//Getting to Know You

Getting to Know You

The City’s Human Relations Task Force welcomes newcomers and strengthens community.

By Nate Paige
Jood Alharbi flying the Saudi flag, and Erika Estrada Acosta flying the Mexican flag, in the 2019 Memorial Day Parade.

Jood Alharbi flying the Saudi flag, and Erika Estrada Acosta flying the Mexican flag, in the 2019 Memorial Day Parade.

A key component of Shaker Heights’ identity is its sense of community. The City’s Human Relations Task Force, chaired by Council Member Sean Malone, is working to strengthen that sense of community and to make Shaker an even more welcoming place.

The Task Force, comprised solely of volunteers, came into being in early 2018 and meets at City Hall on the third Thursday of every other month. The group’s goals are to increase residents’ access to opportunities to interact more meaningfully with fellow residents from all over the City and to help welcome new residents of all backgrounds into Shaker.

“We started out with 10 or 11 resident members, but I’ve always had a policy of welcoming anybody in the community who wants to attend and participate,” says Malone. “We’re trying to encourage people already living here to get to know each other better, especially people living in different parts of the City who might not have the same social networks.”

The Task Force works in concert with the Schools and the Library. The group helps promote the Library’s longstanding English Language Learners (ELL) Program that meets every Tuesday from 7-8:30 pm at the Main Library and is organized by Task Force member Carolyn Steiner. The ELL class attracts 20-30 participants weekly, focuses on small group teaching, and uses the comprehensive reading curriculum known as Magic Reading Patterns (MRP) for beginning learners. The ELL Program is always on the lookout for volunteer tutors.

An English Language Conversation Club at the Main Library meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month as well. The Task Force also spreads the word about community events, including events designed to be fun and those meant to address challenging topics. For example, at a recent meeting, Colin Compton, the City’s neighborhood and housing specialist, provided information about a Black History Month event on equity in the school district – a dramatic production

“Here and Now?” organized by Monica Boone and the Moreland Theatre. The Task Force also discussed a cooking group/community cookbook, and the possibility of holding “Garage Band/Garage Sale” events to raise money for Roots of American Music, a music education non-profit, by combining garage sales with performances by local bands.

As a testament to the Task Force’s collaborative spirit, this meeting was attended by representatives of the Library, Schools, and City, including Mayor David Weiss and Council Member Carmella Williams. Plans are underway for additional Task Force initiatives, including a Global Ambassador Training, which is a “call for residents who want to serve as mentors or welcoming ambassadors to international newcomers,” says Malone. “We have a growing number of international newcomers, particularly around the Shaker Square neighborhood, and we’re hoping to create a list of residents who have language skills and are willing to volunteer to help international newcomers acclimate to Shaker and assist with things like applying for a driver’s license, signing their kids up for school, or catching the Rapid.”

One of the highlights of the Task Force’s work to date was participating in the 2019 Memorial Day Parade. “I was so impressed that a bunch of residents on the Task Force decided they wanted to be in the Memorial Day Parade,” says Malone. “They took the idea and ran with it by designing a banner, recruiting high school kids to participate, and providing their own music. I think they wanted to send a message. The banner read ‘Shaker Welcomes the World,’ but we’re also welcoming our neighbors from the City of Cleveland who want to move into Shaker…and our own neighbors here. It was really kind of inspiring to come together around an idea. I hope our involvement in the parade becomes an annual event.”

Resident George Eaton has been involved with the Task Force since its inception. He is also a member of the Neighbor Night meeting group in the Moreland neighborhood, where he organized community conversations on ‘working towards racial harmony.’ He was approached by Malone at Neighbor Night to join the Task Force.

“Recently, Neighbor Night had an overlap with the Task Force; there was an issue of race in Shaker, so we started an initiative of working towards racial harmony, and that tied in well with the idea of the Human Relations Task Force. Hopefully, it will continue to solidify and grow, said Eaton, who hopes to interest younger residents to become involved with the Task Force.

“One of the things that’s always been of interest, but we haven’t gotten to yet, is incorporating our youth into some of the activities, for example, ambassadors and the like. There are a lot of ideas that are going around, and I’m hoping that they too will begin to cement and solidify, and we can go from there.

“It’s one thing to have older people here talking, but we also need those fresh, new ideas that may come from the youth. Sometimes that’s difficult…but some of my focus will be trying to bring some of the youth into the group,” says Eaton.

Interested residents are welcome to join the Human Relations Task Force. “If you care about making Shaker a more welcoming place, show up at one of our meetings, email me, or check the City’s calendar for events,” says Malone.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Spring 2020.