Thursday, October 17, 2002

Talks aim to build bridge

Residents, leaders get `Up Close'

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Melody Pruitt's motto is simple: If you see a need, meet the need.

It was just one of the many lessons she learned from her former pastor, the late Bishop William Morgan James of James Temple in Walnut Hills.

But it's the one she tries hardest never to forget.

The need for better communication between residents and city leaders prompted Ms. Pruitt, president of Melody Maker Ministries, to organize a series of community dialogues called "Up Close and Personal." The dialogues, Ms. Pruitt said, are designed to provide a relaxed setting where people can get to know community leaders.

The series kicked off in August at the AYS CafÈ, 5910 Madison Road, Madisonville, with City Manager Valerie Lemmie as the keynote speaker. The gathering drew a diverse group of about 80 people from different parts of the city.

Today, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Cincinnati Black United Front, will speak about himself, his work as a pastor and community activist and his vision for the city.

"There was some communication taking place between citizens and our leaders, but not to the level where people could ask the hard questions themselves," said Ms. Pruitt, 39, of Madisonville.

"I think this moves us beyond the sound bite that we often read or see on TV. If the presenter can share their heartbeat and the community can share its heartbeat, that creates a better understanding," she said.

Ms. Pruitt said the talks will be monthly at AYS CafÈ.

She has lined up speakers through March, including WCIN-AM (1480) host Courtis Fuller and DeAsa Nichols Brown of the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Pruitt said she hopes to convince Cincinnati Councilman David Pepper and Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent Alton Frailey to join her guest list.

"AYS CafÈ creates an atmosphere that is very relaxed and conducive for chats. We don't want this to be a contentious thing," Ms. Pruitt said. "Our hope is that our speakers will feel comfortable enough to let their guards down and expose the community to a side we don't often see," she said.

Ms. Pruitt, who works in sales for Time Warner Cable, has organized other community events, including an "Unsung Heroes" recognition dinner in February. The event allowed people to nominate and honor individuals who have made a difference in the lives of others but who often go unrecognized.

"It's a way of giving back to the community for me," said Ms. Pruitt. "Hopefully this will get the city moving in a positive direction."


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