Fund for Our Economic Future Reorganizes Board Structure to Create Greater Diversity

by | Feb 10, 2020

CLEVELAND–February 10, 2020–The Fund for Our Economic Future has undertaken a significant reorganization of its board structure to better align with its mission to promote Growth & Opportunity throughout Northeast Ohio. In December, members of the funding alliance unanimously approved eight new civic members to join the 35-person board, which historically has consisted of one representative from each of its funding organizations.

The expansion of the board is in direct response to the call for greater attention to systemic racial inclusion the Fund put forth in 2018’s The Two Tomorrows report. Members spent more than a year planning, gathering feedback and working on a solution that would increase the racial diversity of the Fund’s board, enrich its expertise and enable it to more effectively advance its mission, which upholds economic growth and equitable access to opportunity as coequal imperatives. What emerged was a governing structure that offers two equally important paths to membership: one funding and one civic.

All members have the same voting rights (one member, one vote) and are offered the same leadership opportunities. Funding members contribute a minimum of $100,000 over three years (historically, the only path to Fund membership and the organization’s sole source of funding), while civic members contribute a range of skills, backgrounds and experiences that help to inform the Fund’s current and future initiatives, but are under no financial obligation.

“We recognized not only gaps in representation on our board, but also gaps in issue area expertise that were preventing us from effectively fulfilling our dual mission of Growth & Opportunity,” said Deborah Hoover, president and CEO of Burton D. Morgan Foundation and chair of the Fund’s Nominating and Personnel Committee, which led the reorganization process. “The civic members’ backgrounds and experiences are as vital to our achieving a more sustainable and equitable regional economy as financial resources.”

“We sought to make a real change and felt strongly that change needed to value new members equally to existing ones,” added Bethia Burke, incoming president of the Fund. “We are striving for a board that both understands and challenges us. I believe where we landed will significantly enhance our decision-making and strengthen our work.”

The collective experience of the eight new members brings additional insights into entrepreneurship, educational attainment, job readiness, neighborhood development, and affordable housing, among other things, all vital in advancing the job creation, job preparation and job access priorities of the Fund.

The new board members are Meredith Gadsby, associate professor of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College; Trevelle Harp, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope; Treye Johnson, regional outreach manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland; Phoebe Lee, CEO of Affinity Apparel; Ricardo León, executive director of Metro West Community Development Organization; Teresa LeGrair, president and CEO of the Akron Urban League; Yentil Rawlinson, director of inclusion and diversity at The Sherwin-Williams Co.; and Victor Ruiz, executive director of Esperanza Inc.

“One thing I really respect about the Fund and this opportunity is that they were intentional about identifying the solution,” said Rawlinson. “This is an opportunity to have a positive influence on our region and the people who live in it.”

LeGrair, who has spent more than 26 years in nonprofit leadership, is looking forward to bringing new perspective to the board. “I am excited to bring value to the process, which will help us make the best decisions and ensure the dollars are having the biggest impact,” she said.

The Fund acknowledges this is just one step in its efforts to pursue systemic racial inclusion.

“We should live out the gospel we’re preaching,” said Chair Mark Samolczyk, president and CEO of Stark Community Foundation. “This move helps us expand our own thinking and will enable us to put forth more informed solutions on issues ranging from innovation to talent development to worker mobility. But it’s only one piece of our work to make room for new voices and encourage others to do so.”

President Brad Whitehead, who will move into the role of senior advisor in March, added that he hopes this change ultimately will have a ripple effect. “Indeed, our greatest impact is when our members take what they learn through the Fund back to their own organizations,” he said. “You get this radiating influence.”

About the New Board Members

Meredith Gadsby is an associate professor in the Departments of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College and current mentor for the Posse Program, which advises students who might be missed by traditional criteria but who can excel. A first-generation student herself, Gadsby takes seriously her commitment to her students. She also is the faculty liaison to the Toni Morrison Society and immediate past president of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, and has been recognized for her collaborative work across many academic circles.

Trevelle Harp is executive director of the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope (NOAH) in East Cleveland. His commitment to the revitalization of his community and passion to address equity in Northeast Ohio guided his transition from a career as a machinist/CNC programmer to that of a professional community organizer. At NOAH, he has led many successful campaigns that have leveraged millions of dollars in resources to improve the quality of life of East Cleveland residents, including establishing a formal relationship between the Cuyahoga County Land Bank and the city to address vacant and abandoned properties and creating a dialogue between the Cleveland Clinic and the city that led to a commitment worth $20 million to address the issues of lost revenue from the closing of Huron Hospital.

Treye Johnson, regional outreach manager for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, is responsible for community outreach and engagement activities across the northern half of Ohio. Previously, Johnson worked as a fellow at The George Gund Foundation and as a program officer of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. He has also worked with inner-city youth at Saint Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland and community programs in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Louisville, Kentucky. Through his work with Forward Cities, Johnson also assisted in bringing the Racial Equity Institute (REI) Groundwater training to Northeast Ohio. Additionally, Johnson serves on the Welsh Academy Committee of the Saint Ignatius High School board.

Phoebe Lee is CEO of Affinity Apparel, a national uniform company based in Fairborn, Ohio. Lee grew up in Shaker Heights and recently moved back to be closer to her family. A graduate of Clark Atlanta University, Lee also attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and Cuyahoga Community College, where she serves as a trustee. The entrepreneur started VDP Safety and Uniforms in New York in 2013 before ultimately merging with Affinity and becoming its CEO.

Ricardo León is the executive director of Metro West Community Development Organization. Under his leadership, Metro West grew from six to 16 full-time employees and is leading the development of the first-ever community master plan for the Clark-Fulton neighborhood of Cleveland. Recently named one of Crain’s Cleveland Business‘ “Forty Under 40,” he serves on the boards of Front Steps
Housing and Services and the MetroHealth Foundation, and was a 2019 Lideres Fellow for Hispanics in Philanthropy.

Teresa LeGrair is president and CEO of the Akron Urban League. Her past professional experiences include the Akron Community Foundation, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Western Reserve, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and Aetna Health Plans. LeGrair brings a well-networked, place-based perspective informed by her work to alleviate hardship in underserved communities in Greater Akron and her board service with the Akron Art Museum, Akron City Planning Commission, ConxusNEO, Leadership Akron, and ATHENA Akron.

Yentil Rawlinson is the director of inclusion and diversity for The Sherwin-Williams Co. and has previously worked for major Northeast Ohio employers such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Indians. Rawlinson studied sociology at The Ohio State University and management at Indiana Wesleyan University, and has volunteered with Engage! Cleveland, Cleveland State University and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. At Sherwin-Williams, she leads global strategies to integrate, align and advance inclusion.

Victor Ruiz is executive director of Esperanza Inc., a nonprofit working to improve the academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland. After coming to Cleveland from Puerto Rico as a child, Ruiz graduated from Baldwin Wallace University and earned a master’s degree in school counseling from Cleveland State University. He sits on the board overseeing administration of Say Yes Cleveland scholarships, is a board member of Cuyahoga Community College, serves on the editorial board of, and is a member of the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team.

About the Fund for Our Economic Future

The Fund for Our Economic Future is a funding alliance comprised of more than 40 foundations, corporations, higher education institutions, government entities, civic associations, and individuals from across Northeast Ohio working toward a more extraordinary economy with good jobs and rising incomes for everyone through improved job creation, job preparation and job access.

Media Contact:
Sara McCarthy