Common Ground momentum continues as community projects take flight

Lauren Calig was inspired when she attended the “Facing History Together” Common Ground conversation in June, geared at restoring trust and civility in public discourse. But it didn’t stop there—Calig, Laurel School’s director of multicultural curriculum—decided to institute a series of ongoing lunchtime Common Ground conversations for middle and upper school students at Laurel.

“Twice a month, Lauren has Common Ground conversations with her students in which they submit topics anonymously and she picks one,” shares Nicole Yapp, a public service fellow with Cleveland Foundation (which orchestrates Common Ground). “Having been a participant in Common Ground this summer, she was moved enough to continue [the initiative] at Laurel."

Charesha Barrett is another Clevelander helping the Common Ground movement make lasting impact. Having hosted the “History and Conversations: Let’s Learn About Cleveland” conversation, Barrett decided to take it one step further by planning an “Are You Smarter Than a Ninth Grader?” event at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Cuyahoga County Public Library in early October. Geared at promoting civic dialogue, pumping up voter engagement, and broadening American History knowledge.

So what is Common Ground, anyway? Now entering its third year, Common Ground is a day dedicated to community conversations across Northeast Ohio (five counties, to be exact). This year, the widespread event attracted 4,000 residents to over 100 locations, ranging from League Park to Little Italy’s Alta House.

The goal is simple: to “create spaces where meaningful connections are made and purposeful actions begin,” according to the Cleveland Foundation.

Thompson presenting data at the recap event“Many people feel that in general that community discourse is on the decline,” says Stephanie Hicks Thompson, marketing and communications officer for Cleveland Foundation. “I can’t imagine a better way to rise above discord and disagreement than Common Ground, thanks to the passionate Clevelanders and Northeast Ohio residents that care enough to bring people together.”

Thompson led a recap event that was held last Friday, November 9, over breakfast at Trinity Cathedral. Highlights among the data presented include:

  • On the whole, participants felt racial equity (77 percent) and public schools (76 percent) were the biggest issues facing Greater Cleveland.
  • 88 zip codes were represented among participants.
  • 31 percent exchanged contact information with someone they met at a Common Ground conversation this year.
  • 90 percent of survey respondents said they were likely to take specific action on a new idea discussed.

Participants like Barrett, Calig, Lisa Hunt of Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools, and Lisanetta McDade of Cuyahoga Community College also took the stage at the recap meeting to share their insights and actions resulting from Common Ground. Says Thompson, ”It was really incredible to hear experiences from that one day and see how they are continuing to ripple through the community.”

The crowd at Trinity CathedralIndeed, an array of projects are now in motion—many sparked by a series of action clinics and funding workshops held post-event in Cuyahoga, Lake, and Geauga Counties. According to Erika Brown of Neighborhood Connections, 12 "Neighbor Up" action grants of $300 were awarded for various projects arising from Common Ground. Various projects have also been crowdfunded via ioby, such as Recess Cleveland’s movement to reinstitute recess in schools and a sensory room for survivors of domestic violence. (See all ioby/Common Ground projects here.)

Another round of Neighborhood Connections grants—this time from $500 to $5,000—was just announced last night. The first four recipients include:

The King and Queens of Art: A $2,000 grant will enable a mural addressing community building in the Central neighborhood. An eight-month project, those involved will meet bi-weekly to discuss ways to build "a more cohesive, inclusive, and equitable neighborhood."

Beyond Outlets: A $3,000 grant will enable self-development workshops for young girls to further develop special skills and self-esteem in the Cudell neighborhood.

Math for All: A $1,000 grant will enable the teaching of the board game "Smath" for kids of all ages in East Cleveland.

Love Train Ministries: A $2,000 grant will enable Love Train Ministries to work with young men aged 11 to 18 years old to build social connections, teach music, and provide training in various areas of personal growth.

In light of the projects, Thompson is encouraged by the success and momentum of this year’s Common Ground—as well as its year-to-year growth. “We more than doubled the number of host sites from year one, and we also exceeded our participant goal,” she shares. “Also, the number of people who wanted to be hosts was incredibly gratifying.”

Participants at FreshWater's Common Ground conversation in JuneAccording to Thompson, the concept was inspired by similar initiatives such as On the Table and The Longest Table, but various elements were merged to create a unique format all Cleveland’s own. “The beauty of On the Table is that individual hosts can convene their own conversations, and The Longest Table is designed to seat people that wouldn’t have met before down at the same table to encourage a connection,” explains Thompson. “We wanted to have both of those aspects.”

Looking forward, the next Common Ground event will be held on June 30, 2019 with a theme of “My Environment Is…My Environment Was…My Environment Will Be….” Though inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire, the theme is designed to encompass conversation around all types of environments—from natural to neighborhood to social to cultural. Says Thompson, “These are all aspects we want people to feel comfortable talking about at Common Ground.”

See a recap video of Common Ground 2018 here:

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.