The Cleveland Foundation Comes to Ward 7

By Mansfield Frazier

A bit over 20 years ago, my then-new wife, Brenda, was walking towards her office in the Department of Children and Family Services building one Monday morning, there were two women at the water cooler chatting.  She overheard one say to the other, “Did you see that some damn fools are building a house on the corner of 66th and Hough?” She kept right on walking and didn’t inform the woman that she, along with me, her husband, were the fools in question.

Fast-forward to today… considering recent developments, it appears as if my wife and I were prescience two decades ago. As I am sometimes wanting to inform people, we didn’t simply throw a dart at a map of Hough when we were deciding where to build our home. Instead, knowing history as I do, there was no question in my mind that residing in proximity to, and on the same street as the historic League Park (the oldest original baseball park still standing in the United States) would be a smart bet. It was eventually renovated into a first-class facility 10 years ago to fulfill now-deceased Councilwoman Fannie Lewis’ signature dream.

Now our little corner of the world—as well as the entire Eastside of Cleveland—is set to get another major boost. Last year the Cleveland Foundation proposed to build their new headquarters on land that runs along 66th Street between Euclid and Chester Avenue, which will put our home (and the vineyards and winery we manage, Château Hough) equal distance between their building and the ballpark.

Talk about feeling like being in the catbird’s seat!

However, as with anything that is ultimately going to be of consequence, challenges to the Foundation’s plans soon developed… something I personally believe should occur whenever a progressive idea is initially rolled out. Facing obstacles and overcoming them clarifies purpose and vision while strengthening resolve… plus making the victory, when it comes, all the sweeter.  Allow me to elucidate.

The land which the Foundation purchased was a vacant lot that was owed by the Dunham Tavern Museum.  Although a majority of the museum’s board voted for the sale of the land, they did not have the financial wherewithal to develop, a dissenting group of board members (plus a few non-board members of questionable intent) mounted a campaign to void the deal. But the only issue naysayers could raise is that the land, which has sat as an open field on the top of contaminated fuel storage tanks for years, is really a green space, a lovely park that serves nearby neighborhoods.

At the time I questioned in print that if the space was indeed intended for community use why then wasn’t I, who lives a short block away, not aware of it, and further, why was it entirely surrounded by a sturdy fence?  Additionally, it was not until the Dunham board brought on a wonderfully talented woman, Lauren Hansgen, as executive director there had been little, if any, interaction between the institution and the surrounding community. In other words, their arguments were pure, unadulterated, hogwash, and, lacking any other plausible explanation.  I was forced to come to the conclusion the dissents’ actions were designed—at least in part—simply to impede the progress of the communities the Foundation serves… particularly those of color.

Nonetheless, the dissenting group went to court to block the sale. The case was summarily tossed out of Common Pleas Court on its ear, but they persisted and filed an appeal. On Wednesday, August 12 the Court of Appeals, in a three-zip vote, ruled in favor of the Cleveland Foundation. The organization can now move forward with a groundbreaking in the late fall.

The dissents can, of course, take their very weak case to the Ohio Supreme Court.  In such case, I’m relatively confident the Justices would find that the move by the Cleveland Foundation to decamp from their ivory tower existence and place their operations logistically, programmatically, and philosophically closer to the communities they seek to serve, as indeed groundbreaking (a move other similar institutions around the country are sure to take note of and some will seek to emulate) and better position the organization to serve the Cleveland commonweal.

The board of directors, Executive Director Ronn Richard, and the senior staff influencers—India Pierce Lee, Lillian Kuri, Alan Ashby, and a host of others—at the Foundation deserve a sustained round of applause for sticking to their guns, staying the course, and assuring a good outcome for everyone of a progressive, pluralistic, and inclusive mindset.

This move will certainly help to energize nascent Eastside revitalization efforts and coupled with the equally nascent “woke” movement (whereby the majority white community nationwide is, at least for the nonce, expressing a desire to right past wrongs and address past grievances), now is the time for us local residents to make efforts to fulfill our dreams of turning our neighborhoods into stable, vibrant, and safe communities of choice.

I can sense that the door of opportunity is beginning to crack open and it’s incumbent upon us—no matter how suspicious one is due to past failed efforts and unfulfilled empty promises made to the black community—to step up and avail ourselves any and all offerings of assistance to better our condition that might come our way… or those we can create for ourselves via dent of entrepreneurial spirit and the hard work that accompanies it.

Also, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure our buckets don’t have any holes in them. We can’t move forward with sloppily prepared business plans or ill-thought-out strategies. We have to go to the table completely prepared.

In more simple terms, we need to step up to the plate and take a shot at a better life… just take a swing at it.