We CAN, but We Haven't Yet

Consultants hired to review the effectiveness of Cincinnati's attempts to promote healing and end racial disparities after the 2001 riots are giving the effort a mixed review. Groups connected to

May 3, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Matt Borgerding

Supporters of immigrants rallied May 1, calling for legal status and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Consultants hired to review the effectiveness of Cincinnati's attempts to promote healing and end racial disparities after the 2001 riots are giving the effort a mixed review. Groups connected to Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) listened to an independent assessment of their work May 1 during a meeting at Xavier University. CAN, led by business executives Ross Love and Tom Cody, was designed to identify and find solutions to the causes of the city's long-festering racial problems.

Statistics emphasized the need for action: In 2000, the unemployment rate for blacks in Cincinnati was more than double that among whites. In fact, the city ranked 14h among 50 urban regions nationally for income disparity between blacks and whites. African-American children are hit hardest by the situation. Although only 16.1 percent of whites under age 18 live in poverty, 44.4 percent of black children fall under the line.

Sharon Edwards of Houston-based Cornerstone Consulting Group said CAN has made a good start but not enough to create lasting change. To do that, the group needs more money and to create more partnerships with community groups, she said.

"CAN lived up to its name," Edwards said.

"It provided places and reasons for people to come together across racial lines and provided a place for discussion."

Cincinnati's racial problems, however, took decades to develop and can't realistically be reversed in just five years, she said.

"Cincinnati, we believe, is on the right track in trying to address some of those problems," Edwards said. "The scope and scale of those programs are just not enough. It's not reaching enough people."

Besides trying to secure more support, Edwards recommended that CAN and its affiliate groups revisit their goals and set "realistic outcomes based on available resources."

Among CAN's efforts during the past few years, the group brought to Cincinnati early childhood development programs that had been used successfully in other cities. The programs target at-risk, inner-city children under age 6, offering them full-time preschool, while parenting classes and "resource coaches" were made available to their parents. CAN also solicited area corporations to sponsor each of the city's high schools, asking companies to provide volunteer time to mentor students. Additionally, CAN worked with agencies in inner-city neighborhoods on providing jobs and training to the "hardcore unemployed," people who might have criminal records that make it difficult to find employment.

As part of its economic development efforts, CAN teamed with local Chamber of Commerce officials to create a minority business accelerator. It works with large corporations to provide contracts for African-American contractors and vendors, trying to boost minority business ownership.

CAN itself has taken a lower profile during the past two years as its work largely has been taken over by Better Together Cincinnati, a group of 15 foundations and corporations formed to provide funding for the various projects CAN started. The Greater Cincinnati Community Foundation has led that effort.

Love, who serves as CAN's co-chair, praised the efforts, which have involved hundreds of volunteers, but conceded more could be done.

"In the big picture, we have not made a significant dent in the disparities," he said.

Mercy Waits, Justice Marches
Hundreds of immigrants and supporters rallied May 1 in front of the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood), demanding he support reform that welcomes, rather than criminalizes, immigrants. The demonstrators then marched to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

"I firmly believe that people everywhere need justice, and workers here in Cincinnati should have all of their rights protected and should be paid a decent wage" said Sister Alice Gerdeman, coordinator of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center.

The nation should provide legal status and a path to citizenship for all immigrants now living and working in the United States, according to Sylvia Castellanos, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Dignity.

"We are not criminals, we are hard workers," she said. "We want the best for our families, for our children. We are not aliens. We are human beings who deserve legalization to stay in this country."

The execution of Jeffrey Hill of Cincinnati is on hold. U.S. District Judge Gregory L. Frost has issued a stay of the June 15 execution pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging Ohio's lethal injection protocol. Frost cited "a stronger likelihood of success on the merits than the plaintiffs who preceded him, given the growing body of evidence calling Ohio's lethal injection protocol increasingly into question." Frost also noted, "The victim's family in this case, who are also plaintiff Hill's family, do not want him to be executed at all."

Hill killed his mother while high on crack (see "Killing a Family," issue of March 1-7). His clemency hearing before the state parole board is May 17. To sign the family's clemency petition, go to petitiononline.com/jeffhill/ petition.html. To volunteer to help gather signatures, contact Eunice Timoney-Ravenna of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center at 513-579-8547.

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