Leaders From Varied Faiths, Denominations Share Roles of Cleveland Faith Communities

Ronn Richard, the Rev. Stephen Rowan and Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk all have different backgrounds. While Richard worked for years as a diplomat and is currently president and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation, both Rowan and Nosanchuk worked mainly within Cleveland’s religious community.

All three men work toward the same mission of improving the city of Cleveland, although they do so in unique ways.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Richard will moderate a discussion between Rowan and Nosanchuk to gain their perspectives on the role of the faith-based community in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Foundation aims to “enhance the lives of all residents of Greater Cleveland, now and for generations to come, by working together with [its] donors to build community endowment, address needs through grantmaking and provide leadership on key community issues,” according to its website.

Richard said working as the organization’s president for the last 13 years is the “best job” he’s ever had. He said they aim to help Cleveland residents through work in various fields, including social services, environmental issues, arts and culture, neighborhood revitalization and economic development.

“It gives me a chance to move the needle every day, being a head of a place-based philanthropy,” Richard said. “By just focusing on Cleveland instead of the whole world, you can see the fruit of your labors.”

Richard grew up listening to stories told by his great-aunt Frieda Reicher, who he describes as a champion for social justice. He said she inspired him to work toward positive change and become a diplomat. Although Richard doesn’t strictly practice any specific religion, his faith-based values reflect his mission for social justice.

“I learned a lot about history from [my aunt Frieda] and I think that’s where my religious faith is — in the sense that you’re here on this Earth to serve, you have to right every wrong you can, you have to take risks, you have to stand up — and in her case she was willing to be beaten and jailed,” Richard said. “So I think that I feel very spiritual, I think I have that social justice tradition that comes out of many of our faiths and throughout our history.”

Previous to his work at the Cleveland Foundation, Richard held management positions at various government, private enterprise and nonprofit companies. He believes his work as a diplomat targets many of the same goals as religious community leaders.

“I think the role of organized religion in promoting social justice and racial healing is so important right now,” Richard said. “I think the country is really at a crossroads, and with the shooting of civilians and of police officers, … we’ve got to come togeather and I think the interfaith community has a huge role to play.”

Richard said the Cleveland Foundation often plays a mediating, diplomatic role within the Cleveland community. One of its current projects is to solve policing issues in the city by working to prevent riots, as well as reforming the police department wherever necessary.

Richard serves on The Selection Panel for the Community Police Commission, where he discusses these issues along with other community members. Rowan is a pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Cleveland and former partner at the law firm Ulmer & Berne. He now serves as the chair of the board of directors at the Cleveland Foundation.

“I think community policing should mean that police have an on-going presence. I think it should be walking out among the residents,” Rowan said in an interview with Ideastream, the public broadcaster in Cleveland. “I think visiting the businesses, the churches, the enterprises that are open and receptive to the police’s presence in the neighborhood. And it’s gotta be something you don’t see once a week, I think every day.”

Richard and Rowan’s relationship has had many levels; where at first Rowan worked for Richard, later Richard began working for Rowan after he joined the board of directors. Richard said in the 102 years the Cleveland Foundation has existed, Rowan is the first African-American to serve as the chair of the board of directors and also the first who worked his way up from a staff member position.

Richard said he has a lot of respect for Rowan and the contributions he’s made to the city of Cleveland.

“[Rowan is] a wonderful human being and is doing fantastic work with very difficult circumstances,” Richard said. “He [recently performed], within a week, three funerals for teenage kids who have been killed that were in his congregation. He’s a very spiritual person doing difficult work in the trenches every day.”

Although Richard’s relationship with Nosanchuk is less extensive, he said he is one of the most important rabbis in Cleveland and admires his commitment to social justice.

Nosanchuk is the senior rabbi of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, and also a prominent leader of interfaith dialogue in religious communities. He has been both a participant and lecturer at interfaith discussions in places such as the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department and the State of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as in Greater Cleveland Congregations.

In 2010, Nosanchuk received a Best of Reston award from ——–the Reston Interfaith organization to commemorate his contribution to modern dialogue between Jewish and Muslim communities.

“We all share the same society,” Nosanchuk said in an interview with The Plain Dealer. “We all share the same system that, hopefully, protects our freedoms.”

Madison Rossi

The author Madison Rossi

Hailing from Chicago, Madison Rossi is the 2016 Interfaith Lecture preview reporter. She is a class of 2018 journalism major at Northwestern University with minors in marketing and religious studies.