle" a substance abuse program for his players that promised complete anonymity.
Mr. Rutigliano said that life without hope "is like running a race without a finish line. Among the other things that he said in his very short speech were that it is one thing to talk about doing the right thing but it is our challenge to do the right thing when confronted with immense pressure. He believed that the #1 untreated disease in the world is "ego" and that the yardstick that Jesus Christ would use in defining greatness is one's service to others.
He recalled one being invited to speak at an important banquet where the themes were to be "heroes" and "character." Well, he considered good character to be like good soup, "one always fines it at home." He reiterated that a good measurement for character is how much one has done to empower others. He realized that at age 83 there are "fewer days in back of me than there are in front of me" but his best days were still yet to come. Mr. Rutigliano concluded by saying that the big motivators in his life have been Jesus Christ and adversity.
Lastly, Ms. Joan Gallagher, the founding director of Joseph's Home, took to the podium to pay tribute to Ms. Georgette Jackson. She said that under Ms. Jackson's tenure hundreds of lives have been improved but her impact stretched beyond that. In short, "who you are has changed everyone. A shining example of what the healing work of Jesus Christ means."
As he closed the luncheon, Council President Kelley told the attendees, who have contributed a lot of their personal and financial resources towards making Joseph's Home a success, that "friends like you make healing a realistic hope."
Like almost everyone that we know, we were absolutely thrilled by the Supreme Court decision that was announced on Friday that made marriage equality a reality because we know people who are both straight and LGBT who have worked long and hard to make this dream a reality for years if not decades.
We understand that there was a very well-attended rally on the steps of Cleveland City Hall earlier in the day so after the Joseph's Home luncheon, we decided to head over there to see if anyone was still around.
Right next door to City Hall on the green area directly across the street from the Convention Center a tent had been erected by the United Church of Christ (UCC) which, in collaboration with people from the LGBT Center and Equality Ohio, was helping to officiate the marriages that couples had waited so long have happen. Among those working on this were Mr. Mike Schuenemeyer who was the key officiator and our friend Mr. Craig Hoffman from the LGBT Center who was doing the paperwork.
If they wanted, a couple could go to the courthouse and obtain a marriage license and then come back and be married here on the beautiful lawn on a nice day weatherwise. We watched a marriage of two very happy women and we were very much moved by it. Also stopping off here were Ms. Mary Zaller and Ms. Lana Moresky.
We talked for a moment with Ms. Emily Schappacher with the UCC who told us that that her church was having a convention in Cleveland at this time and that many people planned to take part in Cleveland Pride on Saturday. She also told us that the UCC was the first big church to come out in favor of marriage equality and we commend them for this.
On Saturday, June 27th, we were very sorry that the 2015 annual Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival had to be cancelled due to foul weather but after driving in the pouring rain to get there we were almost relieved because it would have been very difficult in such conditions for it to be a fun, coming together time.
Margaret W. Wong and Associates was all set to table there and we had our car packed up with a new canopy, our collapsible table, a stool to sit on, all of our literature neatly arranged in baggies inside a plastic tub, four heavy stone bricks to duct tape to the posts of our canopy so it would not be blown away in a gust of wind, three big bags of clementines from Heinen's to hand out to those who stopped by our table, and we had on our new bright yellow rain two-piece rain outfit that Ms. Wong bought for us in anticipation of a manageable drizzle. Upon arriving at Voinovich Park, the guard informed us that the festival had been cancelled as of 8:15am when the sad news was posted on Facebook. We double-checked our email via our cell phone and discovered that a message had been sent out while we were in route.
Fortunately, though the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) brunch in the basement of the Old Stone Church was still on so that's where we headed. As it turned out the basement was crowded but not so much to be uncomfortable and, of course, everyone agreed that the parade having to be cancelled was a bummer indeed (particularly in light of the SCOTUS decision on behalf of marriage equality announced the day before) but we were all grateful for the fellowship in a nice, dry location and for the good food.
Mr. Sharon Groh-Wargo thanked all of the groups that were represented there including the United Church of Christ, Metrohealth, LGBT Center of Cleveland, Planned Parenthood, Pride Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, and the Mount Sinai Congregational Church. She also mentioned that Margaret W. Wong and Associates sent a representative too for which we were very grateful.
Although there was no orchestra or band, two people went to the microphone to sing songs for us. Mr. Wayne Mesker from the Alive Inside Foundation the song from the Young Bloods titled "Get Together" and Mr. Reggie Kelly from the Mount Sinai Church sang "A Wonderful World" and dedicated it to all of us.
A very moving moment came when two men named Art and Jes testified about how they were married in the Old Stone Church six years ago and thus were the first LGBT couple to be married there. They also thanked the Old Stone Church for letting PFLAG have their brunch there for the last six years.
Another noteworthy happening was when a PFLAG mom named Michelle announced that today was her birthday so, accordingly, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her as she blew out the candle on her cupcake.
As far as same sex marriage now having to be recognized in Ohio (as well as the rest of the country), one person grinned and said that "I left my marriage in Connecticut but now it followed me here!"
On Sunday, June 28th, we started our day at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church which was giving a service devoted to LGBT Pride to parallel the planned parade and festival on Saturday that had to be cancelled due to stormy weather.
The co-ministers, Revs. Kathleen C. Rolenz and Wayne B. Arnason, were away at a convention for Unitarian leaders but they spoke to us via a recorded message in which they expressed their joy over the SCOTUS decision and wished that they could be here with us. In fact, they said when the SCOTUS decision was announced on Friday the convention's response was overwhelming and there was literally dancing in the aisles.
In their absence, the service was expertly conducted by Mr. Bobby Withrow, a young member of the congregation. Mr. Withrow said that he was "honored to help plan this service for many reasons: I get to perform in front of a captive audience, it is fun, I get to help celebrate the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identities, and I could help spread inclusiveness."
The program largely consisted of the sharing of experiences of either being LGBT or being an advocate for the LGBT.
Among the people telling stories were a LGBT couple who have been together since 1972. They recalled how difficult it was for them in the early years not being able to hold hands in public and being very careful what they said at work and who they invited to their home.
Another man talked about how much it meant to him when in 1990 the West Shore Church voted to become one of the first "Welcoming Congregations" for LGBT members in the United States and the first one in Ohio. It was one of the first places where he felt that he truly belonged.
One woman who was a very strong ally of the LGBT community recalled her first Pride parade and its overwhelming ambiance of love. She thought it was great to be able to celebrate humanity and to accept people as they were. She believed that she was very privileged to be white, middle class and straight and therefore had a responsibility to stand up for those who were not. She concluded by saying that she stood on the side of love and on Friday, love won on Friday via the announcement of the SCOTUS decision.
Another person recalled growing up in suburban Dallas when a lesbian couple moved in down the street. Her parents made friends with them but the rest of the neighborhood was incensed and one person even refused to accept their UPS delivery for them. She said that "I often think about and am in awe of just how brave these women were but I know they were probably a little afraid and a little lonely. Like all of us they just wanted a home and a community."
At the end of the service, Mr. Withrow said, "what better way to understand Pride and what it means than to hear from us who have experienced it. For me, Pride is about accepting yourself and being true to yourself. Pride is about growing in confidence. Pride is about being an activist for yourself."
Our last three events took place around the same time so we had to move quickly just to make parts of them.
The first of these was a fundraiser brunch given by Ohio State Rep. Kent Smith at Tizzano's Party Center in Euclid. We stayed for a half hour and got to talk to several of our friends including Ohio State Senator Kenny Yuko who invited us to an event that he is having on July 12th and Mr. Ryan Miday who offered to help us get a table at the annual festival at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Seven Hills this August.
Mr. Smith planned to speak later on after more people arrived but it shared his notes with us and we saw most of what he was going to say concerned economic inequality in Ohio.
We also had a good visit with Mr. Phil DiBianca who, upon hearing that we work with Margaret W. Wong and Associates, said that he believed that some politicians play upon people's fears about immigration get them to vote for them and thus create unrest and division where there should be unity. Mr. DiBianca reminded us that in the story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan was of a different culture and faith than the person that he saved.
Immigration came up again at our next event which was the annual celebration of Victory Day in Estonia held at the Estonia Garden in the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Victory Day is actually June 23rd and it is the celebration of the key victory in the 1919 Battle of Vonnu in which the Estonians and their allies defeated the German forces trying to re-establish Baltic German Control over the region.
We were welcomed by Ms. Erika Puussaar and Ms. Paula Tubalkain who received us as special guests and arranged for our name to be read during the ceremonies that were conducted by Mr. Toomas Tubalkain whose parents fled Estonia to Sweden, where he was born, in 1944 to escape the Soviets. Eventually his family traveled to Canada before finally settling in the United States.
Ms. Ingrida Bublys, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania, was to have been the keynote speaker but unfortunately became ill and couldn't be here so Mr. Tubalkain put a fine presentation together in a very short period of time.
Mr. Tubalkain began his speech by saying that "the symbols that you see in the Estonian Cultural Garden, the blue, black and white flag, the monument quoting from Kalevipoeg the words of hope for a free nation of Estonians and the American flag are all positive reminders of how lucky we are to live in a time when our homeland is free and we are free to prosper in a nation that welcomed us and our parents as immigrants fleeing oppression after the Soviet occupation of our homeland after World War II...This garden now 49 years old is a symbol, reminding us and Cleveland of the hopes and aspirations of the Estonian people."
He also paid tribute to the Cleveland Cultural Gardens as a whole by saying "these gardens are cultural, educational and historic but not political. We celebrate the fact that our ethnic diversity is welcomed by the larger community and that we can help beautify the park through our plantings, landscape and sculpture. This positive manifestation of ethnic pride among diversity is what has made America great."
Mr. Tubalkian then talked about the speech that President Toomas Hendrick Ilves recently gave on Victory Day in Kardla, Estonia in which immigration was a topic that figured prominently. We were amazed at how the President's speech closely mirrored our own situation here in the United States. Among the things President Ives said was that at this time some of Estonia's NATO allies are having a difficult time because they are "overwhelmed by refugees fleeing the unrest in their homelands" but we (i.e. the Estonians) don't seem to understand what they are going through. Instead "we hear and read about fears and hate speeches, insults and threats." What ISIS is doing now recalls the time in 1944 that 7% of the Estonian people fled their homes in 1944.
President Ilves urged the his fellow Estonians to remember people who had fled to Estonia from oppressed countries and were now outstanding citizens who have made wonderful contributions to their society. The President went on to say, "we consider the world-famous Skype to be our own. But do we consider the engineers from Guatemala and the Dominican Republic who have excelled at IT developments there as our own, or how about the Hindus, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians or designers of other nationalities that work at Estonia's best IT companies?"
Mr. Tubalkain, himself, said, "I believe President Ilves struck a note that we as Americans can understand. Do we fear the immigrant, fleeing from the horrors of war and oppressive occupation by the barbarians? He reminded me that my parents, as well as his, were literally in the same boat. We have been blessed that they U.S. welcomed us as immigrants. Can we or other civilized nations deny that blessing to others?"
(Mr. Tubalkain later told us that President Ilves grew up in the United States and he and the President once attended the same Boy Scout camp.)
Mr. Tubalkain's speech was followed by a lovely musical performance by Ms. Michelle Geller who sang "This Land is My Land", "The Way We Were", "Tell Me On Sunday Please", "Don't Rain on My Parade", "Whistle Down the Wind", and "God Bless America".
Afterwards, Ms. Erika Puussaar called the children together to take part in the flower ceremony in front of the monument celebrating those who died for Estonia's Independence. She said that it was only appropriate for the young to do this because they are the ones who must carry on after we are gone by telling their own children about our culture, history, and traditions.
Our last event for Sunday was the annual steak roast at St. Colman Church on West 65th Street. By the time we got there, things were winding down but we still were able to obtain some salad for a late lunch and were able to hear the announcements of several raffle prizes.
We said hello to Father Bob Begin and Ms. Eileen Kelly who we know from her work in the church office.
We were able to have a couple of good conversations, such as the one we had with a man whose family had immigrated to the United States from Wexler thus making him one of the few people of Irish ancestry in Cleveland who does not have their roots in Mayo.
We also talked to a person who used to live in a communal dwelling many years ago with a sizable group of people who recently had a reunion. He looks back upon the whole experience with great warmth and tenderness. He, of course, now has his own home and likes it just fine but can't help preferring the old days, cramped though they may have been.