Sunday, June 8, 2003

Cincinnati CAN and now it will

Co-chairs Tom Cody and Ross Love led a small army of civic-minded volunteers in developing proven initiatives to help at-risk African-Americans

By Tony Lang
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Although Cincinnati CAN was born in the flash of racial riots two years ago and quietly pushed for big changes since, many residents haven't a clue how much Cincinnati Community Action Now has accomplished. Its package of initiatives may still be the best hope for broad, enduring reform here.

There's nothing flashy about CAN co-chairs Ross Love and Tom Cody. With typical Cincinnati low-profile methodicalness, they ignored the jokes about "Cincinnati CAN'T" and "Community Action Later," and didn't give a hoot about personal credit. Neither did hundreds of other civic volunteers who devoted two years on a slew of committees to identify best programs to help at-risk African Americans. The initiatives they developed are designed to deliver more pre-school education, more jobs, more business deals for minority firms, more intervention with "problem youth," more even-handed policing.

Now that CAN has found "home" organizations to take charge of each initiative, it is reforming into a 15-member funding board. Many volunteers will continue to help the host organizations. The funding board will raise enough private dollars to finance the programs' first five years and will hold the agencies accountable for results. If they deliver, it would make Cincinnati a national model of reform. "The proof is in the results," Urban League leader Sheila Adams said two years ago. "The bottom line is that the system changes."

The test for CAN, and for Cincinnati, will be in follow-through. "We already made presentations to 14 businesses and foundations," Love told the Enquirer editorial board this week, "and we didn't get a 'no' from any of them. People are willing to invest in something they believe can make a difference."

Mayor Charlie Luken founded Cincinnati CAN in those unsettled weeks following the rioting, and now praises CAN as an "important force in moving the city forward." Co-chair Love, former CEO of Blue Chip Broadcasting, all but nominated himself for the task in April 2001 by calling an emergency meeting of city leaders at the Queen City Club. Tom Cody, a Federated vice president and long-time Luken friend, was named co-chair, along with Rev. Damon Lynch III, who later led a divisive downtown boycott. Luken had to remove Lynch. "After Damon sent that letter calling police rapists and murderers," Luken said, "I had to get rid of him. He was damaging to Cincinnati CAN at the street level."

The mayor has nothing but high praise for Love and Cody for carrying forward the commission's work. Both Love, a former Procter & Gamble executive, and Cody brought top management skills to developing initiatives that cut across health care, education, business, policing and the criminal justice system. Luken himself at times was critical of CAN's slow pace, but now regrets such comments.

"I think the commission has been unfairly maligned," he said. "I've seen their influence on passing the ($480 million) school bond levy, Issue 5 Charter reform and police community relations. They put the Baptist ministers and police colonels together at the same breakfast tables." Luken credits CAN with helping make police and black community leaders comfortable in frank exchanges.

CAN helped set up the Community Police Partnering Center to oversee training police officers and neighborhood people in techniques of Community Problem Oriented Policing. The first classes started a year ago. In Evanston, Walnut Hills and Madisonville, officers and residents meet every other week to strategize how to handle specific crime problems. Not only do officers develop closer relationships with parents and young people out on the streets, but the program makes good on last year's Collaborative Agreement that obligates residents to partner with police. The police union also endorsed the partnering.

CAN brought the national United Way's innovative pre-school program Success by 6 to the attention of the local chapter, which will head up this region's program for at-risk youth through age 5.

A successful job-training program developed in Pittsburgh looks especially promising.

A new Minority Business Accelerator backed by the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce is designed to boost the number of sizeable minority businesses. In April Procter & Gamble inked a $30 million investment deal with minority supplier Valu-Pac.

News commentators, boycott groups and the radio call-in crowd have kicked CAN for being too slow or just another committee of suits. Some callers to the BUZZ still slam CAN: "They don't represent me." It's easy to badmouth CAN. Some almost seem to want it to fail. But the question for the cynics is: How many hours have you put in on solving these intractable problems? Found any jobs for unskilled blacks with offense records?

Rev. Peterson Mingo of Christ Temple Full Gospel Church has put in 12 years at it in Evanston and Walnut Hills. He was one of the first to take CPOP training with cops and residents, and says the partnership is working. He and his "coaches" also do whatever it takes to salvage youth from the streets: Go to schools when a problem kid is about to be suspended, go to court hearings, help a job-seeker get a driver's license, whatever. Mingo was helping clean up Evanston before CAN existed. But he calls CAN "outstanding" and is thrilled to be assigned a piece of the youth street worker action. "CAN gives us credibility," he says, "when we walk in to an employer and ask for a job for somebody with a police record. It gives us clout."

That's what CAN is about: empowering people like Rev. Mingo to salvage lives one by one. CAN may never get credit. The funding board probably will take a new name. Doesn't matter. Co-chairs Love and Cody want credit to go to the programs and people like Mingo. That way, more will take more ownership of the "Cincinnati Plan." It takes a village to raise some cities.


Tony Lang is an Enquirer editorial writer. Call him at 768-8528 or e-mail to tlang@enquirer.com

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