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Cleveland plans to name Black Women and Girls Commission members by end of month

Chinenye Nkemere addresses Cleveland City Council
Abbey Marshall
Ideastream Public Media
Chinenye Nkemere asks Cleveland City Council to act with urgency to seat the Black Women and Girls Commission.

In 2020, Cleveland was ranked as the worst U.S. city in which to live as a Black woman. But nine months after the city passed legislation to create a commission to address these issues, some Cleveland residents want to know: what is taking so long?

The 14-member Black Women and Girls Commission, championed by both City Council and Mayor Justin Bibb at the time of passage last June, will be tasked with improving the quality of life for Black women by advising the mayor and City Council on programs and legislation.

But without an operational budget or any seated members, those efforts appear to have stalled.

“Many in our community -- Black women who are at the forefront of our community -- are getting disillusioned,” said Chinenye Nkemere during the public comment session of Monday’s City Council meeting. “They’re being left behind in this process in their own city -- a city they are replenishing.

Nkemere is the co-founder of the Cleveland-based nonprofit consulting firm Enlighted Solutions, which was selected to assist with forging the commission. Following the release of a 2020 study by CityLab that ranked Cleveland as the worst place to live as a Black woman, Nkemere’s firm worked to assemble a report expanding on statistics found in the report.

“Black women like myself are already overburdened,” Nkemere told council members. “We should not have to repeatedly show up to ensure that already-passed legislation… is actually carried through.”

Creating the commission was among Bibb's priorities for his first 100 days in office when he became mayor last year. But some administrative snags prolonged the process.

According to a City Council spokesperson, seating the commission posed difficulties because legislative language required including Black women from across specific disciplines, such as high school and college students, women representing the faith community and working in education, social services, et cetera.

The application window, which opened last July, was extended until the end of August in efforts of recruiting people who fell into those categories.

Both City Council and the Bibb administration were then tasked with selecting nominees, but a miscommunication between the two bodies delayed seating the commission, the council spokesperson said. The administration had made their picks, but selected someone in a category that was to be selected by council.

After some internal volleying, the Bibb administration has now solidified their candidates, the spokesperson said. Council is interviewing applicants and expects to finalize their list by the end of the month.

While the commission itself is not allocated an operational budget in the soon-to-be approved 2023 appropriation, members will be paid $8,963 per year for their time.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.