Sep 27, 2023 - News

Cleveland sister cities program expanding

Potential Cleveland "sister city" locations
Map: Axios Visuals

Cleveland's sister city relationships are growing.

Driving the news: Last week, Cleveland City Council passed a resolution declaring its intent to add Cape Town, South Africa; Kigali, Rwanda; and Tema, Ghana to its sister city list.

Why it matters: In partnership with city leadership, nonprofit Global Cleveland is working to diversify and expand sister city relationships to make them more reflective of and meaningful to Cleveland's current population, which is 48% Black and 13% Hispanic.

By the numbers: Cleveland's 24 sister cities are primarily in Europe. Only two are from areas where Spanish is spoken, four are in Africa, and two are in Asia.

What they're saying: "Our sister cities are an important part of our cultural fingerprint, but they don't necessarily reflect the complete story of Cleveland," said Joe Cimperman, executive director of Global Cleveland.

Flashback: President Dwight Eisenhower established the idea of sister cities in 1956 as a way to forge cultural, economic and diplomatic ties with cities around the world.

Between the lines: Though Mayor Jane Campbell added a number of sister cities in the early aughts, Cimperman told Axios the program had been languishing in recent years, until Global Cleveland took it over four years ago.

  • The most recent sister city addition was Beit Shean, Israel, in 2019, the first since Vicenza, Italy, was added in 2009.

The latest: Mayor Justin Bibb and the current City Council have embraced the idea and are open to using resident connections to develop new partnerships.

Details: For example, Kevin Clayton, chief of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Cleveland Cavaliers, helped make the Cape Town connection through his work in South Africa and his interest in cultivating partnerships through sports, Cimperman told Axios.

  • Local African American businessman Brian Hall helped with the Kigali connection.
  • Crystal Bryant, who recently served as executive director for the Cleveland NAACP, and Kwame Botchway, who chaired the branch's International Affairs Committee, coordinated the Tema connection.

What's next: Next year, Cleveland is hosting the 2024 Pan-Am Masters Games, an international competition for athletes over 50, which Cimperman said he hopes will be a showcase for the sister city program and an opportunity for deeper partnerships.

  • "The connections are there," Cimperman said. "We just have to use them."

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