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Protesters call for more inclusion of Black contractors in Sherwin Williams' global headquarters

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to protesters outside of Cleveland City Hall.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to protesters outside of Cleveland City Hall.

Protesters gathered in front of Cleveland City Hall Tuesday to express their frustration and anger over what they say is a lack of inclusion in the construction of Sherwin William’s new global headquarters. They’re calling on the company to name a Black contractor as a key partner in the project.

“No more Sherwin Williams. No more," protestors chanted.

Black contractors and community leaders called on Mayor Justin Bibb and City Council to withhold tax dollars set aside for Sherwin William’s $600 million project. The company has awarded $122 million in contracts to minority firms, but has not named a Black-owned firm as a key partner.

The rally featured civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who founded the New York-based National Action Network.

“We are the children of Dr. King demanding economic justice," Sharpton said.

Sharpton said the project should benefit the entire community.

"If you invest tax dollars from the public, then the whole public ought to benefit from the investment," Sharpton said.

Norm Edwards speaks to protesters outside of Cleveland City Hall.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Norm Edwards has been leading the effort to have Sherwin Williams name a Black contractor as a key partner.

Norm Edwards leads the Black Contractors Group (BCG) of Cleveland. Talks stalled between his group and Sherwin Williams, he said, and he said the company has refused to come back to the table. Edwards said the contracts Sherwin Williams have awarded to minority firms are not enough.

“We want a Black partner in there. They’re going to hire Black contractors. They’re going to hire Black workers," Edwards said. "They’re not giving us the opportunity, because we don’t count. And we deserve better, we demand better, and we’re going to get better.”

Along with BCG, the Cleveland Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) has been involved in talks with Sherwin Williams. Charles Steele Jr., president and CEO of the national branch of SCLC, said he has been to Cleveland numerous time for protests and attempts to talk with the company.

Charles Steele Jr. speaks to protesters outside of Cleveland City Hall.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Charles Steele Jr. is the president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He's been to Cleveland numerous times to try to talk to Sherwin Williams.

"I never had a president or CEO of any organization or institution like Sherwin Williams to deny me a meeting," Steele said. "Never had it done."

Protesters threatened to stop the construction project and to boycott Sherwin Williams, but no clear plan was confirmed.

"On any job that has public tax dollars, if we are not at the table, it's not going to get built," Edwards said.

In a statement, Sherwin Williams said the company is working with 57 minority-owned, woman-owned and small business firms and expect to work with more. The new global headquarters is part of the company's Building Our Future project, which Sherwin Williams said aims to drive inclusion and equity for underrepresented groups.

Recently, Sherwin Williams partnered with the Urban League of Greater Cleveland to launch a Construction Accelerator Program, which will support minority businesses in construction. The company has also partnered with members of Cleveland's interdenominational clergy to offer the HomeWork program in underserved areas in the city. The program trains participants to begin careers as professional painters and 70% of HomeWork graduates are employed as professional painters.

"It is unfortunate that some are using their personal agendas and animosities to drive a false narrative and cloud the positive impact the Building Our Future project is making on the Cleveland Community now and for years to come," the statement said.

In a statement, Mayor Bibb said he’s working to create inclusive economic opportunities for all residents.

"We have engaged partners throughout the city to ensure that equity is at the forefront of broad economic growth," the statement said. "For too long, minority contractors have been left out of opportunities in our city. It is our responsibility to change that."

Bibb said he met with Sharpton last week and provided him with an update on the project. The headquarters are expected to open by the end of 2024.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.