Get to Know: Cheryl Davis, CRC Chair

Tags: Federation, Advocacy

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Cheryl Davis volunteers her time bringing together Cleveland’s Jewish and general communities.

As Chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Community Relations Committee (CRC), she and the committee members work to implement the CRC’s mission – to protect, preserve, and promote a just, democratic, and pluralistic American society, advocate for a strong and secure Israel, and safeguard the rights of Jews in Cleveland and around the globe.

Cheryl grew up in the city as a proud Jewish Clevelander. Always a volunteer in the Cleveland community, she had an early understanding of the challenges facing the city, including poverty and a lack of quality education for children living in the city.

When she left home to attend college, where some people had never met a Jew before, Cheryl realized there was much she could do to bring diverse communities together.

“One of the first people I met at college pointed to my Star of David pendant and asked me what it was. When I told him I was Jewish, he started repeating the stereotypes,” she said.

On returning to Cleveland, Cheryl started working for the city with Mayor Michael White, while also volunteering with the Federation’s CRC. And that got her interested in finding the connection between CRC and the city of Cleveland.

Public education became a major focus of Cheryl’s volunteer work. She became the founding chair of the Federation’s Public Education Initiative (PEI), which is now the largest literacy tutoring program in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD).

When she talks about PEI, Cheryl beams with pride. “What began as a one-school tutoring program in 1999 is now in eight schools in the district, and is helping 200+ K-12 students improve their reading skills each year. The program has also opened the doors to other opportunities in the community,” she said.

When PEI tutors recognized that many of their students faced food insecurity during winter break, the Federation partnered with the Cleveland Food Bank to launch an initiative called the Winter Break Lunch Program. Each year, this program provides an estimated 1,000 hot lunches to Cleveland students when schools are closed for winter break.

More recently in 2013, the Federation partnered with CMSD, the Rainey Institute, and United Way of Greater Cleveland to launch the Wraparound Services Initiative at Case Elementary School, a school where students were struggling to succeed academically. The wraparound support includes: academic support, family engagement, enrichment programming, and access to social services, plus medical, dental, and mental health services.

The Federation’s focus in this area continues to grow with the St. Clair Neighborhood Initiative, which brings to Cleveland a new tool developed in Beit Shean, Cleveland’s sister city in Israel, that helps assess the community’s progress over a period of time.

“The strength and success of our Jewish community is interwoven with the strength and success of the city of Cleveland. By working together, we are helping bring change to our community,” said Cheryl.

In her current role as Chair of CRC, Cheryl works tirelessly to develop connections among many communities in Cleveland. At this year’s Interfaith Seder, the Federation brought together people from many faiths and cultures to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish festival of trees.

“We sang in Hebrew and English and read passages from the Torah, Koran, and Bible representing our community’s many faiths and cultures,” said Cheryl.

By reaching out and building these partnerships, the CRC and the Federation are mobilizing our community into action to enhance the quality of life for all, based on the Jewish values of tzedakah (social justice), tikkun olam (repairing the world), and chesed (acts of kindness). The partnerships are also helping the CRC address issues critical to the Jewish community like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

Right now, on campuses across the United States, the BDS Movement is gaining popularity in its effort to delegitimize Israel. Many students are faced with a challenge when supporting Israel: either they stand up as advocates or they stay silent and avoid confrontation.

Cheryl is especially passionate about ensuring that Jewish students feel safe articulating their views as members of their campus community. To help these students feel confident in standing up for what they believe in, the Federation has established the Israel Advocacy Fellows Program.

“The program trains young professionals, high school, and college students, in advocacy strategies so that they can become leaders in this area and teach their peers how to be effective Israel advocates. Over 600 Clevelanders have come together to learn about Israel advocacy through CRC-led programming in Cleveland,” said Cheryl.

Cheryl’s belief in the Cleveland community continues to lead us from strength to strength. She is a role model for all of us and her influence is helping change people’s lives in our greater Cleveland community we share. Thank you, Cheryl, for your leadership.

To learn more about CRC, visit us online, or contact Jessica Cohen at jcohen@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2782.

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