May 8, 2016. The Columbus Dispatch.
As a Jewish woman, Cathy Levine takes to heart the concept of tikkun olam — repair of the world.
One of her efforts to put that concept into action is her work with the Building Responsibility, Equality And Dignity interfaith group, commonly known as BREAD.
The coalition of about 40 religious congregations is working this year to increase jobs and economic opportunities for marginalized populations. On Monday, Levine will be one of about 3,000 people attending BREAD’s Nehemiah Action at the Ohio Expo Center to press Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther and City Council members to act.
“There’s a lot of people who are hurting in our city and many others feel very despairing sometimes about the direction that things are going,” said Levine, part of a BREAD committee working on the jobs issue.
Each year, BREAD members vote to determine a new problem to tackle. A committee is appointed to research the issue and come up with proposals for central Ohio. They then take the proposals to public officials.
Levine, a board member at Congregation Tifereth Israel on the Near East Side, said BREAD has had a hand in a number of changes, including the creation of the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, the City of Columbus Land Bank and new community-care teams at the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County.
This year, one goal is to push for city contracts that favor businesses that hire people with criminal backgrounds. Another is to encourage city officials to work with nonprofit organizations, such as hospitals and universities, to create large “anchor” institutions and worker-owned cooperatives in Linden and the Hilltop.
The committee found examples of proven solutions. Among them is the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative, which pulled together the Democracy Collaborative, the City of Cleveland, the Cleveland Foundation, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University and local government to create jobs in low-income Cleveland neighborhoods.
Ginther and several city council members have been invited to the Nehemiah Action. Ginther does not plan to attend. Council spokesman Lee Cole could not confirm members’ attendance.
Members of Ginther’s staff met with BREAD members last Monday, said spokeswoman Robin Davis.
“We are looking at neighborhood wealth building as a part of our overall neighborhood development strategy and appreciate BREAD connecting us with the Democracy Collaborative so we can learn more about what they have successfully accomplished in other communities,” she said.
Cole said the council promotes public/private partnerships in Linden and the Hilltop and has approved a capital budget package that includes projects to improve quality of life there and increase opportunities for small-business development. Since taking office this year, Ginther has repeatedly said that the city will focus on improving life in those neighborhoods.
The city has supported employment for people with criminal backgrounds, Cole said, by removing questions about felony convictions from job applications in 1995 and by supporting the Restoration Academy job-training and placement program.
A change is needed in the culture that labels some areas “throw-away communities,” said the Rev. Clyde Sales, senior minister at Genessee Avenue Church of Christ near the North Linden neighborhood and a member of the BREAD jobs committee.
“You hear a lot about how Columbus is a great place to live, but that’s dependent on where you live,” he said. “Our neighborhood is a different city.”
Linden and the Hilltop sit within two miles of the booming Ohio State University, noted Norm Wernet, a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in the University District who sits on the BREAD jobs committee.
“Portions of the community have been deliberately and intentionally left behind,” he said. “How do we incentivize our economic system to focus on those places where wealth is not being captured?
“We’ve done a lot to economically develop the city in many ways, but we have historically ignored certain areas.”