Attendees weigh in on the impact of Cleveland Rising Summit

No one could argue that Cleveland Rising Summit’s mission wasn’t bold: to set big, exciting, and attainable economic goals that raise the community’s hopes and help create a strong future by 2030.

With hundreds of participants immersed in 2½ days of sticky notes, skits, and deep dialogue about such complex topics as racial justice, barriers to equity, and how to create meaningful partnerships across the city, there certainly was no shortage of energy expended Oct. 29 to 31 in Cleveland Public Auditorium. There was also no shortage of money spent on the gathering, with $600,000 invested in Clevelanders dividing up into topic areas and creating initiatives with measurable outcomes.

The critical question: Did it all work?

With post-summit press coverage questioning whether the infrastructure or the financial resources are available for the possibility of success, the point emphasized over and over by Cleveland Rising speakers was the importance of those present. Without individuals to carry forth proposed projects, everything falls apart. To get a sense of where some of these individuals stand, we spoke with three participants before the summit to get a sense of those expectations, and then after everything had wrapped up to see how they feel about the path forward.

The Hesitant One: Shana Black, Local Entrepreneur

Shana Black was not 100% sold on attending the summit. The creator of Black Girl in the CLE, a wildly popular networking, blog, and events initiative, balked at the amount of time required.

“Not only was it a 2½-day time commitment, but there was a pre-time commitment with articles to read before we show up,” she said beforehand. “The idea of missing three days from the office is just a lot.”

Still, Black felt she couldn’t say no. With questions of diverse representation swirling around before Cleveland Rising began, and given her work, showing up was imperative, she said. She hoped the summit might stimulate the local economy, which would get people feeling better, going out more, and attending more events, all of which support Black’s efforts. Still, she held onto some of that hesitation before entering Public Auditorium.

“So often we have activities like this, and they’re more problem identifying as opposed to ‘Here is our plan, and here are the benefits,’ reflected Black. “This has to have a payoff: a foreseeable, measurable payoff.”

Afterward, Black emerged happy that she made the time sacrifice. Her group focused on grassroots entrepreneurship, resulting in a model that would install entrepreneurs in residence for Cleveland neighborhoods as both a job for those individuals and as a community resource.

“We weren’t building a building, so it felt like something that we could actually get started,” she said.

Those who stayed all three days, as she did, yielded the maximum benefit, she said. Those who popped in and out were slightly disruptive to the process.

Ultimately, as a professional focused on making connections, Black walked away impressed with the networking at Cleveland Rising.

“I watched people taking selfies with their group on Day 3 with people they didn’t know a few days before,” said Black. “That is definitely a good sign.”

The Optimistic One: Tammy Kennedy, Community Organizer

For Tammy Kennedy’s community organizing, she needed Cleveland Rising to succeed. And she walked in thinking it would.

“It’s very difficult when you don’t have the resources to make the change you want to make, but most times, the grassroots world and the corporate world are totally separate,” Kennedy highlighted before the summit. “If they come together this week, that would be revolutionary.”

And a revolutionary approach is just what Kennedy feels is warranted. She has acutely felt the loss of more than half of Cleveland’s population in the past 50 years, particularly in her neighborhood.

Cleveland Rising Summit participants represented local governments, nonprofits, and the private sector. “When I grew up in the Glenville community, there were black merchants and black-owned spaces,” Kennedy said. “We don’t want to have to go downtown, we want to see those things in our own community. We need to see equity, and I’m hopeful those conversations can happen this week.”

When the time came to select one of 21 topics on Day 2 of the summit, Kennedy walked right over to the group diving headfirst into how to address racial equity and healing. They devised “The TRUTH Movement: Trust, Racial Unity, Transformation and Healing,” a path forward to address the very real divides in the city. The process and outcome excite Kennedy greatly.

“The energy in our group was wonderful,” she said. “I’m already telling people about TRUTH. I think we can build some great PR and awareness around it.”

Kennedy was keenly aware of concerns raised before the summit about how representative it would be. She found the actual turnout to be encouraging even as there was clearly room for more voices at the table.

“Twenty-three percent black or African-Americans is good,” Kennedy reflected on the demographic sheet provided by the organizers. “But 5% Hispanic or Latino could be better. I would have liked to have seen more representation there.”

Still, Kennedy was encouraged overall. She made special note of the intergenerational conversations and praised the focus on supporting youth citywide. And she was impressed by the level of coordination of so many different voices from different sectors. She left on the last day firmly grasping the importance of people showing up.

“There was this perception that you needed to know someone to be invited, but that’s not how I got there,” she said. “If you sit around waiting for an invite, your voice may not be heard, and change only happens when everyone shows up.”

The Patient One: Patrick Shepherd, Nonprofit Fundraiser/Manager

Walking into Cleveland Rising, Patrick Shepherd knew that whatever took place would only be the start. Whereas others wanted tangible results by the conclusion, Shepherd, associate director of the Cleveland International Film Festival, was looking far past the event.

“I am hoping the summit is just the beginning of this important effort,” he reflected pre-summit. “I hope that committees will form with focused objectives and include even more people to push the work forward.”

The summit’s goals resonated greatly with Shepherd, a nonprofit professional. He wants to help build an inclusive and equitable economic development strategy for Greater Cleveland. But he saw a few prerequisites as being integral to that goal.

“We will not succeed unless we have diverse voices at the table,” he said. “And we must build plans to achieve results so that everyone has a chance to succeed with good-paying jobs that are accessible to Clevelanders.”

For his group work, Shepherd landed with a project dubbed, “From Point A to Point CLE,” a proposal for multimodal and accessible transportation in Cleveland. The group envisioned a system of mobility that “aligns economic opportunities and affordable housing, maximizes existing infrastructure, and prioritizes equity, connectivity, and wealth building in communities historically excluded.”

“We were very focused on inclusion,” Shepherd said.

Overall, the summit’s energy inspired Shepherd, and he looks forward to his group’s first post-summit meeting. Which is not to say he doesn’t have some doubts about the outcomes: With 31 different working groups, he doesn’t expect each group to be 100% successful. But he applauds any efforts to push the needle forward and create positive change toward inclusive economic development. As someone used to playing the long game, he left with the same reality he had when he entered: that this was all just the beginning.

“We will not really grasp the full impact of this summit for years,” Shepherd concluded.
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