Written By Joe Cimperman
Since we last met in the newsletter a month ago, the productions of “American Dreams” and “Making Our Way” came to Cleveland. Actually they came to and through Cleveland Public Theatre. “American Dreams” made its world premier here and it was met by full houses, wet eyes, and hopefully more empathetic hearts. “Making Our Way,” also a Cleveland Public Theatre experience, was spearheaded by Global Cleveland and fueled and infrastructured by Molly Andrews-Hinders and Adam Seeholzer. Both of these stories, the first a story of a game show that illuminated the absurdity of our current immigration “system” and the despair and hope of those in it, and the latter a story written by students at the excellent Cleveland Metropolitan School District Thomas Jefferson Newcomer Academy in the heart of the MetroWest Community Development Service Area, showed snapshots of those trying to immigrate to the US or most recently having immigrated to Cleveland.
Why tell a story as old as any ancient spiritual text through plays? As the ebullient leader of Cleveland Public Theatre, Raymond Bobgan, tells me: “we believe in the power of art to change people’s lives”. To that Global Cleveland says Amen and we celebrate truth through these stories. The stories of an illustrator from Pakistan (fictional, American Dreams) to the story of how Ruba and Ahmed from Iraq fled war and came to Cleveland with their siblings and parents to make a life (non-fictional, Making Our Way).
I say all the time because it’s true and because it’s important that Global Cleveland is not political. As an organization committed to welcoming, attracting, and retaining International newcomers to our Northeast Ohio Home, we take our role of working with everyone very seriously. We have friends and allies and supporters on both sides of the aisle, in the vestibule, lobby, kitchen, boardroom, and theater. From our fundamental work of welcoming over 70 ambassadors from all over the world during the RNC to our day to day interactions with hundreds of volunteers helping an international student get matched with a local company in need of talent, to being there, REALLY BEING THERE, for every single person who has naturalized in the Downtown Cleveland US Federal Courthouse since 2016, a step of becoming a full irrefutable citizen of the United States. For all of this, we touched everyone of these immigrants to accelerate and support their and their families’ and friends’ integration in our community.
Sometimes a play or a poem or a painting communicates something so very complicated in a universal way. Immigration is a powerful and complicated subject. Immigrants are one of the powers to our national American equation. We work everyday in our vocations at Global Cleveland to welcome, attract, and retain newcomers from all over the world. And there is nothing complicated about the compassion and opportunity we feel when we meet people coming to Cleveland with needed skills and gifts. Who needs these skills and gifts? We do. University Hospital and Cleveland Clinic needs them. Sherwin Williams needs them. Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University and John Carroll University need them. Our restaurants, our start ups, our middle market juggernauts need them. Reading the recent report on how our native born population continues to decrease, our Cleveland and our Cuyahoga County and our NorthEast Ohio need immigrants. So while we are welcoming and compassionate, it’s key to remind ourselves if we want to be as strong economically and developmentally as we can be, welcoming immigrants is what we should do for them, and absolutely should do for us.
A study was recently authored by Richey Piiparinen and it excellently details with data, facts, numbers, and real truth the economic and social positive impacts newcomers bring to Northeast Ohio. Our Governor Kasich speaks to this fact constantly. Our County Executive Armond Budish gets it. Our Mayor Frank Jackson promotes this ideal everyday. Smart leaders know that doing the right thing (welcoming, advocating, connecting) is also the most just and righteous thing as well.
To look at how Global Cleveland was founded and who was there at the beginning, I think of 3 icons. There were many mothers and fathers but these three prove our point again and again: The Cleveland Foundation under Ronn Richard, knew we had to be more and do more when it came to formalizing welcome; The Jewish Federation, under the light filled direction of Steve Hoffman, gave Global Cleveland the moral direction to always remember how Cleveland became Cleveland because of immigration, and how we can never forget the negative consequences of shutting a door, and the positive echoes of when we open our homes in our hearts; and our very own Albert Ratner, who has been at the beginning and throughout the launch of so many life affirming and life saving efforts for Greater Cleveland for decades, including Global Cleveland. At the opening of the GALA Dual Language Super School in Cleveland, Mr. Ratner was presented with a portrait and a prayer inscribed his mother used to say to him. It was transcribed in the painting:
He drew a circle that shut me out.
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.
For our arts and culture, for our employers and entrepreneurs and economies, for our demographics and data, for our leaders elected and forged by our immigrant and migrant DNA, for our founders and their visions that buoy us through today, for Mrs. Ratner’s prayer. This is why we are, this is why we exist. Thanks for being part of this journey. Let’s draw that circle so darn big you can see it from space.