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Cleveland Rising Summit Protest Canceled On Promises Of Inclusion

"We must be at the table," said Norman Edwards with the Black Contractor’s Group. He said he'd been assured the summit would be inclusive of the concerns of African American groups. [WEWS]
Norman Edwards with the Black Contractor’s Group at a Monday press conference at the Cuyahoga County Administration building.

A protest planned ahead of Tuesday's Cleveland Rising summit has been canceled, protest organizers announced early Monday morning, after summit planners came to an agreement to better include the Cleveland Clergy Coalition and the American Center for Economic Equality/Black Contractor’s Group in this week’s event.

The protest was announced late last week when those with concerns that certain voices, particularly minorities and East Side residents would not be represented at the three-day event meant to start a city-wide conversation about Cleveland’s overarching economic and development needs. Organizers told ideastream last Friday they expected to rally between 100 and 200 protesters outside Public Auditorium on Tuesday. But the demonstration was canceled early Monday morning.

“We have assurances that we will be included and if it were not for the friendship and the relationship that I have with the county executive, we would not be here today. We would not have canceled,” said Norman Edwards, local activist and head of the Black Contractor’s Group at a Monday afternoon press conference.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish met with Edwards and the Cleveland Clergy Coalition’s Rev. Aaron Phillips. Leaders from both sides continued the conversation by phone over the weekend, endeavoring to make sure all feel welcome at the summit and for the long term.

“They put people to work, they get people involved, they reach out to the community. Tomorrow is one very important day, but it’s only one day,” Budish said. 

“I’m really glad that Norm Edwards raised his voice,” said Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club of Cleveland and a summit organizer, said  Monday morning on the Sound of Ideas. “What that says to me is that this really matters. This isn’t just some small effort… people want to be included.”​

The Cleveland Rising Summit is a free event and is expected to be attended by nearly 1,000 corporate, community and civic leaders.

Phillips, executive director of Cleveland Clergy Coalition, said there were concerns many black community leaders were not engaged from the beginning of the planning process for the Cleveland Rising Summit. The east side of Cleveland, he feared, would not be included in any policy or economic prescriptions that arise from the panels and conversations.

The protest was meant to bring attention to the fact that as Cleveland’s Downtown and some West Side neighborhoods have prospered, East Side Cleveland neighborhoods continue to suffer from lack of investment and rampant violence, Phillips said.

Destination Cleveland, the marketing and management organization for Cuyahoga County, is one of the primary sponsors and promoters of the event, he said. Phillips charged that the organization has for many years ignored the African-American community.

“We have forgiven,” being left out of the summit initially, said Phillips. “We want to be inside making the food because we don’t want to be on the menu.”

The Cleveland Rising committee has been meeting for months, making plans, and it has been intentionally inclusive in its focus and activities, said Chardonnay Graham, one of the event’s many co-chairs.

“No one has been overlooked intentionally at all. I deeply apologize for them feeling that way, but now is not the time to protest,” she said last week.

The attendees will reflect the diversity of Cuyahoga County and that was also intentional, said Graham, who was a part of the initial group that began designing the summit in December of 2018.

“The summit is based on the appreciative inquiry method,” Graham said. “We are literally going to be talking about particular issues and the goal of the summit is to not necessarily come up with these big, wide solutions, but to at least identify these issues and to create an action plan,” she said.