October 02, 2023

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Public Commenters (14 min)
Adam Rosen  Jenna Thomas  Rabbi Scott Roland  Phyllis "Seven" Harris 

Adam Rosen

Thank you, Council President Griffin and members of Council, for allowing me the opportunity to provide public comment tonight. I want to recognize the privilege of public comment, the activists that made it happen, the buy-in from this body, and the ongoing forum for citizens to address you in this sacred hall. My name is Adam Rosen. I'm an attorney and I live and work in Ward 15. I'm also also a member of the Cleveland Jewish Federation Community Relations Committee, which works to build relationships between the Jewish community and all the diverse communities of Cleveland. Your esteemed colleague, Councilman McCormack, encouraged me to provide comment tonight in response to the anti-Jewish and homophobic remarks made last week.

Because the Jewish story is very much intertwined with the Cleveland story, when cracks emerge that divide us, we must call out this hate for the future we are dreaming of. I am very proud to be a Jewish Clevelander, and I'm proud to be living out my values in a city where those of every race and all creeds live and work in harmony.

In 2018, while working with the Detroit-Shoreway CDC, I had the opportunity to assist with the Cleveland Historic Landmark designation of the First Street Cemetery, the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Cleveland, where Jews were buried starting in 1865 until the last burial in 1971. As the Cleveland story goes, when people in the city made a better life for themselves, they picked up and moved to the burbs. Significant populations of Jews in Glenville, Kinsman, and Hough moved further into the newly developed suburbs in the 1950s and 60s. Over time, the cemetery fell into disrepair and remained that state until about 15 years ago when a group of residents and stakeholders led by the late judge Raymond Pianka took matters into their own hands and began restoring the cemetery. As you know, the landmark's designation process is a meaningful connection to our past where we celebrate the places where individuals and communities have made lasting contributions that have enriched our city. The landmark designation of the First Street Cemetery was a heartfelt appreciation of the partnership between the city, my neighborhood, and the Jewish community. It had a lasting impact on me.

Jews moved to Cleveland to pursue a better life and the freedom to practice our traditions which have been passed down from generation to generation. The Jewish people have made a home here and have made innumerable contributions to industry, commerce and culture throughout our city's history, and we will continue to do so for generations to come. Thank you.

2:48 Permalink

Jenna Thomas

Thank you, guys. Thank you, Council President Griffin and members of City Council and the administration for giving me the opportunity to speak tonight. For those who don't know me, my name is Jenna Thomas, and I am the Policy and Advocacy Manager at Bike Cleveland, and last week you heard from my friend and colleague, Joe Schwarten, about the upcoming week without driving.

We've made it, and this is a week of action founded by disability rights advocates with the hope of prompting our decision makers to step into the shoes of their constituents and experience firsthand all the challenges that come with living car-free. And while we really, really would love you to engage with this and participate on some level, even more important is what you choose to do to improve transportation going forward.

The city's capital improvement plan includes funding for some exciting projects, including the Superior Midway and the Memorial Bridge's loop, and these projects are have been a long time coming. Thank you to everyone that helped make those happen. But still they will only account for less than three miles of separated bike facilities, and at this rate we simply could not achieve our vision for a 15-minute city where all residents can access their needs without having to take an hour bus trip or spend thousands more every year maintaining a second car. This is why it's critical that the city funds quick-build roadway improvements using lower-cost materials. The Back-to-Basics infrastructure funding was a great start, but this will require funding committed year after year towards traffic calming, and bike lane upgrades, and transit accommodations.

I know that given all of the issues that you all deal with day-to-day, transportation and bike lanes especially might not feel particularly urgent, and when we think of basic needs, transportation is often not one of the first things that comes to mind. But I think that if you did commit to not driving all week long, you would quickly see how urgent this issue is for residents of Cleveland. People need to reach their jobs and their school and doctor's appointments and grocery stores, and in addition to all the benefits this has on safety and economic development, a connected and accessible mobility network also keeps our social support system strong.

This Wednesday morning from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. we will be in Public Square, all the participating organizations, with free donuts and coffee for all car-free commuters, so I invite you to stop by and chat with us about our priorities. Thanks.

2:32 Permalink

Rabbi Scott Roland

Thank you so much for the honor. My name is Rabbi Scott Roland. I'm the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood.

Over the past number of years, Jews worldwide have been subjected to increased incidents of anti-semitic rhetoric and physical violence. We are a minority community, accounting for only 2/10ths of 1% of the world population. In the United States of America, only 2.4% of the population identify as members of our Jewish community, our Jewish people. By comparison, black Americans make up nearly 14% of the US population. We are very small and yet we are a strong minority, willing and able to invest in protecting ourselves and others. However, we've inherited a tradition that teaches us that each and every human is descended from the first human, Adam, the biblical Adam, so that no one can claim that they are better than anyone else. When asked about the most important verse in the Hebrew Bible, our sage, Rabbi Hillel, said, 'Ve’ahavta le’reyakha kamokhaove', 'love your fellow as yourself. To be a Jew is to be a seeker and a lover of peace', and so it is painful to know that Jew-hatred reared its ugly head in this room last week. Not to mention the LGBTQIA- plus community, who was also hurtfully attacked.

That said, last week's commenter did make one statement with which I happen to agree. In fact, Judaism is not a religion. We are a people, an ethnicity with shared memory. We are inseparably bound together by nearly 4,000 years of Jewish history, and by our connection to the land of Israel from which of which we are indigenous. And we will not stand idly by while hatred is spewed in our midst, nor will we tolerate anyone spitting venom at anyone else in our midst. And so on behalf of the Jewish community here in Cleveland, I'm grateful to Council President Griffin and to all the members of Council for silencing voices of hatred and bigotry and lifting up voices of love and voices of peace.

We are committed to building a loving, peaceful relationship, meaningful relationships, with all of our neighbors, and we thank you on behalf of the Jewish community, each and every one of you here, for your commitment to the same. And so I'll conclude with words from our tradition. These are the same words that every Jew at the end of our personal prayers, we end our prayers with the words, 'Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya-aseh shalom, aleinu', 'the Holy One of blessing who makes peace in the heavens, should make peace for each and every one of us here in our world'. And we say, 'Amen'. Thank you so much.

3:11 Permalink

Phyllis "Seven" Harris

Thank you. Good evening, City Council members. My name is Phyllis Harris, and I'm honored to address you today as Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland, a lifelong Clevelander, and currently a resident of the Larchmere-Woodland neighborhood. I want to express my appreciation to City Council for the service to our community, and for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

First, a little information about the organization I represent. The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland was founded in 1975 as a volunteer-run organization to provide support resources and advocacy for the LGBTQ- plus community in Cleveland, Ohio. We're one of the first established LGBT community centers in the nation. If you're a Clevelander, be proud that we have supported the life and breadth and needs of the LGBTQ community here in Cleveland. It's super important. 50 years in 2025. One of the first established in the nation. There's about 250.

Over its 48-year history, the Center has grown into a vibrant hub of LGBTQ life in Cleveland. We provide a range of services and programming, including support groups, health and wellness resources, youth and senior programs, and community events. The Center has played an essential role in advocating for LGBTQ-plus rights and visibility in Cleveland, working with local organizations and government officials to promote inclusivity and equality. I have some friends in the room - Kerry McCormack, Blaine Griffin, Jenny Spencer - all of- you know, this is our city. I see lots of friends here, some I didn't name.

Since 2018, the city of Cleveland has had a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. This ordinance protects LGBTQ- plus people by banning discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. Cleveland is fortunate to have this legally-binding commitment to equality. Its ongoing commitment to advancing LGBTQ-plus rights and visibility has helped make Cleveland a more inclusive and supportive community for all of us. For everyone.

Our collective strength, including our allies, our Jewish brothers and sisters and siblings should not be underestimated. This is evident with our partnership with the city to present Pride In The CLE, where thousands of people thousands of people show up in solidarity with the LGBTQ community here in Cleveland and Greater Cleveland. As Ohio legislator[s], and others across the country scapegoat the LGBTQ-plus community, especially trans individuals, our LGBTQ-plus identities have become as political as ever. Discrimination and stress accompanying it have created a physical and mental crisis for LGBTQ-plus people, especially our youth. Affirmation and acceptance are hugely important in combating this. Studies show that living in affirming environments lower rates of suicide. LGBTQ-plus people are our family, our neighbors, friends, and co-workers. Cleveland must continue to actively affirm and welcome LGBTQ-plus people, and I know that you will, right? We got this.

In closing I'm going to leave you with the quote by the late LGBT equality activist Barbara Gittings: "Equality means more than passing laws.' You all know this, right. It means more than passing laws. The struggle is really one in the hearts and minds of the community where it really counts, and it counts for us to be safe in our community, in our Greater Cleveland, in Cleveland. Thank you.

4:09 Permalink