Four years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece calling on the faith community to join the effort of promoting regional vitality in Northeast Ohio. … I suggested that we needed a new conversation about the place we call home — a conversation that acknowledged the past and present problems without blame or shame”. I got a lot of pats on the back for that article: “Good idea.” “Well said.” “Don’t give up.” I also heard from some naysayers: “We’ve tried that before.” “Good luck getting the faith community to work together on anything.” “It can’t happen in Cleveland.”
But a few of my colleagues took seriously my call to action, and the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest faith-based community organizing network, took note. It sent an organizer to begin a series of individual conversations with faith leaders in Greater Cleveland to explore the possibility of building a nonpartisan coalition of faith communities and partner organizations in Cuyahoga County to work together and build power for social justice. In June 2011, we launched Greater Cleveland Congregations with an assembly of more than 2,000 people from 40 congregations across Cuyahoga County.
There was a palpable feeling that we could make a substantial difference in the future of the region. I’ll never forget Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald telling the crowd, “I’ve gone to a lot of meetings . . . and there are very few meetings that I’ve been to where I felt the future of Greater Cleveland might change because of what happened there. This was one.”
In the past 12 months, we have seen the power of what can be accomplished when Northeast Ohioans come together across the lines that have traditionally divided us, and commit to solving our most pressing problems.