YWCA Greater Cleveland Seeks Nominees for 2017 Women of Achievement

Nominations for YWCA Greater Cleveland’s prestigious Women of Achievement Award are now open.  The 2017 Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon marks the 41st year of honoring the most distinguished and notable women in Northeast Ohio. At this highly anticipated community event, we will present one of the most prestigious awards to a select group of Greater Cleveland women who have made extraordinary accomplishments through career success, community service, dedication to the YWCA mission, and leadership and mentoring.

Among these Women of Achievement are business leaders, authors, judges, philanthropists, physicians, nonprofit executives, and many other distinguished women from our community. Women chosen to receive this award are role models and mentors. They have played a significant role in helping other women achieve their goals.

Over the past 41 years, YWCA Greater Cleveland is proud to have honored more than 200 of Northeast Ohio’s most successful and accomplished women. YWCA Greater Cleveland’s Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon hosts more than 800 community members who join YWCA in celebrating these leaders for tomorrow.

The selected honorees will be presented their awards at the 41st Annual Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon on May 3rd, 2017 at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel.

Margaret Mitchell, President and CEO of YWCA Greater Cleveland, says this of the Women of Achievement Awards: “Recognizing trailblazing women over the years has helped to heighten the successes of women in order to ensure that the next generation of women leaders will have a seat at the table.



If you’d like to nominate a woman leader for this award, please fill out the online form at http://bit.ly/WOA2017app . We will ask you to include a maximum of three letters of recommendation. We will also ask for a resume detailing her career and leadership achievements.

Please ensure that nominations are made in strict confidence. We appreciate efforts to not inform the nominee that she is being considered for this award.

There will be questions about the following topics on the nomination form, reflecting the areas of success we look for in candidates:

  1. Career Success
  2. Community Service
  3. Commitment to YWCA Mission of Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women
  4. Mentoring
  5. Leaders for the Future



  • Micki Byrnes, President and General Manager, WKYC Channel 3 – Cleveland
  • Lee Friedman, Chief Executive Officer, College Now Greater Cleveland
  • Kathryn “Kit” Jensen, Chief Operating Officer, ideastream
  • Kym Sellers, Founder, Kym Sellers Foundation; television and radio personality
  • Robyn Minter Smyers, Partner-in-Charge, Thompson Hine LLP – Cleveland Office
  • Maryrose Sylvester, President and Chief Executive Officer, Current Powered by GE
  • Nancy Tinsley, President of Parma Medical Center, University Hospitals
  • Sue Tyler, Executive Vice President and Chief Experience Officer, Medical Mutual of Ohio
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Reposted from Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 25, 2016 – Following a competitive nationwide search, A Way Home America today announced that Cleveland/Cuyahoga County, Austin and Los Angeles will launch 100-day challenges to advance efforts to end youth homelessness. Through the challenges, A Way Home America seeks to support and accelerate the local work of the selected communities and to inform national dialogue, learning and policy to prevent and end youth homelessness. The three communities will receive support from The Rapid Results Institute to drive toward ambitious goals over 100 days, starting September 7th.


Cleveland/Cuyahoga County’s 100-day challenge will be coordinated by A Place 4 Me, a cross-sector initiative of more than 50 public and private agencies. The initiative has developed a strategic plan to prevent and end youth homelessness that prioritizes youth transitioning from foster care, a population particularly vulnerable to housing instability. A Place 4 Me is a collaboration led by YWCA Greater Cleveland; Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services, including the Division of Children and Family Services and the Office of Homeless Services; FrontLine Service; the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, which has provided technical assistance and catalyzed funding partnership to support this initiative.


“Throughout the 100-day journey, we look forward to honing and testing new partnerships and strategies to better support the housing stability of youth transitioning from the foster care system,” said Thomas Pristow, director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services. “We enthusiastically embrace this opportunity from A Way Home America, and we are excited to share our learnings nationally.”


The Rapid Results Institute’s past 100-day challenges around veteran homelessness have shown that the limited timeframe provides the urgency needed to identify, innovate and fuel effective approaches for communities. The challenges announced today are part of the national movement to end youth homelessness, represented by A Way Home America. The Rapid Results Institute will provide coaching and support to the communities, with the support of theAdministration on Children, Youth and Families, Casey Family Programs, Melville Charitable Trust and Raikes Foundation.


Rafael López, Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said “The Department of Health and Human Services is thrilled to support these unique 100-day challenges because we have no time to waste in generating solutions. The federal government is committed to ending youth and family homelessness by 2020. We need to support and accelerate community generated ideas to deliver better results. Together with the cities of Austin, Cleveland, and Los Angeles, we are confident that the 100-day challenge will create urgency for action and serve as a catalyst to more safely house and stabilize thousands of our nation’s homeless youth.”


“We are fully committed to A Way Home America’s goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020,” said Janice Elliott, Executive Director of the Melville Charitable Trust. “To achieve this ambitious goal, we know we need big, bold, and creative ideas. That’s why we’re so excited to support and learn from these 100-day challenges in Austin, Cleveland, and Los Angeles.”


“Thousands of young people across our country will spend tonight alone without a safe place to sleep. A crisis of this magnitude requires a level of urgency to match, which is why The Rapid Results Institute’s 100-day challenge approach is such a perfect fit,” said Katie Hong, youth homelessness strategy director at the Raikes Foundation. “These communities will be at the leading edge of innovation that others across the country can learn from as we help this often hidden homelessness population.”


Organizations and communities interested in following the lessons learned by the three communities on their Youth Homelessness 100-day challenges can sign up to receive news from A Way Home America at www.awayhomeamerica.org.




About A Place 4 Me (Cleveland/Cuyahoga County)

A Place 4 Me is a cross-sector initiative that harnesses the strengths and resources of its partners to prevent and end homelessness among young adults age 15 to 24 in Cleveland/Cuyahoga County. A Place 4 Me is a collaboration of YWCA Greater Cleveland; Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services, including the Division of Children and Family Services and the Office of Homeless Services; FrontLine Service; the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.


About A Way Home America

A Way Home America (AWHA) is a national initiative to build the movement to prevent and end homelessness among young people. AWHA is made up of advocates, researchers, young people, local and state public sector organizations, homeless youth providers and philanthropists uniting behind the goal of ending youth homelessness by the end of 2020.


About The Rapid Results Institute

The Rapid Results (RRI) Institute is a non-profit organization that creates transformative and sustained impact on tough societal challenges. RRI enables front-line teams to deliver seemingly impossible results, often in 100 days or less, and helps leaders leverage these initial results into sustained, long term, impact.

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Ramadan 2016: June 5, 2016 – July 5, 2016

ramadanby Heather Steranka-Petit

Content adapted from: Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2015, http://www.brookfieldgrs.com/ramadan/

This year, the holy month of Ramadan will be observed by more than 1.6 billion people around the world, and by more than 5 million people in the USA.  During this month, Muslims all over the world observe fasting from sunrise until sunset. This year Ramadan is started at Sunset on Sunday, June 5th, and will continue for 30 days until July 5th.

In many parts of the world, you can expect the pace of work to slow down during the month of Ramadan.  Some countries like the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait have laws to reduce the working hours during this month.   In observant Muslim countries, almost no critical decisions are made at this time and it is advisable not to start a new project during the fasting month.

Ramadan is considered one of the five pillars of Islam. During this month, Muslims who are physically able are required to fast, abstain from food or drink, from sunrise to sunset (this includes gum and water). Children, pregnant women, and nursing women are not required to fast.  Adults who cannot fast during the holy month due to a health reason may make up the days at a later time.

Fasting is used as a way to purify the soul, to refocus attention on God, and to protect oneself from evil and learn patience, humility and control. For those who cannot fast and are financially able to do so, it is their duty to feed the poor. Evenings, after sundown, are spent enjoying family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the holy book – the Quran.

The dates for Ramadan may vary according to location as they are based on the expected visibility of the hilal (waxing crescent moon following a new moon).

Muslims believe that this month is filled with blessings, and it is appropriate to wish them well. Some traditional or common Arabic greetings that one may hear during Ramadan include:

  • “Ramadan Kareem!” (“Noble (or Generous) Ramadan!”)
  • “Ramadan Mubarak!” (“Blessed Ramadan!”)
  • “Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair!” (“May every year find you in good health!”)

At the end of the month of Ramadan, Muslims observe a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast-Breaking). It is a time to give in charity to those in need, and celebrate with family and friends the completion of a month of blessings and joy. In most Muslim countries, the entire 3-day period is an official government/school holiday.

Dos and Don’ts


  • Do say “Ramadan Kareem” to your Muslim friends and colleagues.
  • Do give to the poor and help the needy. Ramadan is a time to be charitable.


  • In the Arabian Gulf countries, non-Muslims are restrained from eating and drinking in front of those who fast. If you are a non-Muslim visiting a Muslim country, do not eat or drink in public during fasting hours.
  • In the USA, be conscientious and aware of your Muslim clients and colleagues. For example, this may not be the best month to bring in donuts for the break room or offer to treat your clients to lunch.

Something you may not know…
The biggest Islamic populations in the world are not in the Middle East. Actually, they are in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Content adapted from: Brookfield Global Relocation Services 2015, http://www.brookfieldgrs.com/ramadan/

For more, check this CNN article on Ramadan: http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/04/us/ramadan-non-muslims-etiquette-guide/ 

Posted in Inclusion, Racial Equity, YWCA Greater Cleveland | Leave a comment

Dinosaurs and Early Childhood Education

by Malcolm Schmitz, guest contributor and freelance writer

IMG_0187.JPGWhenever I meet a kid for the first time, I ask them this question: “Do you like dinosaurs?” Most of the time, the answer is “yes.” I can’t count the number of interesting dinosaur facts I’ve learned from talking to kids. Younger kids—as young as three or four—can sometimes pronounce complicated dinosaur names like Quetzalcoatlus and Pachycephalosaurus. They know how dinosaurs’ footprints were preserved as fossils and that Deinonychus had three long, sharp claws that it used to hunt its prey.

Kids are information sponges. They soak up as much knowledge as they can about the world around them, whether it’s the rules that the world follows, the way that people talk, or the interesting dinosaur facts that they saw in their favorite book. They’re growing and developing in so many ways that the influences surrounding them can shape their lives forever.

Parents and teachers need to help kids learn and grow. They also must let kids have opportunities to explore and make choices. Instructors and mentors let kids play, while also teaching them the basics of how to be a healthy human being. Early childhood education is critical in this development and progress.

Unfortunately, not all kids have the same level of support. Kids growing up in severe poverty, kids at risk of homelessness, kids who are refugees or foster children, and kids who’ve fled from abusive families are all at risk. Through adverse and traumatic circumstances, some kids learn to believe that the world is a scary place and that they should be perpetually frightened. Those children could have trouble growing, learning, and developing at the same pace as peers.

Early childhood education is absolutely crucial for all children, but especially these kids. If they have access to a good early childhood education program—and their families have support from the community—children who have faced trauma can catch up to peers who have faced less challenges. These children can make progress, get ready for kindergarten on time, and learn that it’s okay to be inquisitive and creative.

YWCA Greater Cleveland has an Early Learning Center that’s designed specifically to help children who have faced adverse conditions or trauma (such as homelessness). This innovative program is the only one like it in the state. YWCA’s teachers are degreed, well-trained, and able to implement customized education plans, working to focus on children’s social and emotional development goals. These teachers are supported by Family Engagement Specialists who focus as much on the parent and family unit as they do on the child. This innovative model also incorporates an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant, coaching staff to ask children and families questions like “What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”

The Early Learning Center (ELC) works with both kids and their families to help kids get ready for kindergarten. The ELC helps kids’ families set goals and create game plans to help them attain the highest possible level of self-sufficiency. The ultimate goal is to help kids reach their developmental milestones and empower families to advocate for themselves.

As a community, we can support the ELC with volunteer work, donations, and spreading the word. Let’s ensure that kids who have faced trauma spend less time struggling to cope and catch up with peers and more time excitedly learning the differences between a plesiosaur and a pteranodon.

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The Wage Gap: Gender Discrimination in the 21st Century

Pg46-Heather Steranka-Petit YWCAby Heather Steranka-Petit, YWCA Greater Cleveland – Manager, Learning Programs

This article appears in the 2016 issue of ACHIEVE magazine.

In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court.  She broke down barriers for millions of American women.  It is hard now to imagine that when she graduated third in her class from Stanford law school in 1952, she had trouble finding a job.  In a 2013 interview, she describes how she contacted several law firms who simply refused to give her an interview because they told her “we don’t hire women.”

This type of sex discrimination in employment was made illegal by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In fact, today it would be not only illegal but extremely rare to have an employer in in the United States say outright that they do not hire women.  This does not mean that gender discrimination is only a thing of the past.  In today’s society, discrimination still happens but is sometimes hard to recognize.

The Wage Gap

According to a 2014 study by the National Women’s Law Center, across the USA, women earned an average 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. The same study reports that for African-American and Hispanic women the gender pay gap is even wider.

Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of the National Women’s Law Center, reports that while there are many reasons for the gender gap, one of the most stubborn reasons is discrimination. “There’s really disturbing social science studies out there that show that supervisors, male and female alike, without realizing it, will recommend lower salaries for women with equivalent qualifications to men,” she says.

Pay Secrecy

One factor in the gender wage gap is a lack of available information.  According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, workplace practices and policies which discourage or prohibit discussions about pay rates appear to contribute to the gender gap in earnings.

A 2010 study revealed that approximately half of all workers (51% of women and 47% of men) report that the discussion of wage and salary information is either discouraged, prohibited, or could lead to punishment.   This type of pay secrecy is even more common among single mothers: 63% say that they work for employers who discourage or prohibit discussion of wage and salary information.

Women as Caregivers

Another factor that affects the wage gap by gender is that women assume the role of caregiver throughout their working lives.  Even in today’s modern families, women are still taking on the bulk of responsibilities in the area of child-raising.  In addition, many women have caregiving responsibilities for aging parents or other family members.   Studies continue to show that there is persistent discrimination against women workers with caregiving responsibilities.  In a 2007 report, researchers Shelley Correll, Stephan Benard, and In Paik compared equally qualified women candidates, and found that women who were mothers were recommended for significantly lower starting salaries.  In addition, the study found that mothers were perceived as less competent and therefore less likely to be recommended for hire than non-mothers.

Stalled Progress for Women in Leadership Roles

There is no question that women have made great strides in the workforce.  From the 1970’s through the early 2000’s, the gender wage gap narrowed, sex segregation in most professions greatly declined, and the percentage of women climbing the management ranks steadily rose.  According to a 2014 report by the Center for American Progress:

  • Women earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of all master’s degrees
  • Women earn 47% of all law degrees and 48% of all medical degrees
  • Women earn more than 44% of master’s degrees in business and management, including 37% of MBAs
  • Women make up 47% of the U.S. labor force and 59% of the college-educated, entry-level workforce

However, even with these impressive statistics, the presence of women in top leadership positions, (e. g.  equity law partners, medical school deans, and corporate executive officers) remains stuck between 10-20%.  Even though women comprise more than 50% of the US population, the average proportion of their representation on corporate boards and in Congress is just 15%. The low percentages of women in these top leadership roles propagates the perception that women do not belong in those positions or professions.  This leads to women being less likely to be recruited for these positions, or even self-selecting not to apply.   This in turn can create a shortage of role models, mentors, and sponsors for women in these fields.

Closing the Wage Gap

According to the National Women’s Law Center, there are some common sense things that we need to do to shrink the wage gap:

  • Strengthen our equal pay laws so that women have the tools they need to fight back against pay discrimination
  • Build ladders to higher-wage jobs for women by removing barriers to entry into male-dominated fields
  • Lift up the wages of women in low-wage jobs by raising the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage
  • Increase the availability of high-quality, affordable child care
  • Help prevent and remedy caregiver and pregnancy discrimination against women workers
  • Provide fair schedules, paid family leave, and paid sick days so that workers with caregiving responsibilities are not unfairly disadvantaged


At YWCA Greater Cleveland, we are on a mission to eliminate racism and empower women.  YWCA’s Women’s Leadership Institute offers a comprehensive leadership development training curriculum and corresponding programs
designed to build, train, recognize, and empower transformative leaders at all phases of their careers.  When you support YWCA Greater Cleveland, you are helping to support today’s women leaders and creating tomorrow’s role models, mentors, and sponsors for women and girls.



Judith Warner, The Women’s Leadership Gap: Women’s leadership by the numbers, Center for American Progress, (March 2014), available at

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2014/03/07/85457/fact-sheet-the-womens-leadership-gap/ .

FAQ About the Wage Gap, National Women’s Law Center, (September 2015), available at

http://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/faq_about_the_wage_gap_9.23.15.pdf .

Shelley J. Correll, Stephan Benard, and In Paik, Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11 No. 5 (Mar. 2007), pp. 1297- 1339, available at http://gender.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/motherhoodpenalty_0.pdf.

Pay Secrecy and Wage Discrimination, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, (January 2014) available at


‘Out Of Order’ At The Court: O’Connor On Being The First Female Justice, Interview by Terri Gross. Fresh Air. NPR.org. WHYY, Philadelphia, PA, (March 2013), Radio. Transcript.

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YWCA Greater Cleveland Announces Women of Professional Excellence

40th logo WOA with date rv1These women will be honored at the Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon and Conference on May 2, 2016

YWCA Greater Cleveland is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of honoring women in Northeast Ohio through the Women of Achievement awards. At this celebration, 8 local women leaders will be named Women of Achievement and 46 women will be named Women of Professional Excellence.

YWCA Greater Cleveland provides organizations throughout Northeast Ohio with a unique opportunity to recognize the contributions of exceptional women within their organization through the Women of Professional Excellence Award. Women receiving this award exemplify high professional standards and evidence of career and personal growth; make significant contributions to the effective, efficient operation of their organizations; display a willingness to support and mentor others; and make a positive impact on the community. Previously known as the Merit Award, more than 1,500 women have received this honor since 1977.

2016 Women of Professional Excellence
Below are the 46 women who will be presented with this honor on May 2, 2016 at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel as part of the Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon and Conference.

American Greetings Corporation
Keesha Moore – Manager, Recruiting
Renita L. Jefferson – Director of Talent Acquisition, Leadership Development, Diversity & Inclusion
Denise Kaston – Manager, Human Resources
College Now Greater Cleveland
Dr. Michele Scott Taylor – Chief Program Officer
Kittie D. Warshawsky – Chief External Affairs Officer
Cuyahoga Community College
Ashlee Brand – Associate Professor, English
Amanda Hanley – Assistant Professor of Mathematics
Julia O. Tryk, J.D. – Professor
Ernst & Young LLP
Margaret A. Merritt – Partner
Becky Truelson – Senior Manager of Assurance Services
Fairmount Santrol
Sharon Van Zeeland – Vice President, Investor Relations and Business Development
Forest City
Mary Adams – Direct IT Business Office
Janice M. Camerato – HR Executive Coordinator
Linda Pavia – Executive Administrative Assistant
Grant Thornton LLP
Carol Stelnicki – Audit Manager
The Huntington National Bank
Claudine Daugirdas – Credit Analyst
Marta Blase – Senior Vice President, Marketing
Kelly Dillon – Manager, Investor Relations – KeyCorp
Lynnette Jackson – Relationship Manager – Key Private Bank
Laurie Muller-Girard – Executive, Commercial Segment & Specialty Lending
Alicia Luz Steele – Enterprise Security Services
The Lubrizol Corporation
Alison Brunsdon – Global Director of Talent Development
Michelle Graf – Resource Manager, Applied Sciences
Medical Mutual
Jennifer Collister – VP, Chief Underwriter
Margaret Conroy – Director, Benefit Services
Susan Edwards – Director, Human Resource Services
Molina Healthcare of Ohio, Inc.
Ami Cole – Plan President
Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
Sabrania W. Winkfield – Shift Manager
PNC Bank
Arlonda M. Stevens, Ph.D. – Vice President, Compliance Advisor
Heather Scaglione – Technical Manager
Ginny Wilczak – HR Director
Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP
Jill G. Okun – Partner
Reminger Co., LPA
Bethanie R. Murray – Attorney
The Sherwin-Williams Company
Lori Peterson – Director, Customer Support – Global Supply Chain
Thompson Hine, LLP
Alice A. Armstrong – Regional Growth Manager
Erin Luke – Associate
Barbara A. Lum – Associate
University Hospitals
Hiloni Bhavsar, M.D. – Physician – Case Medical Center
Nicole Catherine Maronian, M.D. – Vice Chair of ENT Quality
Stacey Mazzurco, BSN RN – Director, Clinical Trials
Kim Shelnick – Vice President, Talent Acquisition
Michele Catherine Walsh, M.D. – Chief, Neonatology
Charlotte Wray – President – Elyria Medical Center
Joan M. Zoltanski, M.D. – Chief Experience Officer
Westfield Insurance
Lori Gabel – Performance Consulting and Organization Development Leader
YWCA Greater Cleveland
Teresa Sanders – Vice President of Programs and Operations

Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon & Conference
Theme – Leadership: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
The 2016 Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon & Conference will mark the 40th year of honoring the most distinguished and notable women in Northeast Ohio. At this highly anticipated community event, YWCA Greater Cleveland will present one of the most prestigious awards to a select group of local women who have made extraordinary accomplishments through career success, community service, dedication to the YWCA mission, and leadership and mentoring.

The 2016 Women of Achievement Award recipients are:
Micki Byrnes, President and General Manager, WKYC
Lee Friedman, Chief Executive Officer, College Now Greater Cleveland
Kathryn “Kit” Jensen, Chief Operating Officer, ideastream
Kym Sellers, Founder, Kym Sellers Foundation; television and radio personality
Robyn Minter Smyers, Partner-in-Charge, Thompson Hine LLP – Cleveland Office
Maryrose Sylvester, President and Chief Executive Officer, Current Powered by GE
Nancy Tinsley, President of Parma Medical Center, University Hospitals
Sue Tyler, Executive Vice President and Chief Experience Officer, Medical Mutual of Ohio

The 40th YWCA Women of Achievement Luncheon will be held in conjunction with the YWCA Women’s Leadership Conference on Monday, May 2, 2016 at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. This is the first year the highly-anticipated event will feature an entire day full of dynamic conference workshops. Visit www.ywcaofcleveland.org for more information on the Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon & Conference.

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It’s Time to Talk Essay Contest Winners

Fresh Water Cleveland hosted an essay contest for our 2016 It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race. The prompt appeared simple, but has many interpretations:

Why is an open and honest discussion about race important to you and your community?

We chose two winners: Tim Zaun and Adaora Nzelibe Schmiedl. Read their captivating and unique perspectives on this topic by clicking their names, or by looking below. And join us for It’s Time to Talk on February 22,2016. Registration closes Wednesday, February 17, 2016.


Submitted by Tim Zaun:

In his August 28, 1963, “ I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundation of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.”

King’s prescient words resonate today, in Northeast Ohio and around the country, as racial tensions persist.

Open and honest dialogue about race promotes transparency among individuals, business, schools, religious institutions, law enforcement, and government, all of which comprise a community. Forthright conversations expose misperceptions, prejudice, as well as commonality. Trust, new ideas, and an understanding of people’s needs are among the benefits of clear communication.

Stephen Covey, famed author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” said, in Habit 4, Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood. To advance the fight against racism, people of every nationality need to engage in empathic listening.  For it’s only when we understand another’s plight can we begin to help them and expect their grace in return.

I’m proud to live in a region committed to addressing the complex dynamics of racial relations. The pledge represents respect for every citizen; and empowers me to be a part of the change. Discovering viable solutions to racial discord affords me the opportunity to live in a thriving community.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Words may show a man’s wit, but actions his meaning.” The YWCA’s “It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race exemplify Northeast Ohio’s ability to advance, not only dialogue, but action plans to address racism, prejudice and discrimination. Those engaged in the process lead the way in helping Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of  “brighter days of justice,” become a long overdue reality.

Submitted by Adaora Nzelibe Schmiedl

I belong to a community of light skinned girls who carry the baggage of centuries of mixed race parentage, forced and consensual.

I was born to a Nigerian father and a Polish, Scottish, Pennsylvania Dutch mother with a phizo-affective disorder in these United States. My parents were not enraged when the minister would not read marriage banns. In the Church of England “banns are an announcement in church of your intention to marry … read out every week in churches across the land for millions of couples, over many centuries.[1]”  He asked them and their guests, to come in the back door for the service. Their wedding picture was posed by the back door.

Speaking about back doors, I hovered just outside of conversational norms with two cultures, a mother who saw visions, always aware that at least one parent, no matter where we lived, was “foreign.” But talking about the color of my skin was a bigger conversation stopper.

I asked teachers at the Nannie Helen Burroughs Elementary School in Washington DC why there were so many descriptions for Caucasian skin – olive, almond, milky white – I actually made a list. With hours spent listening to peers dissect tonality of brown skin (I was “light skinned but not light enough to pass”), I was puzzled. In the books we read, people of African descent were just black. None of my teachers had an answer – even though I pointed out that each teacher was several shades lighter than me, with different underlying rich tints. Their skin could hardly be described in one word.

Learning to balance when I was “just black” as opposed to “light skinned black,” I took down pictures in my dorm room and apartment to avoid awkward “what exactly are you” questions. Better to be “just black” – finding dates, making friends, fitting in was easier. I could also more easily represent the whole race in classroom conversations and work place conundrums.

Now I have pictures in my office. I refuse to represent every black experience but own my experience, often echoed back to me by other women. My children have very light skin and blue eyes. When I enter a public playground, I do a loud third person Mama Call: “Mama will be right her if you need her.” At soccer practice last October in Cleveland Heights, a man told me, after I finished comforting my wailing 10 year old, “that I might want to look for his mother.”  I’m not the only one who has a Mama Call.

I talk to my children about identity. They are proud of their heritage – which includes their African descent. They are already pushed aside in conversations because they are “too light to be black.”

As I become a light skinned elder, I say it’s time for the continuum of conversations to acknowledge actual skin color and heritage feed the American experience. If we make our children choose to be one thing, we all lose.

[1] https://www.yourchurchwedding.org/article/reading-of-banns/

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