September 22, 2016
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This is Cleveland’s No. 1 untapped resource, according to its mayor

Mayor Frank Jackson ties his city's success to empowering the 'traditionally oppressed'

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (right) speaks with The Atlantic senior editor Ron Brownstein at a Renewal Series event this month in Cleveland. Photo by Aly.C.Photography

CLEVELAND—We know from research that economic opportunity for children in America varies depending on many factors, including their ZIP code. Children who live in a neighborhood with high poverty can improve their chance of success as an adult by moving into an area with low poverty, according to research published last year from economist Raj Chetty and his team at the Equality of Opportunity Project at Harvard.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson understands this all too well, as his city has some of the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the country. One of his main priorities is to address this challenge and find ways to bring opportunities to more residents, which will make their neighborhoods safer and more prosperous. He discussed several variations on this theme at a recent Renewal Series event in Cleveland.

“If you provide a great education … you provide a job opportunity and an entrepreneur(ship) opportunity, where people can provide for themselves and their family,” the mayor told an audience of community leaders and organizers. “People have to feel as if they’re part of something in order to protect the integrity of that something.”

Jackson was joined on stage by Cleveland Clinic president and CEO Toby Cosgrove, and moderator Ron Brownstein, a senior editor with The Atlantic. The event was underwritten by Allstate and presented by Atlantic Live.

After the event, I asked the mayor if there were untapped resources that the city could engage to help it reach this goal. That untapped resource, he said, is people.

The real strength and the real sustainable growth and true empowerment comes when you invest in people, whatever that may be: It could be in education, it could be in social justice, it could be in entrepreneurship.

“Normally people will talk about industries or development opportunities or investment opportunities, but that comes and goes. The real strength and the real sustainable growth and true empowerment comes when you invest in people, whatever that may be: It could be in education, it could be in social justice, it could be in entrepreneurship,” he said. “It can be all of those things where people are able to provide for themselves and their family and their community, and they are able to invest in their community, employ in their community, provide goods and services to their community. That is the key.

“These other things–I can say technology, I can say education … I could talk about IT, I could talk about advance manufacturing–these things will just come and go. Unless we invest in people–that is how you sustain quality of life, how you sustain prosperity and growth.”

Jackson, a Democrat serving in his third term as mayor, also pointed out a major hurdle in this task.

“You have to empower those who you have traditionally oppressed,” he said. “And it is a challenge because society and the system itself doesn’t function that way. It may talk like that, but it will not act like that. It’s a constant uphill struggle.”

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

The Renewal Project editor