Gregory L. Reese, Executive Director, East Cleveland Library
2006 ROBERT P. BERGMAN PRIZE
With a diploma fresh from Morehouse College in 1975, Gregory L. Reese, a Cleveland native, needed a job. Although he had studied history, a friend steered him toward library work. The trial by fire that was his first library job would have sent most people running in the opposite direction.
"I was the first African American to walk through their doors," he remembered. "They kept me behind the scenes." He was not allowed to work at the front reference desk. He couldn't even eat lunch in neighborhood restaurants. After eight months he requested a transfer—to another area library.
That was nearly 31 years ago. Along the way Reese received his master of library science degree from Case Western Reserve University, finishing the program in 10 months. He is now executive director of the East Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library, for which he raised nearly $4 million from 40 foundations, corporations and individuals to create a new wing and a state-of-the-art performance facility.
"My library is the most important institution in my community," he said. To wit, the library does everything from tax preparation to hosting national jazz acts, from teaching computer skills in its labs to providing a new space for the Black Heritage Collection, a collection of print and non-print materials created by African Americans, including artifacts and literature collected by Icabod Flewellen, founder of Cleveland's African-American Museum.
"Ever resourceful," said longtime resident and community activist Mae E. Stewart about Reese. "In place of [a] levy, Greg called upon others outside and within our community to privately fund a capital campaign that would bring us the innovative library expansion that has enhanced our community beyond anything that we could have imagined."
Designed by Cleveland architect Richard Fleischman, the library's addition was named the Debra Ann November Learning Center, after the daughter of benefactors Iris and Mort November. As the couple have said of Reese, "His vision for the library was also a vision for the people of East Cleveland, and his commitment to this project was the reason it succeeded."
Reese's passionate interest in jazz—he's the author of JAZZKEEPERS, A Pictorial Tribute & Memoir—fueled a partnership between the library and the annual Tri-C JazzFest.
"He believes, as do we at the JazzFest," said Beth Rutkowski, managing director of the JazzFest, "that this community deserves the best that the arts world has to offer." Look for more national jazz acts in the future in the library's Greg L. Reese Performing Arts Center.
Cleveland Arts Prize
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