The Unfinished Business of Race at the City Club
On Friday, December 12th, we attended a City Club forum titled "The Unfinished Business of Race" featuring two distinguished civil rights activists who were old friends. First, there was the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. According to the City Club notes he began his career as a Baptist minister more than sixty years ago in Georgia where he served and led in the fight against segregation alongside Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the early sixties he came to Ohio, serving as pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church and as a regional director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1975, he came to Cleveland to serve at the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. Then there was the Reverend Dr. Joan Brown Campbell who is an ordained minister in both the Disciples of Christ Church and the American Baptist Church. She has also provided leadership to both ecumenical and interfaith work.
One of the sponsors of the program was the YWCA of Greater Cleveland whose President and CEO, Ms. Margaret Mitchell, said that "it is time to talk Cleveland. The unfinished business of race demands a response." She went on to urge the attendees to take part in a Forum on Race that is scheduled for February 23, 2015 at the Renaissance.
Another sponsor was the Cleveland NAACP. whose President, the Reverend Hilton Smith, said that we still have a lot of unfinished business regarding racial matters and urged people to address them by building effective relationships and partnerships because they strengthen each other.
The format of the program consisted of Dr. Moss and Dr. Campbell sitting on stage together and having a dialogue.
Reverend Moss started off by saying that racial justice is both morally right and economically prosperous. In fact, the "cost of injustice is greater than the price of freedom." He cited Atlanta as an example of city that came to terms with its racial problems; today Atlanta is "a world-class city" as opposed to other cities that are dying. He went on to say that we also have "unfinished business" in the area of immigration. He cited Ms. Emma Lazarus' poem at the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor and your huddled masses yearning to breathe freedom..." and questioned if that was meant to apply only to those of European descent; how supportive would the American public be if that poem were displayed on the U.S./Mexican border and/or in Florida pointed towards Haiti. He worried about the "original intent" of the founding fathers when they wrote the U.S. Constitution because they deliberately didn't include women or people of color. It took several amendments to give those people status. He concluded by saying that "America is an unfinished Cathedral of Democracy" and each generation must make a contribution. He addressed the recent police shootings by saying that very few are actually guilty but we all are responsible.
Reverend Campbell said that it is time to talk and talk honestly-anything short of that will not accomplish what needs to be accomplished. She cited the famous historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin, who said that white people must understand the extent of their white privilege by way of realizing that a white person can generally leave his/her home and go to work in the morning without having to worry about being pulled over because they look suspicious. Dr. Campbell talked about how she invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come and speak at the Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights and the turmoil that it caused but also how rewarding the experience ultimately proved to be. She concluded by saying that to move forward "it is not going to be easy but difficult. Justice is richly rewarding but worth the wait. She recalled how tough it was working for Carl Stokes when he first ran for Mayor of Cleveland because of the insults that she received but how happy she was when Mr. Stokes finally won the election.
Next there was a Q and A in which the most popular question came from a young student from Shaw High school who asked what can young people do for change and to protect themselves.
Reverend Moss told him to "be the best that you can be. Do what you do so well that no one can do any better. You have no idea how much you influence people. You are a leader and you make the difference."
Reverend Campbell told him that "your generation must take steps. Stand tall and take the right path and others will follow."
On our way to the forum we road the elevator with Mr. Robert P. Madison, a noted architect who knows Ms. Margaret W. Wong. We asked Mr. Madison what he thought of Rev. Moss and he told us that he believed Rev. Moss to be, "a premiere scholar and a humanitarian." Likewise Mr. Christopher B. Nance; Director of Construction Diversity and Inclusion for the Commission for Economic Inclusion; told us that "you are in for a treat" since we had never heard Rev. Moss speak before. Mr. Nance said that Rev. Moss is "one of our legends."
We sat with some nice people at lunch including Mr. Mark Swaim-Fox, Director of the Cleveland Region of Facing History and Ourselves; Ms. Karen R. Long, Manager of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards of the Cleveland Foundation; Ms. Candice Brown whose daughter, Ms. Nicole Brown, attended Laurel School in Shaker Heights with the daughter of Ms. Margaret W. Wong; and Mr. Wesley Nicholson, Jr. who is retired from the City of Cleveland and enjoying it immensely.
We were particularly privileged to sit next to Ms. Emilie Barnett who is an associate of Rev. Campbell. Ms. Barnett, along with her husband, is the founder of the Ludlow Community Association which was instrumental in the integration of Shaker Heights.
Our good friend, Cleveland Councilman Brian Cummins was at the next table and after the program we had a good conversation with him about the recent tragic confrontations involving the Cleveland Police. Councilman Cummins is very concerned and is determined to address the problem.
But perhaps our most hopeful encounter at the City Club on this day was with Mr. Craig S. Howell, a Ranger with Cleveland Metroparks. He and his Lieutenant came here on their own because Cleveland Metroparks has law enforcement jurisdiction over the Lakefront Parks as well as parks close to the inner-city like those on East 55th Street and East 72nd Street. Mr. Howell sees the need for sensitivity on racial matters and wants to establish "a good collaboration with the community" for the betterment of all concerned and we respect him for this.
Our other event for Friday was the annual Holiday Party at the Ukrainian Museum-Archives on Kenilworth Avenue in the Tremont area. This purpose of this museum is "to preserve and share the Ukrainian culture and the immigrant experience."
We know Mr. Andy Fedynsky, Resident Scholar, very well so he introduced us to two people who were injured in the battles taking place in Ukraine at this time. One of them was Lt. Sergiy Babskiy of the Ukrainian Army, who was there with his wife, and the other was Mr. Alexander "Sasha" Nechyporuk who is a Euromaidan, human rights activist. Both of them were brought here to be treated by the Cleveland Clinic by a charitable organization based in Philadelphia along with the help of U.S. Senator Rob Portman and U.S. Congressperson Marcy Kaptur.
We stayed for quite a while and had conversations with several people who immigrated to the United States from Ukraine just after World War II when they were quite young. Dr. Zenon Holubec initially left Ukraine with his family in 1944 and spent several years in Bavaria. His mother's uncle helped them obtain visas so the family was able to immigrate to the United States in 1947 and settled in Cleveland when he was only ten years old. Dr. Holubec became a United States citizen in 1956 and went on to earn a doctorate in Philosophy and Chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1968 and then went to work for Lubrizol. We also met Dr. Holubec's wife, Myroslavia who told us that she immigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1950 and met Dr. Holubec at college in 1961 and they got married in 1963. Dr. Holubec told us that he once referred a friend to Margaret W. Wong and Associates.
We had met Mr. Geoffrey Hare at last year's Holiday Party and we got to talk to him some more this evening. Mr. Ware was born in Western Europe, the son of a U.S. Serviceman who brought the boy and his mother to the United States when Mr. Hare was only six months old. After living in California and Arizona for a while, the family ultimately settled in Cleveland. Mr. Hare is an accountant and has earned degrees in accounting and marketing. He speaks several languages including Russian, German and French. Even though he definitely considers the United States to be his home, Mr. Hare still has quite a few relatives on his mother's side of the family in Europe. He admires Ms. Wong and appreciates all of the good work that she does.
We spoke to a person named George who was able to immigrate to the United States from Ukraine in 1949 due to the Truman Act. His family first lived in New York but later moved to Cleveland. He became a citizen in 1955 and ended up living in Akron for the past thirty-three years where he worked as an instructor in Library Systems and the Dental Unit at the University of Akron. George said that he finds the people here in the United States to be very friendly and understanding and ready to help if a person is willing to help themselves.
Mr. Bill Williams-Stefano left Ukraine in 1944 with his family. They then moved to Austria and remained there for five years. The family then immigrated to the United States and arrived here on December 10, 1949. First they settled in San Antonio, TX and then moved to Newark, NJ before finally going to Cleveland. Years later Mr. Williams-Stefano became a teacher and taught grades K-12 for 43 years before he retired. Mr. Williams-Stefano loves the United States but acknowledges that it is not perfect; he wished more people had listened to Thomas Paine who championed civil rights for women and people of color in 1775 in his book "Common Sense" which sparked the United States revolution. He also believes that people of wealth have too much power here. But Mr. Williams-Stefano loves Ms. Margaret W. Wong and said that we need more people like her because she makes this country better.