In the News

My volunteer experience as a Young Leader

National Volunteer Week in Cleveland - United Way

By Jamal Robinson, IT systems engineer, Progressive Insurance

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing to help others?” A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights activist I most admire.

This quote has been a driving factor in my personal and professional life. Community involvement to me means that I have the opportunity to inspire. Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend the Boys and Girls Clubs for two summers.

National Volunteer Week in Cleveland - United WayThat experience was important to the development of life skills. I mention this because I now realize the bigger meaning in using community involvement to serve as a role model for children who are not exposed to many, or in some cases any, successful individuals.

Volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland has been one of the most rewarding activities that I have completed. I say this because I now realize the bigger picture of the Boys and Girls Clubs and how I have a direct impact to help children in underprivileged communities.

Because of my great volunteer experiences, I joined the Young Leaders marketing subcommittee in January 2018.

About Jamal

Jamal Robinson was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, when he was 12. Jamal completed his undergraduate studies at Georgia State University located in Downtown Atlanta. While attending Georgia State University, Jamal studied Computer Information Systems and graduated in 2017. Jamal was selected to complete an IT Internship at Progressive Insurance, located in Mayfield Village, Ohio, in the summer of 2017. After the internship, he was offered a full-time position working as an IT Systems Engineer with the infrastructure support team. Feel free to reach out to Jamal about community involvement, sports and new technology.

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Gift of Knowledge: Struggling mother earns her high school equivalency

Seeds of Literacy Cleveland - United Way Funded Partner
All she wanted was to be in school, learning new things with other kids her age. Instead, troubling family circumstances forced Teresa to assume the responsibilities of a parent when she was still just a child herself.

“At 9 years old I had to be mom to four kids,” she explained through tears, recounting why the burden fell on her shoulders.

With an alcoholic mother incapable of adequately caring for a family and an abusive stepfather, there seemed to be no choice.

“I couldn’t leave my brothers and sisters alone to go to school. And if I didn’t get them to school and make sure they got their homework done and they had baths and they had food, no one else did. I had to protect them.”

 “I was never given an opportunity to go to high school. And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn,” said Teresa, who recently earned her GED from Seeds of Literacy.

The responsibilities thrust upon her at home only grew with time. The sacrifice became permanent.

“I was never given an opportunity to go to high school,” she said. “And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn.”

Planting a seed

Years later, that love of learning led Teresa to a place where adults without diplomas get a second chance.

Teresa and mentor - Seeds of Literacy Cleveland“Seeds of Literacy is amazing,” are words she chose to describe the United Way-funded organization that has helped thousands of Cleveland-area residents living in poverty achieve their high school equivalency.

Teresa recently passed all her subject tests at Seeds of Literacy to finish her GED after a combined seven months of tutoring and hard work.

“When I got my results after opening my email it felt amazing. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe,” she said.

For more than 20 years, Seeds of Literacy has provided free, one-to-one instruction that prepares adult students to advance their education, with the ultimate goal of financial stability.

And the need to advance educational opportunities in our region is great, as is financial stability — both United Way core impact areas, alongside health and basic needs.

According to Seeds of Literacy, nearly two-in-three adults residing in Cleveland are functionally illiterate, and 88 percent of the agency’s students live at or below federal poverty guidelines.

A blossoming future

For Teresa, earning a GED enabled her to meet the requirements of a local employer, where she now works in a job she loves. The accomplishment, according to her tutor, could also be viewed favorably by a judge in a legal battle to regain custody of her 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. She also aspires to eventually go to college and study engineering.

Teresa told us she’s grateful and encourages others to support programs that provide opportunities for adults to complete their schooling.

“Donating to United Way of Greater Cleveland is extremely important because if people don’t put other people first, other people can’t become stable enough to do it on their own,” she said. “And that is my final goal. Becoming stable enough to do it on my own and stand on my own two feet.”

Watch and listen to Teresa’s experience and transformation at Seeds of Literacy below.

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Personal approach to treating mental health

Neighborhood Family Practice - World Health Day Header

By Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S, Neighborhood Family Practice behavioral health therapist

World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7, and this year it is more important than ever that we do what is needed to support people struggling with mental health issues. While we’ve made great strides, it’s an unfortunate truth that a stigma surrounding mental health still exists.

People with mental health issues often feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or believe they should handle their struggles alone. Many times, they don’t even know there is help available.

At Neighborhood Family Practice (NFP), a United Way funded organization, our medical providers, behavioral health providers and other care team members work together to identify when a patient is struggling early on and provide the support that is best suited for him or her.

The toll of stressors, how to support

We know that the toll of stressors on a person’s physical and mental health can be enormous.  At NFP, we believe strong relationships between providers and patients are key to creating a trusting space for patients to discuss their struggles. Regular screenings related to, for example, substance use and depression allow the medical provider to link the patient to appropriate mental health services.

Patients may struggle with depression, loss of employment, caring for an ill family member, relationship issues and much more. We realize that supporting the patient early on prevents the problem from worsening. Letting the patient know they do not need to carry the burden alone is perhaps even more important in successful treatment.

Personal forms of assistance

One of the ways NFP assists patients is by offering a personalized session with a member of our behavioral health team. After undergoing a thorough assessment with the behavioral health team, the patient and therapist develop a course of treatment that will benefit the patient most. Other times, the patient’s needs require that we pair them with other organizations and resources in the community. With the assistance of our linkage coordinator, we help them navigate that process.

Did You Know?
Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. There are more treatments, services and community support systems than ever before, and they work. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
How are we helping?
As a result of United Way-funded programs, 368 people receiving trauma therapy reported a reduction in PTSD symptoms (78 percent).

Our patients report feeling very supported by our team approach to their care. At NFP, it’s our belief that everyone deserves access to care regardless of ability to pay, and to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect.

Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S
Neighborhood Family Practice behavioral health therapist

Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S, began working at Neighborhood Family Practice in 2013 as a behavioral health therapist. She previously worked at Recovery Resources as a mental health assessor, clinical therapist, group facilitator and alcohol and drug therapist. Maryann has over 15 years in the field and holds a bachelor of arts in Psychology from Cleveland State and a master of arts in Counseling and Human Services from John Carroll University.





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Your health determines your success

Ben MiladinAt United Way of Greater Cleveland, we observe World Health Day and support its mission with great purpose, as it matches our mission and ambitions – to reduce poverty and provide greater access to critical health services and coverage.

One of the topics I will discuss specific to World Health Day is the term “population health.” It was introduced in 2003 and defined as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.”

United Way of Greater Cleveland works on addressing the health of the local population in multiple ways, by assisting people with direct health issues, employment, education and basic needs. While I help determine how funds are distributed to agencies in a funding area, or Hub, we call “Health,” all of our funding aids in improving our population health outcomes.

How do we impact health?

In our Health funding area, I work with a team of community volunteers to reduce the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (commonly referred to as ACEs). We fund programs that work to reduce violence, and ones that provide evidence-based care to people who have already experienced psychological trauma.

Evidence shows that people who experience fewer ACEs and less chronic stress, or who have support for recovery from ACEs, will on average have better physical and psychological health down the road. We also support patients who need support managing chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure. While these are fairly obvious ways of helping improve our population health, other areas of assistance might be more surprising.

What other areas of health are there?

For example, United Way funds several programs that assist people with finding employment and career paths. Having reliable and meaningful work can be tremendously important for people’s health. We also help people access their Basic Needs, including food, housing, transportation and medication.

Without access to these basic life necessities, good health will be out of reach for many people. And through funding early childhood programs, and through our Wraparound Initiative in the Cleveland Municipal School District, we strive to make sure children attain higher levels of education, which is associated with long-term better health outcomes.

Finally, United Way of Greater Cleveland is the lead agency on a pilot initiative with several local partners to aid people with their health-related social needs. As we near the launch of this exciting endeavor, we will have more information to share.

If you would like to learn more about our work in the health arena, please visit our Web page at

Did You Know?
One in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
How are we helping?
As a result of United Way-funded programs, 6,504 people learned how to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and how to respond appropriately.

Help us raise funds to support health challenges in our region


Clinic’s Approach Helps Patient Overcome Obesity

Neighborhood Family Practice - Obesity - United Way SupportIt’s hard to imagine the slight frame of Tracie Chandler supporting 240 pounds. But for years that’s the burden she endured—a burden that led to a debilitating combination of physical and mental health problems that seemed insurmountable.

She was another statistic in a nationwide epidemic that shows, according to the latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, four in ten Americans are considered obese.

“I was unhealthy; high blood pressure, then I developed eczema, and developed chronic depression,” Tracie recalls. “I knew I had to make a change.”

“The more and more care I started getting here, everything changed on me from the inside out,” Tracie Chandler, patient.

Finding the courage

Change came when Tracie summoned the courage to walk through the doors of Neighborhood Family Practice, a clinic located across from the grocery store where she had made so many poor dietary choices and experienced crippling anxiety attacks.

A sense of hope blossomed from the moment she made her first appointment.

“The more and more care I started getting here, everything changed on me from the inside out,” she said.

Neighborhood Family Practice - Obesity - United Way SupportNeighborhood Family Practice, a United Way-funded partner, offers primary care services regardless of ability to pay in a dozen neighborhoods throughout Cleveland. Doctors, nurses and social workers focus on an integrated health approach, always seeking to identify and treat a patient’s physical and mental health concerns.

The result

Tracie’s treatment has been a success. Through counseling and medical care, she slimmed down to 124 pounds and no longer requires prescription medications for hypertension and high cholesterol.

She’s proud of her ability to substitute healthier foods for the cake, chips and soda that once fueled her weight gain, and she exercises regularly by taking long walks. Ongoing meetings with her behavioral health therapist have kept her on track for nearly seven years.

“I want to get the word out and be a voice to other women that you can do it,” Tracie urged. “If I did it you can do it. We all can walk this journey together.”

Watch and listen to Tracie’s powerful experience at Neighborhood Family Practice below.

It’s tax time… are you prepared?

Earned Income Tax Credit - Cuyahoga CountyAs the deadline to file your taxes looms, you may be wondering if you’re getting back the biggest bang for your buck. With various changes to the tax laws, requirements and complexity of filing, it’s no wonder why you may be worrying if you’re doing everything you can to maximize your return – and for good reason.

Did you know that more than 30 percent of families are living on the financial edge in all but two of the largest 35 cities?

You may or may not fall into that category, but ensuring you identify opportunities to increase your return are extremely important in securing your financial security and growth. One opportunity that has been helping millions of people is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit offered as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. For more than four decades, VITA programs have provided high-quality filing assistance to low- and moderate-income families completely free of charge.

What is the EITC?

The EITC is a refundable tax credit available to qualifying lower-wage workers and their families. Workers earning less than about $60,000 from wages, self-employment, or farming in 2017 could qualify. Many people will qualify for the first time this year due to changes in their income, their marital status, or parental status, according to the IRS. The IRS estimates that one-out-of-five eligible workers does not claim their EITC. The CTC is available to workers with children earning more than $3,000. A qualifying child must be under age 17.

The EITC is one of the nation’s largest and most effective anti-poverty programs. In 2015, the EITC lifted an estimated 6.5 million people out of poverty, more than half of them children.

Are you prepared?

There were 20 tax sites that offered complimentary tax services throughout Cuyahoga County in January and February, but there’s still time to take advantage of these services. To learn more and schedule an appointment with an IRS-certified tax consultant, call our United Way 2-1-1 Help Center by simply dialing 2-1-1 or visiting


Refusing to disappear: Abuse victim overcomes the darkness of mental illness to become a shining light

“United Way, by funding an organization like Magnolia Clubhouse, is so important because everybody needs help and everybody needs support.”

Refusing to disappear: Abuse victim overcomes the darkness of mental illness to become a shining light

“United Way, by funding an organization like Magnolia Clubhouse, is so important because everybody needs help and everybody needs support. And we want as many people as possible to be able to benefit and change their lives.”

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In her darkest moments, Lakecia Wild thought the only way to escape the anguish would be to simply disappear.

And by ‘disappear’, a struggling young girl meant an act of finality that claims the lives of far too many people with mental illness.

“I had thought about not being here anymore. Just ending it,” remembered Lakecia. “I had these tapes in my head of all these negative things about myself. I was sexually abused, so I felt like it was my fault.”

Lakecia suffered abuse during her early years in foster care. The trauma caused debilitating clinical depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD—a daunting combination of mental health problems that invited ongoing thoughts of suicide long after she was adopted by a wonderful mother at age seven.

Now 27, she’s eager to share the story of her transformation. It’s a trajectory that led from despair, to cautious hope, and finally, to a special program that allowed her to blossom into a confident, independent woman with a fulfilling job and plans to earn a college degree.

Lakecia credits Magnolia Clubhouse and its funding partner, United Way of Greater Cleveland, with lighting a path others seemed convinced she would never find.

A 12-year-old hits rock bottom

The thought of anyone reaching their rock-bottom moment is heartbreaking. It’s almost incomprehensible to imagine falling into that hole as a 5th grader.

Lakecia’s depression had grown severe. She was self-harming and experiencing deeper isolation as an intense paranoia set in.

“I always thought people were trying to hurt me or kill me, so it was very hard to trust people. Even though I wanted help, it was hard to open up and say, ‘this happened and I need help,’” she said.

Though her childhood was littered with fragmented memories, the full magnitude of the abuse didn’t strike Lakecia until a social services expert made a presentation at her elementary school.

“We had somebody come into the school and talk about how to recognize sexual abuse, or abuse, in your home. And that’s when it hit me,” she recalled.

It hit with devastating effect. The 12-year-old decided she would run away from home. Worse, she thought about leaving this world entirely.

“It was after school and I was out until very late in the night. And I was literally just lying in a creek, and this was in the winter time, just wishing that I wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t try to end it all, but I was just hoping that it would.”

Fortunately, she returned home that night, wet and hypothermic, and was soon hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. The deeper awareness of the abuse she had endured in her foster home, combined with recurring thoughts of suicide, led to a long series of hospitalizations over the next few years. Despite working with a wide variety of mental health professionals, Lakecia recalls feeling a resistance to the help she knew she needed.

She does not share names, but Lakecia certainly remembers more than one medical practitioner stating that her options in life would be seriously limited by her mental illness.

“Doctors told me that I wouldn’t work. I wouldn’t be living on my own,” she said. “I just needed to come to grips with either living in a group home setting or something more structured, and I didn’t like that idea,” she said.

It wasn’t the future she envisioned. But there seemed to be no other option.

Magnolia House Campus - Cleveland, Ohio
Used with permission from Magnolia Clubhouse

Around age 18, Lakecia began to take treatment more seriously and remembers a therapist suggesting it was time to try ‘something different’. That ‘something different’ was a unique program called Magnolia Clubhouse.

“I was very nervous and unsure of what to expect. But when I walked though the doors I just saw a community. And everybody was so happy and so lively and they were so welcoming. It was just a wonderful feeling,” she exclaimed.

Soon, staff members were talking about ideas Lakecia never heard during her hospital stays.

“The Clubhouse was saying you have a right to do something that you love and that you enjoy,” she recalled. “So I said I like to do office type work. I like reception. I like helping people. They said we see in you an ability to be able to work. And I started thinking, well okay, if they see that, I definitely want to try because they just make you want to try and do better.”

The transformation

Magnolia Clubhouse gave Lakecia, for the first time in her adult life, an opportunity to demonstrate that she had the intelligence and talent to make a valuable contribution as a productive member of the workforce.

The Clubhouse operates out of two renovated mansions in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood, offering a program based on the belief that meaningful work and a sense of community are integral to mental health.

Clients are referred to as members. They work side-by-side with staff in the daily operation of the Clubhouse, sharing responsibility for tasks such as staffing the front desk, cooking daily lunches, working in the resale shop or maintaining the grounds. Lakecia Wild - Magnolia Clubhouse Cleveland, Ohio

Lakecia’s self-confidence grew as she developed office skills by answering phones, greeting people and performing data entry.

“I started being able to get out of my shell…’Hello, how are you doing?’ It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re coming out of depression, it gave me a purpose,” she said.

A Clubhouse support program for members who want to find outside employment helped Lakecia leverage her marketable skills into a job with the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County. She’s been working three days a week for the past year-and-a-half.

“I knew I could do it. I just needed the right support,” Lakecia said.

Magnolia Clubhouse Executive Director Dr. Lori D’Angelo has closely followed Lakecia’s transformation and growth.

“Lakecia has made striking progress. Not only is she no longer being hospitalized, she is working in a job she enjoys, and she is a leader at the Clubhouse.” D’Angelo said proudly. “Lakecia is more confident, and it is a joy to see her smile, her humor and her strength.”

The next goal for Lakecia is to earn a college degree. She’s participating in another Clubhouse support program that assists members who would like to finish high school or attend college.

“Without Magnolia Clubhouse I wouldn’t be who I am today. They have changed my life.”

The impact on individual lives and the community

Mental illness is prevalent throughout our community and takes a tremendous emotional, physical and economic toll on individuals and families. It’s estimated one-in-four people lives with mental illness, with one-in-17 of those cases considered severe. Sadly, less than half of adults dealing with mental health problems get treatment.

Lakecia Wild - Magnolia Clubhouse Cleveland, OhioSuicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and disproportionately effects the mentally ill. More than 90-percent of those who take their own life suffer from mental illness.

Treatment options like Magnolia Clubhouse save lives and help reduce the economic impact on society.

“I know that Clubhouse works because I was in and out of the hospital a few times a month. And that costs a lot of money,” Lakecia points out. “By coming to Clubhouse, I know that I can come here every day of the year, and it costs a lot less.”

Clubhouse staff point out that one year in their program can cost less than two days in the hospital.

According to the agency, Clubhouse members are five times more likely to find employment and enjoy longer job tenure and higher pay than others who live with mental illness.

“The community at large benefits from the ability of each of its members to reach their full potential,” said D’Angelo, who emphasizes that not adequately meeting the needs of those with mental health issues comes with unacceptably steep human and financial costs.

“Not treating or minimally treating mental illness results in people dying sooner, and having increased use of hospitals and crisis services. Without services, those living with mental illness are less likely to be employed or to achieve educational goals, and they are most likely to live in isolation and despair,” she said.

Lakecia has experienced that isolation and despair. She realizes how close she came in the past to ‘disappearing’ under the crushing weight of her mental health problems.

That’s why she will keep speaking out about her struggle and victory. She also praises the support United Way of Greater Cleveland has provided over the years.

“United Way, by funding an organization like Magnolia Clubhouse, is so important because everybody needs help and everybody needs support,” Lakecia emphasized. “And we want as many people as possible to be able to benefit and change their lives.”

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Celebrating my personal, professional ambitions during International Women’s Day

Shanette and mentors 2015 - International Women's Day
Shanette and two of her mentors/women who inspired her at the 2015 NACDA Convention
Left: Chevonne Mansfield
Right: Temeka Samuels

The month of March is known as Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. There are many local and national events held throughout the month to celebrate and empower women.

This awareness month and celebratory day prompt me to reflect on my own life and career as a woman as well as the many women who have inspired me. These women include my mother, famous women, and women who I look to as mentors.

My mentors have always taught me, “good leaders must lead by example. By walking your talk, you become a person others will want to follow.”

As I progress in my career, I continuously look inward and self-reflect to see how I can improve both personally and professionally. Each year I set professional goals with deadlines and milestones. I identify and attend professional development workshops that correlate with my goals to ensure success. This fiscal year my goal was to enhance my management skills.

Two years ago, while attending the Crain’s Women of Note event, I picked up a brochure on the YWCA of Cleveland’s professional development programs. After reviewing the program offerings, I felt the YWCA Women’s Leadership Institute Boot Camp aligned with my professional goals – specifically to enhance my management skills.

I decided to pull the trigger and sign up for the program. Since October 2016, I have been attending YWCA Women’s Leadership Institute Boot Camp bi-monthly sessions focusing on leadership and management. The YWCA Women’s Leadership Institute offers a comprehensive leadership development training curriculum and corresponding programs that are designed to build, train, recognize, and empower transformative leaders at all phases of their careers.

The leadership development program is designed to bring together women from varying backgrounds and stages in their careers, and organizations to deepen their self-awareness and self-management in an effort to become more effective and productive leaders. Through this leadership development program, I have gained 29 “sisters.”

As I progress and advance in life and my career, I try to lead by example and give back to others. I strive to offer the support and serve as a mentor for other women who are also career driven. As Oprah Winfrey says, “the biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”

About Shanette D. Buford-Brazzell

Shanette Buford-Brazzell is the special events manager at United Way of Greater Cleveland. Prior to this role, Shanette was events coordinator at The Jerome Schottenstein Center/The Ohio State University from 2013 – 2015. She currently serves on the Board of Directors/Fund Development Council for Junior League of Cleveland, is a member of Cleveland State University Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Council, as well as a mentor with College Now of Greater Cleveland. Shanette received her undergraduate degree from Cleveland State University in 2013 and a certificate in sports philanthropy from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.




Diversity: a powerful catalyst behind the civil rights movement

Black history month is a time to reflect on the contributions of black Americans to our country beyond slavery. And it’s fitting that we take a full month to highlight and discuss the history and influence of black people in America because black history has been ignored, or marginalized at best, in our mainstream narrative.

As I reflect on the contributions of African-Americans to this great experiment called the United States, I am struck by how diverse our history is, not only racially but in business, art, poetry, music, science, inventions, education, war and diplomacy. The power of diversity, of course, was extremely important to the most recognizable period in black history — the civil rights movement.

“The power of diversity, of course, was extremely important to the most recognizable period in black history — the civil rights movement.”

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s would not have been successful if its courageous leaders had not embraced diversity. They needed the help of other powerful segments of our society; white Christians, Jews, women and more. This mosaic of Americana boldly advanced the cause for everyone by being physically present, vocally supportive, and willing to publicly shame those who remained silent. There was diversity in the outrage over watching so many fellow citizens being oppressed and denied their basic human rights.

Live up to the promise

Very few accomplish great things on their own. We all receive help at points throughout our lives. Diversity was the help that propelled the civil rights movement to success. Though depicted as a mostly black American movement, it was actually a tapestry that included: Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, women, whites, blacks, Jews, gays and many more. Above all, the civil rights movement was a calling of minorities of all kind, to America, to live up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

What did all of this mean to me? I saw the movement’s success as a new beginning, in large part because I was “woke” to the harsh realities of the world from a very young age. I knew about racism, prejudice and the pain people lived in because of discrimination and lack of access to education, jobs, mobility and opportunity. So to me this was a time of optimism. I saw my generation for what the new future could be—a future in which we would live in harmony, color blind, accepting each other for the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

There is still much work to do

I still have hope in my heart for our nation and especially for the next generation. We have come a long way, but there is still much work to do to create the equitable society laid out in the vison of the Founding Fathers.

That’s why I say we all must remember that diversity is what makes us strong. We all have the power to work in our small corner of the world to embrace this fundamental notion and encourage others to understand and embrace it as well. For when we help the people around us be happy, we help ourselves be happy; thus creating an environment that is positive, nurturing and accepting of others.

You see, friendships and relationships cannot be forced. Only when they are nurtured can we see one another as individuals that have value and worth to our community, which is also value and worth to ourselves.

As I’ve moved through this world I have experienced the dream, the optimism and the pleasure of coexisting peacefully and respectfully. So many people of all races, religions, ages and ethnicities have touched my life for the better and helped me become who I am.

I would not trade any of those experiences for anything. I learned a lot from embracing and understanding the power of diversity.

It’s actually quite simple. Live each day treating others the way you want to be treated. Don’t prejudge, and always be open to learning about other cultures. Curiosity is a trait that will serve you well. I am sure you will find more commonalities than anticipated among those that you think are so different. We are, after all, far more alike than not.

Yes, we may still have a long way to go to fully achieve the dream that inspired our extraordinary civil rights leaders. I’m confident, however, that if we value each other, treat each other with dignity and respect, and learn from each other… we will arrive together at the America they envisioned.

Alan Bedingfield is Senior Associate Director, Attainment and Retention, at United Way of Greater Cleveland. He is a lifelong Clevelander who graduated from Cleveland State University and enjoyed a successful tenure in management at UPS. After serving in the Loaned Executive program, Alan decided to join United Way permanently and has focused his talents for the past 10 years on alleviating poverty and improving his community. He is also a diehard Cleveland sports fan with uncompromising optimism.


“Don’t judge a book by its cover”: Black History Month and me

Shanette D. Buford-Brazzell“Do you know what this month is?” asked my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Moore, one day in the middle of class.

I remember the moment as if it was yesterday. I was nine years old and attending Alfred A. Benesch Elementary School in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland. All the females in my class turned to each other and responded in unison, “Black History Month!” We always looked forward to this time of year because each day during the month of February our school offered lessons and events tailored to each grade level.

The month culminated in a special gathering of the entire school. Select students were given the opportunity to dress like the African-American person they idolized, to reflect on the celebration and present a five-minute report. I know for me, the music department’s contribution was the highlight of the program; the African drums and dancing, along with everyone singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the official song of the NAACP. We had all learned it originated as a poem written by James Weldon Johnson and was set to music by his brother.

Black History Month happens to be celebrated during the shortest month of the year. However, I like to think it kicks off when we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on January 15th.

Personally, I have always celebrated Black History Month 365 days a year. There’s always time to be mindful of our ancestors and all the accomplishments they achieved.

What does it mean to be a young, African-American woman in Greater Cleveland?

I was born and raised in Cleveland by a single mother who nurtured four beautiful, successful young women. My amazing mom always said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Twenty-nine years later, her words live deeply within me, because I see how she made sure her daughters would never be constrained by how others define a human being.

After all, the media and society have so often stereotyped African-American women as single and unsuccessful, with limited education, several children and living on public assistance. Other stereotypes have portrayed African-American women as stuck in low-paying jobs with limited career options, never being promoted to a position in the C-suite or leading a company or organization.

When you look at me, you would never know I grew up in the King Kennedy low-income housing complex also known as “The Projects.” You would never know that I am a product of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. You would never know I took every opportunity in school to learn from the people of diverse backgrounds that surrounded me and enjoyed sharing my ancestry with them. Yet as a young person, I was struck by how few African-American females there were in leadership positions, and this was especially apparent as my professional aspirations started to take shape in college.

Perhaps I owe my resolve to dismantle stereotypes to the example my mother set for me and my sisters. My single parent family was led by a woman who created a safe, loving and happy home environment in a public housing complex. She was extremely proud of the college degree that afforded her a vibrant career in nursing.

While reflecting on my life and career, I have come to realize just how much adversity I had to overcome to reach the point I’m at now; a successful young professional with a college degree flourishing in a major market. I have knocked down barriers and proudly accomplished great things as an African-American woman. And I plan to continue to overcome any obstacle that I may face.

A career blossoms

My earliest career goal was to work as a sports broadcaster or sports publicist. After a brief internship in sports information at my alma mater, Cleveland State University, I realized I no longer wanted to pursue that as a career option. A mentor and former supervisor then opened an exciting new path by giving me my first opportunity in event management for collegiate athletics. I continued my internship in that field until I graduated in 2013, focusing on game day operations, special events and athletics fundraising.

My event management career experience has included stops at the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and The Jerome Schottenstein Center/The Ohio State University. In 2015, I decided that I wanted to obtain experience in fundraising events, which led to my current position at United Way of Greater Cleveland.

In the sports and events industry there are only a handful of women of color in entry or mid-level positions. Some of those women I idolize and are my mentors. I am immensely proud to stand among them.

The future!

For the last six months I have been attending bi-monthly sessions of the YWCA Women’s Leadership Institute Boot Camp. Through this program I have gained 29 “sisters”; all young, rising professionals looking to enhance their leadership and management skills just like me.

We have had sessions focusing on emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, multi-generations in the workplace and effective organizational change. Having the opportunity to be part of the YWCA Boot Camp has been phenomenal!

This leadership program is another major step in the advancement of my career, providing knowledge I am already applying to my current responsibilities and day-to-day interaction with colleagues.

Personal mission statement

As Black History Month draws to a close, I’d like to share this quote by my favorite female poet Maya Angelou; words that serve as my personal mission statement and eloquently sum up my career thus far: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

About Shanette D. Buford-Brazzell
Shanette Buford-Brazzell is the special events manager at United Way of Greater Cleveland. Prior to this role, Shanette was events coordinator at The Jerome Schottenstein Center/The Ohio State University from 2013 – 2015. She currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Fund Development Director for Junior League of Cleveland. She’s also a member of Cleveland State University Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Council and a mentor with College Now of Greater Cleveland. Shanette graduated from CMSD’s John Marshall High School, Class of 2006, and received her undergraduate degree from Cleveland State University in 2013. She also earned a certificate in sports philanthropy from George Washington University in Washington D.C.



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