More than 240,000 African Americans live in the city of Cleveland and over half are women. Recently a group of these women organized to try to translate the sheer numbers into political power. With the changeover in the mayoral office a given this election, these women are saying now is the time to propose their agenda ultimately offering a choice to potential candidates: meet our needs or lose our vote. 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims- Close to 100 women gathered to set an agenda of issues and priorities that they felt were being overlooked by politicians. State Senator CJ Prentiss brought the women together for the first time July 7th at the Eliza Bryant Center on Wade Park. The women who came were not quite sure what to expect - but what came out of the discussion was a pressing need to present major community issues for the next mayor to focus on. Minister Velma Ingram of Faith Cumberland Presbyterian Church attended that first meeting.
Velma Ingram- My opinion is black women are not considered important. I mean, it seems to be a consensus that black women don't have an agenda and they're just living day-by-day. And so this is why it's important for black women to step out and as Senator Prentiss said earlier 'Be in everybody's face' so that we can make ourselves known and make our issues known and don't just let it get watered down and forgotten. We want to keep this agenda to the forefront until something is done.
TS- What came out of that meeting is a list of eight issues to submit to the new mayor. At the top of the list is health care, housing, employment, and education. The women say they concentrated on these issues based not only on what they see everyday but also by what's been documented. For example, the latest AIDS Task Force report says of all the women infected with HIV or AIDS, 60% are African American. And education statistics have been the focus of the state government lately. State Representative Claudette Woodard and Senator Prentiss found that between 1996 and the year 2000, 40% of African American and female students did not graduate.
During a recent news conference Senator Prentiss says these are examples of what the new administration needs to focus on.
CJ Prentiss- This agenda does not deal with streets cleaned, does not deal with garbage being picked up, does not deal with fun downtown or fun in the Flats, does not deal with how we get out of town for business or vacations or how we attract visitors to the city. This agenda deals with the very fiber of our community, our families.
TS- One common theme that the women talked about was empowerment - being able to take care of yourself physically and financially, as well as support the family. Of the households in Cleveland with children, the census bureau reports nearly 30% are headed by women. Vel Scott says that reason why women need to more pro-active in building up their environment. During another meeting at A Cultural Exchange on Larchmere the entrepreneur said the city needs more women to reinvest in businesses within communities - but Scott says you can't do that without political support.
Vel Scott- At one time our neighborhoods the Fairfax, Quincy, Cedar were thriving communities with businesses lined on both sides of the street. We had our own florists, we had our own grocery stores, we had our own shops gift shops, clothing shops and we don't have that anymore.
TS- In order to achieve the goals that fall under each of the eight issues the women say they'll support the candidate who's record speaks to those issue. But they don't want to stop there, the women are making another demand to be put at the decision making table. They want to establish commissions with African American women representation on all issues. The African American Women's Agenda will be presented to mayoral candidates during a rally and forum August 25th. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.