No one understands the opportunities that may unfold for Cleveland and Northeast Ohio over the next several years better than the five panelists of this morning’s Press Club of Cleveland gathering. The panel, “The RNC and CLE,” featured, in alphabetical order, Tom Beres, Terry Egger, Dan Gilbert, Joe Roman and Andrew J. Tobias. Russ Mitchell moderated the discussion.
The content provided through Mitchell’s organized yet never formulaic moderation was excellent. I urge people to review the Twitter hashtag #pressclubcleve and those of other folks who were tweeting while there so you can get a good feel for the flow and content.
However, no matter how excellent it was, or how perfectly these panelists were able to speak to the specific topic, as Mayor Frank Jackson might say, it was what it was: almost completely devoid of diversity (six men, five of whom are white). Having just commented last week on how devoid of diversity the media attention appears to have been so far, this was, frankly, shocking to me.
Why does this matter of diversity matter?
This matter of diversity matters because we should be embracing – not blowing – chances to show hundreds of media outlets how diverse we are. We should be intentionally acting to raise the visibility of our diverse region, diverse leaders and diverse sectors. To their credit, the panelists readily stated that while they don’t individually reflect the breadth of the site selection efforts, people they referenced as being behind the scenes do.
Perhaps most poignantly, however, Tom Beres noted how Cleveland simultaneously was prepping for the Gay Games throughout the weeks that the RNC site selection committee visited. This is no coincidence: the selection committee needs to see how a city handles large-scale events. And, to our credit, we are handling one that very clearly represents the concept of diversity, at its most contemporary level.
Changing the default so that women and people of color are never add-ons to press conferences, panels, workshops, committees or photo opportunities requires being intentional until the default is re-set. But this being intentional – this is something we already know our leaders can do: the panelists today repeatedly described their deliberate, intentional efforts to do whatever was necessary to show the site selection committee how badly we wanted it, and how we were not just the best choice, but the only choice.
I am 100% confident, that, with just under two years to go before the RNC 2016 arrives, we now have the motivation we need to really put this change in motion: millions of eyeballs, and thousands of news outlets.
To get things started, over the weekend, I reached out to a few people I know with the Press Club and had constructive conversations. Then, today, I re-joined the Press Club and attended the event. While there, in discussion with others, we bandied about ideas for how to support efforts that can enable anyone in our region to plan, from the start, for displaying the diversity we possess. I look forward to what we can accomplish.
But let me absolutely clear: Seeking to make diversity a default element in planning functions of all types has nothing to do with the caliber and appropriateness of any specific or specific set of white guys who may seem to be everywhere, all the time. Rather, it’s so that the conveners of events, and the usual suspects themselves will begin to get more comfortable with highlighting the very diversity they say does in fact exist (and, I’m certain too, does in fact exist). There are proven ways for doing this and hopefully they’ll become part of the protocol for pulling events together.
I personally do not believe in making people feel that they must apologize, defend or feel guilty about a prior lack of diversity in the kinds of situations I’ve been mentioning here. But now, there’s just no excuse to not fly our diversity flag. And when we are intentional about doing so, we know we can.