Wednesday, June 4, 2003

It takes a village


That can-do attitude alone isn't enough

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It began with a hokey-sounding name that nearly everyone made fun of.

Cincinnati CAN. It sounded like something cheerleaders might shout.

Now the group that Mayor Charlie Luken launched after the April 2001 unrest is ready to retire its jersey and its much-maligned moniker.

Its two chairmen, Ross Love and Tom Cody, say CAN isn't disappearing; it's just "transitioning."

That means it's about to pass its mantle of leadership and direct responsibility to other organizations.

No matter how Cody and Love paint this, it looks as if they and other CAN leaders are bowing out - just as some of CAN's brightest ideas are being launched.

Can Cincinnati?

CAN was created in May 2001 to "provide greater equity" for the city's minorities in the areas of education, economic development, police and justice, housing, neighborhood development and health care.

Luken said then: "This is an action group ... We're going to move out quickly here, because there is real urgency to make real change."

Common sense should have told us better; "real change" takes real time, despite anyone's sense of urgency.

The group's first action was to expel its former co-chair, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, and then set up several volunteer boards and leaders.

Its progress has been hard to track. I expected more from CAN than was delivered.

Not to take away from CAN's accomplishments, many of which were from behind the scenes.

CAN has been a key player in Community Problem-Oriented Policing, raising funds and helping train residents to work closely with police on neighborhood crime problems.

Also CAN helped several dozen first-time riot offenders get their records expunged of the minor convictions so they'd be able to get jobs.

CAN also helped launch a public-service ad campaign themed "Cincinnati CAN! You can, too."

Leaders of CAN took credit for passage of Cincinnati's school bond levy and Issue 5, which lets the city hire its police and fire chiefs from outside.

Unkept promises

But CAN still has many unkept promises. Remember the plans to get inner-city kids into preschools? What about the pledge to create transportation options to get workers to jobs in the suburbs?

Even today, CAN has exciting prospects on its plate.

It announced a new business center that will train and hire hard-to-employ adults and high school dropouts.

And CAN's fledgling Minority Business Accelerator is showing early success at linking minority-owned companies with big-business partners.

But most of CAN's initiatives have yet to materialize and are being handed off to existing community groups.

A CAN program targeting at-risk preschoolers, called Success by 6, will happen via the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Its accelerator calls the Chamber of Commerce its home. And its jobs initiatives will land at the Urban League.

Cody and Love say these groups have had successful models, just not enough resources to expand them.

Success by 6 may help 8,000 kids a year, fully funded, he says. Existing programs help about 1,400 kids a year, Love says.

But CAN's leadership will be harder to pin down.

Instead of two co-chairs linking it all, there will be a "funder's board" to oversee the progress, a dozen or so rich donors and foundation heads.

They will be more forthcoming about the progress of CAN-inspired programs, Love says.

Again, I'm not holding my breath.

E-mail damos@enquirer.com or phone 768-8395




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