Randy McShepard takes on different tactics in trying to make changes in the minority community. He co-founded a public policy think tank 11 years ago and started holding community forums. And when childhood friends in Cleveland's Lee-Miles neighborhood suggested he help turn an empty forgotten piece of land in Cleveland's Kinsman neighborhood into an urban farm, he was in although begrudgingly.
"Actually I told them, wait a minute. That's not what I do. I write research reports," said McShepard, chairman of PolicyBridge, a public-policy think tank that monitors regional issues relevant to the minority community. It's a nonprofit that focuses on five areas: workforce development, economic development, education, neighborhood revitalization and health disparities.
When he's not at his manufacturing day job at RPM International, McShepard tends to get involved with community projects that deal with finding ways to turn negatives – like Cleveland topping all sorts of lists for urban problems – into positives. So when he was tapped to offer insight for the formation of a national learning collaborative project called Forward Cities, he was all in. The two-year-old project involves creating new opportunities in the most distressed neighborhoods.
"We were already interested because it was well in our sweet spot as an organization," Shepard said. He just didn't expect that Cleveland would become one of four cities targeted to participate in this initiative, and that he would once again, become a leader in the effort.
For the last two years, representatives from Cleveland and Northeast Ohio have participated in Forward Cities, working together with partners from Detroit, New Orleans and Durham to find ways to increase entrepreneurship and connectivity in minority and otherwise disconnected communities.