Last week I was invited to present THE CLEVELAND STORY in Slovenia. For those of you who know it’s not Slovakia. That’s another amazing country a few hours to the north. Slovenia is where my mom was born, where both of my dad’s parents were born, and if you’ve heard me say or write this before here it is again. As a guest of an NGO (non-government organization or in America, non-profit) called SLOGA and in collaboration with the US Embassy I was invited to present the story of economic integration, security, and community building all through the lens of immigration. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have a lot to share in so many ways: 1200 refugees came to NE Ohio last year, we saw over 2500 new US Citizens sworn in at our US Federal Courthouse, and between our 14 institutions of higher learning, close to 8000 students came here to study from a nation outside the US. While the work of harnessing this amazing energy is an ongoing lesson in better and better practices every day, it gave me a chance to talk about so much of the great work underway in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Northeast Ohio TODAY.

From meeting with the civic leadership in Ljubljana (Cleveland’s sister city) to sharing a program with the US Ambassador Slovenia, Robert Hartley, the good work of our community and the many people engaged on so many levels were the common bridges. If you travel to Ljubljana you will see the core of the city are three beautiful often traveled bridges. These and the constant reminders of the beautiful places of worship via the ongoing neverending bells ringing (all day and all night) remind you of the special place that is the capitol. Every person I met with knew of Cleveland, and knew what a warm community we are. I especially appreciated learning from our partners in welcome from Greencard Voices (Minneapolis, MN), Welcoming America (Atlanta,GA) and International Rescue Committee (Miami, FL) and how we could borrow some tools and ideas for our great metropolis.

What challenged me most was the basic exercise of language. Having attended Slovenian language school for 9 years and having been raised by parents who were fluent didn’t make up for the fact that my translation was slow at first, and my desire to fully participate wasn’t always met with my command to do so. But over the course of a few days, something began to move inside my head and heart that made me understand my roots to this people and to this land. There was something equally subconscious and immensely apparent all at once. When I actually ordered a Turkish coffee with the right grammar and inflection, and I was answered as if I spoke this beautiful hard to master language everyday, I was ecstatic. Herein lies my personal lesson: we are all connected to our past and to each other. And while we don’t always have the perfect word or conjugation, the desire to connect and time to put in to this relationship is important. The more we recognize this, build on it, grow our city and our county and country from the inside out, understand that the cavalry isn’t coming because the cavalry is already here, support entrepreneurs, help people start businesses that inevitably welcome and employ native born Ohioans, welcome refugees who are fleeing hell to come here and start anew, the more we will grow and develop in a way for all of us.

On this day, we at Global Cleveland stand with our sisters and brothers of all faiths, geographies, and cultures. We do so because the act of welcoming for us is natural to who we are on our best days, and because we recognize that competitive, thriving, growing, dynamic communities are ones that celebrate, foment, encourage, and instigate true cultural, racial, and religious diversity.

I’m going to work on my Slovenian. I’m going to cross more of my own city’s bridges. I’m going to welcome more people from Latvia, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Slovenia, Vietnam, India, China, Central African Republic, and Somalia and all points in between. As the Cleveland Public Library so boldly says on its Superior entrance: US is them. We all have a lot of work to do as we make this place we are from all it is and will be.



Written By: Joe Cimperman, Global Cleveland President