Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Big Idea: 2019

Articles by Jeff McGinnis, Jason Webber, Sonny Forrest, and Athena Cocoves.

Photos by Nick Amrhein, taken in the beautiful lobby of Renaissance Toledo, which was graciously provided by the downtown hotel.

Progress starts with an idea, but not every idea gives rise to a movement. Passion, hard work, compassion and courage transform an idea into something more. While we are all capable of crossing the line between “concept” and “change,” not all of us take the extra step to allow our ideas to reach their full impact. As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”

Meet eleven Toledoans who have done something about their ideas and put into motion something bigger than themselves.

Chief George Kral

Toledo Police Department


Toledo Police Department Chief of Police George Kral’s commitment to transparency is evident through his love for Toledo and his compassion for the community.

“When I hear people say that they don’t trust the police, it makes me sad… but I understand the suspicion [of police] that people have, especially in inner city neighborhoods. Some young people have grown up in a culture where the police are bad, and it’s my job as Chief to build those relationships, not break them down,”
explained Chief Kral. “Our crime rate can be the lowest in the state, but if there’s no trust and relationships between us and the citizens, we’re never going to realize any true success.”

This commitment to transparency was tested on Friday, July 27, 2018, when two Toledo Police Department SWAT officers shot and killed 25-year-old Lamar Richardson, an armed robbery suspect.

Shortly after, tensions mounted, emotions grew raw, and rumors circulated on social media. The Toledo killing was less than a month after Antwon Rose II, an unarmed 17-year-old Black teenager, was shot and killed by police in Pittsburgh; it was less than five months after Sacramento police fired 20 shots, killing Stephon Alonzo Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old Black man; and it was on the heels of 2017, a year where 987 people were fatally shot by police.

As crowds gathered, Chief George Kral arrived at the scene. Less than five hours later, he released dashcam footage of the pursuit and subsequent killing.

“We did things that night that I promise you no police department has ever done before,” said Kral. While laws vary by state, dashcam footage is not required to be released as a public record for 45-90 days after an incident, if at all, and other police departments across the country were forced to take note of his new standard for accountability and transparency.

It was a risky decision, but Chief Kral says it is one he would make again, no matter the circumstance: “I haven’t second-guessed that decision since it happened. We made the decision to keep the peace that day, and if it happened again today, we’d do the same thing. God forbid, if the next [shooting] is bad, shame on us, but we will address it and we’ll be just as public and transparent. It is our responsibility to address the bad things as much as the good things. ”

Since the shooting, Chief Kral has spoken to police departments across the country about his decision to release the footage immediately: “With all the negative press that is going on between police in the community, everyone says we have to be transparent. ‘Transparency’ is one of the most used buzzwords in the world right now, but when you’re talking about police and the community, it’s not just cliché, it’s important.”

Mechelle Zarou and Reem Subei

Welcome TLC


Though particularly polarizing of late, immigration
remains an economic highlight in the Rust Belt’s steady population decline. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Toledo lost 12.7% of its U.S.-born population between 2000 and 2014. During that same period, offsetting a sizable portion of that population loss, people born abroad increased their presence in the Toledo area by 14.6%. Consequently, the uptick in immigrants settling locally has translated into close to $31 million in tax revenue from their nearly $242 million spending power.

Fronted by Reem Subei, staff attorney at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), and Mechelle Zarou, a labor and employment attorney and partner with the law firm Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, the Welcome Toledo-Lucas County Initiative (TLC) embraces the contribution immigrants impart on Northwest Ohio. TLC has kickstarted the Workforce and Economic Development Working Committee to train high-skilled immigrants in conjunction with Lucas County’s Ohio Means Jobs program, partnering to pass anti-discrimination and acts of intimidation resolutions in City Council as well as hosting the Toledo International Film Festival.

Most recently the two women have compelled the organization to obtain a Certified Welcoming designation, awarded by ISEAL, an agency that measures the inclusiveness of communities for newly settled immigrants and refugees.

Promoting cultural and social awareness about how the area’s growing immigrant community lives requires empathy, which is paramount to securing services that nurture economic stability for both immigrants and native citizens. Subei and Zarou’s efforts to secure a grant for Certified Welcoming represent a tangible step in that direction. —SF

Markie Miller

Organizer with Toledoans for Safe Water


Toledoans for Safe Water gives community members a voice to demand that Lake Erie, part of one of the world’s largest collections of freshwater, stays clean. Markie Miller’s work as an outspoken proponent for safe water has helped garner the group’s Lake Erie Bill of Rights a place on a special election ballot on February 26, 2019.

The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is a proposed amendment to the Toledo City Charter that seeks to recognize the rights of Lake Erie through a nature rights framework. As of now, regulators are limiting the amount of the pollution going into the lake rather than completely eliminating it. The way things stand, corporations’ right to pollute the Lake is stronger than a citizen’s right to say, “No.”

Miller considers the Lake Erie Bill of Rights’s spot on the February Special Election ballot as a veritable referendum on the water crisis of 2014. If voted in, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights would amend the Toledo City Charter to recognize the rights of Lake Erie and its surrounding ecosystems. It’s no secret that interest groups representing fossil fuel and industrial agriculture corporations aren’t fans of the initiative. These corporations see safe water, which could result from this ballot initiative for most of the people reading these words, as a threat to their profit margin.

“There’s this misconception that we’re going to go after people’s jobs, but [actually] we’re about giving people more options and legal tools,” Miller explains. “It’s about accountability and how we can sustain our future, for us and for our children. We feel that we need to prioritize our natural resources.” —SF

David Zenk

Executive Director of Metroparks Toledo


One can hear the enthusiasm in Dave Zenk’s voice as he speaks about the new era for Toledo’s Metroparks. And his energy is infectious and telling that he has put his heart and soul into the area’s parks over the past decade-plus.

Zenk began working with the Metroparks in 2005, rising to become the Executive Director two years ago. During that time, he has helped oversee the most remarkable expansion in the history of the parks.

“The last four years has really been the fastest growth that our agency has ever seen,” Zenk says. “Prior to that, we really hadn’t opened a new park for about forty years. The last new park we opened was Wildwood out on Central Avenue. And now (over the last four years), we have opened six new parks. We are, and have been, in a really aggressive growth mode.”

Zenk’s successful run as Executive Director included overseeing the passage of a 10-year, $1.4 million levy in 2017 to bolster this growth.

The rapid addition of new parks are part of what Zenk refers to as “The Big Idea,” a three-pronged approach to making Toledo’s parks an increasingly important part of the area’s identity:

One: Increased access. “Several years ago, we created a goal to have a park within five miles of every resident in the entire county. And next year, we will open. Manhattan Marsh in north Toledo. And that is the park that will make it possible for Northwest Ohio to say we have a Metropark within five miles of every resident.”

Two: Increased interconnectivity. “We’re connecting the parks to each other, with a real regional recreation and transportation pedestrian-focused system of expanded trails.”

Three: Increased fun. Building a new treehouse village with the aid of Nelson Treehouse and Supply (of TVs “Treehouse Masters”). Acquiring islands on the Maumee River to build cabins for accommodations. Introducing new programs centered on activities like tree climbing.

As Zenk says, this all about the Metropark experience: “You put all those things together, and they’re all about creating really awesome, fun experiences that encourage new audiences to use us, with new reasons to visit the parks.” —MG

Nina Corder

Founder and Managing Director of Women of Toledo


Nina Corder is no stranger to happy accidents. In 1997, at 19, she came to Toledo from Malaysia as an international student with plans to return home. But she didn’t. And 16 years later, in 2013, while still in the U.S. working on her doctoral dissertation in organizational leadership, she formed a focus group of women leaders to study nonprofit culture and diversity. She didn’t plan to start an organization, but she did.

“Women of Toledo happened organically. It was very grassroots,” Corder explains. After about a year of empowering conversations, the original group of 18 women realized they had something more. “We developed a culture within the group and decided to be an organization. I was not anticipating being the one to run or manage it— my passion is to teach— but I really enjoy doing what I do. I believe ‘passion is for you’ and ‘purpose is for others’. Women of Toledo allows me to serve others, be something bigger than myself, and challenge the status quo.”

In 2014, Women of Toledo (WOT) received nonprofit status with a mission to educate, engage, and empower local young women and to keep them moving forward. With almost 300 members, WOT offers programs that highlight social progress, education, mentoring, and more.

In 2017, Corder was one of 12 Women Who Empower Women Champions for Change recipients in the nation for her work on HerHub Initiatives in Greater Toledo, a resource for women-owned businesses and organizations, scheduled to launch in 2019.

“I personally believe every woman has the potential to be successful and to do whatever she wants to do. However, not all of us have the opportunity,” says Corder. “Women of Toledo provides a platform that creates opportunities to empower.”

For Corder and the WOT members, the organization is more than just a resource, it’s personal. “As much as I believe the organization is helping and serving women in our community, I needed it for myself. I’ve been in Toledo 22 years, but it took me 10-15 years to finally call this city home, and that’s why I started Women of Toledo. I didn’t have family here and it was very difficult because I didn’t have that support system. I knew that I needed strong women around me, so I created my own community.”

Corder attributes WOT’s strength to putting people and kindness first: “I think power comes from within yourself.

I do believe that you create your own power, similar to the way you create your own choices. The bigger question is, ‘how are you using that power to create opportunities for others?’ It is very important that our power is used with compassion, empathy, courage, and kindness. If you have to choose between being right and being kind, I believe kindness will always win.” —AC

Haraz N. Ghanbari

Veteran and Civil Servant


At 37, Haraz Ghanbari is living an epic life that is worthy of a biopic. Some of his accomplishments, in random order: Eagle Scout. United States Naval Officer with 17 years of military experience and service in Operation: Enduring Freedom and Operation: Inherent Resolve. Work for the Associated Press as the youngest photojournalist in its Washington, D.C. bureau, covering both the Bush and Obama administrations.

And that list is not complete. He’s also worked at the University of Toledo, serving as the Director of Military and Veteran Affairs until October, 2018. Married and the father of two, the son of an immigrant, and a first-generation American, Ghanbari is an elected member of the Perrysburg City Council, now serving as Chairman of the Safety Committee and as a member of the Public Utilities and Service Committees.

Yet, despite his lengthy string of accomplishments, Ghanbari is disarmingly humble, proud to be a public servant. He hosts open citizens’ meetings outside of Council hours, dubbed “Huddle With Haraz,” where he discusses concerns with constituents.

“As a youngster, I learned the principle of selfless service and putting the welfare of others before my own. As part of something bigger, I learned to listen and really hear what others had to say,” says Ghanbari. “Our community is strengthened when ordinary individuals give us extraordinary results through seeking the greater good.”

Ghanbari is a big believer in transparency and accountability in politics and believes that positive change in public service cannot come without those two things. “As a member of Council, I believe it is our responsibility to not simply serve as a proverbial ‘rubber stamp,’ because it has ‘always been done that way’— we need to ask the tough questions. Our administration is lacking transparency and accountability, and our community would be better served if that were not the case.”

He also believes that one key way the Toledo region can grow is to nurture and care for its veterans, something he’s intimately familiar with.

“Ohio is home to more than 865,000 veterans, who have served from World War II to present day, which is the sixth largest population of veterans in the United States,” says Ghanbari. “Right here in Northwest Ohio we have the opportunity for continued economic growth and development, and our veterans are an integral part of that success. However, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 22 veterans per day commit suicide.

I believe it is imperative that this community offer economic, vocational, housing and mental health assistance so that we can support the brave service members who have so honorably protected our country. This will assist in their successful transition from the military to becoming productive members of our communities.” —JW

Matt Bell

President and Co-founder of Team Recovery & Midwest Recovery Center


Every day in Ohio, an average of 13 people die from accidental drug overdoses, and Ohio’s overdose death rate continues to climb. In 2017, 4,854 Ohioans died from drug overdoses. The statistics, tragic and alarming, don’t discourage Matt Bell— they remind him that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

In 2015, Bell, newly sober after nine years of opiate abuse following a college sports injury, co-founded Team Recovery, a nonprofit advocacy group. Two years later, in 2017, the group began providing detox and treatment service and has since opened four centers, with three more facilities in the works. Currently, the facilities aggregate capacity is 166 beds.

“The growth since we’ve started hasn’t stopped or slowed down, and we’re still looking to expand,” says Bell, who credits the success to a unique model— the centers accept most health insurance and a majority of the staff are also in recovery.

“People want to come to us and I think it’s because we understand. We’ve been through treatment ourselves, so it’s very rewarding to offer the most effective and ethical kind of treatment,” explains Bell. “But at the same time, it’s sad that we are able to grow this fast. This is our city, our home, our state, and it’s terrible to see that there are still so many people dying.”

Client satisfaction surveys confirm Bell’s belief, citing relatability to the staff. “When someone is at that vulnerable point, they have zero self-esteem, they wonder if they can even do it, and they don’t know if they want to stay clean.

At that point relatability is much more effective than any license or credentials,” says Bell.

“When you get sober, and know it’s possible to stay sober, it’s all you want for people. It’s the greatest gift. . . And when that doesn’t happen, and I see someone die, it’s the worst part of the job,” reflects Bell. “The thing that keeps us going is seeing people stay sober, knowing families are healing, and that people are achieving their goals and becoming productive members of society again. It’s why we do what we do.” —AC

Melody Anderson

Entrepreneur and co-founder of Toledo Young Black Professionals


Melody Anderson has plenty on her plate these days. In addition to running two businesses, including Succulent Lips, LLC, which sells a line of lipsticks named after influential Toledoans, she works full-time at Chrysler as a certified weld inspector.

“We’re in charge of making sure the Jeep Wranglers that are made here in Toledo don’t fall apart— that’s the best way to put it,” Anderson says with a laugh.

Anderson has much that keeps her occupied even before factoring in her position as co-founder of Toledo Young Black Professionals, a group designed to encourage socializing and networking among young African Americans.

“It started as a group of six of us,” Anderson explains. “The premise was that we didn’t fit the mold of ‘normal black kids’ in Toledo. And I use the term ‘kids’ very loosely, because African Americans in our culture, no matter how old you get, you’re still not looked at as an adult.”

Anderson and her fellow founders wanted to provide African American professionals with the chance to meet up with others going through the same experiences while making their way in Toledo. “We needed to have an outlet where we could be professional, but we wanted to have fun, too,” she says.

Founded three years ago, the group has held numerous events— cocktail mixers, bowling nights— to encourage a sense of community among its members, hundreds of whom follow the group on Facebook.

Anderson explains that the group encourages members to find a sense of fulfillment from their work in the Glass City. “You don’t necessarily have to have a dream that involves leaving the city of Toledo. You can do things here that are important; you can stay and make our city a little bit better.”

Anderson feels the passion and dreams of the group— and the generations that will follow her— push her to continue her commitment.

“I want the people who are going to come after us— the future Young Black Professionals— I want them to know that the fact that we’re at this table (as black professionals), that’s the change. And I want the change to start with us.”—JM

Dr. Randa Mansour-Shousher

Humanitarian and Audiologist


Born in Paris to a doctor and a former nurse, Dr. Randa Mansour-Shousher, as a child, travelled all over Europe with her family. Headed to a tulip festival in Holland, one outing came to an unexpected and abrupt end.

“We stopped all of a sudden on the highway— there was a really bad car accident in front of us. My mom and dad went running to help the people. We ended up not being able to go (to the festival) because of the delay. We were upset, as little kids. And my parents said, ‘You always have to help somebody first. You take care of them, and then somebody will take care of you.’”

That spirit of giving shaped Dr. Mansour-Shousher’s adult path. After later moving to Toledo with her family, she became an audiologist (a specialist in hearing problems). Today, she makes several trips a year to the Middle East and Africa to provide hearing care to those in need. This month, January 2019, she will travel to Palestine.

“We weren’t able to service all the kids in October, and we really didn’t want to wait another year before we went back,” Dr. Mansour-Shousher explains. On these trips, she and her fellow volunteers run an entire clinic, providing examinations and treatment, fitting their patients with hearing aids and providing counseling.

“The people that needed hearing aids— they would wait for hours and hours and hours to see us. There have been times when we have seen a hundred people a day,” she recalls.

Dr. Mansour-Shousher tries to make two or three of these humanitarian trips a year. That is in addition to running her own private practice and working with area charities to raise funds for her overseas excursions, while also providing aid to needy patients in Toledo— in exchange for those patients providing service to local charities. They call that the “giving circle.”

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Dr. Mansour-Shousher says. “If someone meets the financial criteria, we will give them a brand new hearing aid.”

Dr. Mansour-Shousher simply follows a path illuminated by her parents, all those years ago.

“Our family is a giving family in all areas,” she says. “I have a sister who’s an attorney, who’s a humanitarian. I think, these are my skills, how can I help? So I’ve taken my skills and devoted my time to that.” —JM

Linda Parra

Founder & President, Nuestra Gente Community Projects Radio


Just over a year ago, on December 30, 2017, the public airwaves at 96.5 FM transitioned from static crackle to 24-hour, Spanish-language radio. Bilingual broadcaster Linda Parra founded non-profit Nuestra Gente Community Projects in 2008 to serve Northwest Ohio’s growing Hispanic/Latino community. The organization’s public radio station now beams Spanish-language news, music, talk and religious shows to the area’s nearly 30,000 Latinos.

In addition to its public radio apparatus, Nuestra Gente Community Projects offers free health screenings for HIV and lupus, the Feliz Navidad toy and food drive, as well as free transportation and translation services for mostly Spanish speakers living, working and contributing to Toledo’s contemporary cultural tapestry. “It’s about promoting Latino heritage,” Parra says.

Growing up in Venezuela, Parra began reading news on air at age 18 before immigrating to the United States 18 years ago. This year she’ll begin broadcasting her two-hour radio talk show each weekday from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. amid raising funds for renovating Nuestra Gente’s eventual headquarters on Broadway near Downtown Toledo.

In the meantime, listeners craving Latin rhythm can tune in for a variety of musical genres including Merengue, Salsa and Cumbia, among others.

“We play a little bit of everything in Latin music because we want to make everybody happy,” says Parra. —SF

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