When you think about the foundation that Neighborhood Leadership Cleveland is built on, it’s not hard to see poet and activist Jacqueline Gillon as the cornerstone of the class experience. Jacquie played a role in the retreats, class sessions and graduation ceremonies of 29 classes of NLC.
She says the class originated with a Kellogg Foundation grant to the Neighborhood Centers Association, where Don Slocum was executive director, to help the centers meet two strategic objectives—to develop internal and external relationships more intentionally, and to cultivate new leaders in the neighborhoods where they were located.
“Institutions are important, but relationships are even more so,” Jacquie said. This led to classes being held in fall and spring for clusters which were color-coded and included people from diverse communities—Chagrin Falls Park, Alta House, and East End Neighborhood House, all participated in 1995, for example.
Relationship building is also key to why the curriculum evolved to include a retreat, shared meals, collaborative projects and neighborhood tours. “That focus on group interaction is what sets NLC apart, it’s the hard part—helping people connect with each other.”
Jacquie’s long resume includes service to East Cleveland as a member of city council, as well as a book of poetry, Anointing In My Hands. She serves as the community engagement specialist for Thriving Communities Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental justice in Cleveland. She joined the board of the Institute in 2018.