Black literacy initiative wins civic pitch competition

Jim Malz, President of Citizens, Ohio, presents winning check to Sara Kidner.

Technology pitch for multiculturalism also wins prize at Accelerate

A  literacy and role model initiative for young Black males was voted the winning pitch by a virtual audience Thursday night (February 25) at the seventh annual Accelerate: Citizens Make Change civic pitch competition presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center in partnership with Citizens.

Sara Kidner received $5,000 for her winning pitch, “Read Like Me.” She wants to improve literacy among young Black males and promote teaching as a career field for Black males. Kidner, of Cleveland, is Principal of the John Marshall School of Civic and Business Leadership in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The pitch had been selected as one of six finalists in preliminary rounds held virtually Monday through Wednesday (February 22-25) in six categories. Judges who are community leaders with expertise in each topic selected one finalist from among five pitches in each category.

Kidner wants to create paid reader-leader internships for Black high school students to read to younger students. She developed the idea when trying to find story videos to show her son. Kidner, who is white, said she realized that “everyone reading stories looks a lot like me and nothing like his father or him who are Black males.” Kidner’s pitch was in the Education category sponsored by Nordson. The other finalists, who each received $2,000, were:

  • Antwoine Washington and Michael Russell, who pitched for “MOCHA Gallery” – the Museum of Creative Human Art. They want to give Black visual artists a platform for career support and the freedom to tell their stories while connecting them to the community. Washington, of Richmond Heights, and Russell, of Cleveland, are professional artists who started the gallery in 2019. They were in the Authentic Cleveland Experiences category sponsored by Destination Cleveland and KJK.
  • Abigail Poeske and Rachel Hosler, who pitched for “An Ecosystem of Innovators.” They want to create a talent-attraction program that connects university students on campuses across the region with local industry. Poeske, of Cleveland Heights, is a Ph.D. candidate at Cleveland State University and Hosler, of North Canton, is Dean of Experiential Learning at Walsh University. They were in the Economic Development category sponsored by The Lubrizol Corporation and MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network.
  • Laylah Allen and Ashley Welsh, who pitched for “Project Coping Box.” They want to create a container with items that provide skills and tools for youth to calm themselves and/or express emotions. They hope to expand to those experiencing homelessness or impacted by the pandemic. Allen, of Bedford, and Welsh, of Cleveland, are co-founders of The  Missing Link which helps youth address trauma and are life coaches. They were in Hthe Health & Well-being category sponsored by Oatey and Thompson Hine LLP.
  • Michelle Park, who pitched “Project DeLight: Dark Night, Stars Bright.” She wants to spread awareness of light pollution and bring change within local communities. Park, a junior at Solon High School, was in the Quality of Life category sponsored by The MetroHealth System.
  • Lisa Rose-Rodriguez, who pitched “Planting Stems of Peace.” She seeks to reduce the incidents of firearm assaults in at-risk populations through harm-reduction models and planting trees. Rose-Rodriguez, of Cleveland, is an epidemiologist and public health professional. She was in the Social Change category sponsored by The MetroHealth System.

In addition, Jing Lauengco, of Cleveland Heights, was selected the winner in Accelerate’s Technovation Competition in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation and received $3,500 for her pitch, “Other Brown Girl.” Lauengco, who was born in the Philippines, is a designer and brand strategist and wants to create a social-impact platform that creates deeper awareness, understanding and appreciation of multiculturalism. Pitches that competed in Technovation were drawn from among all 60 that were submitted for Accelerate.

Last year’s event brought together more than 700 people for one evening at the Global Center for Health Innovation shortly before Ohio declared a state of emergency because of the pandemic. Accelerate shifted to an online platform this year thanks to partnership with Oswald Companies and Westfield.

Accelerate also included a Teen Entrepreneur Showcase that grew out of the winning Accelerate 2018 pitch. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation sponsored the showcase. Jackson Lewis P.C. sponsored a Past Presenters Showcase that demonstrated the ongoing impact Accelerate pitches have had over the years.

“We’re proud to partner with Cleveland Leadership Center to provide a platform for civic engagement,” said Event Co-Chair Jim Malz, President of Citizens, Ohio, which has been Accelerate’s Presenting Sponsor since 2016. “Like all the presenters and attendees, Citizens is made ready to make a difference in the community.”

Accelerate 2022 was a public platform for 31 great ideas to help Cleveland grow and advance, said Leadership Center President and CEO Marianne Crosley. “Everyone, not just the finalists, gains exposure for their ideas and opportunities for networking and support to help them succeed,” she said.

In-Kind support was provided by Graham + Fisk’s Wine-In-A-Can, Great Lakes Brewing Co., Weiss Movers and Storage, and Zinner & Co. Additional Accelerate support for presenters is provided by ECDI and ioby.

Small Organization Solutions, a strategy and design firm, selected several presenters to receive pro bono consulting services. Poeske and Hosler, the Economic Development finalists for “An Ecosystem of Innovators,” will receive a package of customized services valued at $4,000. One presenter from each of the six categories will receive services worth $1,000 from SOS: Margot Nazari, “Redefining Cleveland” in Authentic Cleveland Experiences; Kidner, “Read Like Me” in Education; Patrick Hackett, “The Cleveland Impact Awards” in Economic Development; Allen and Welch, “Project Coping Box” in Health & Well-being; Jessalyn Boeke and Sarah Pottle, “The Cleveland Linen Project” in Quality of Life; and Lauengco who had pitched “Other Brown Girl” in Social Change as well as Technovation.

Cleveland Leadership Center launched Accelerate in 2015 as its signature annual event to support the Center and to promote social innovation. Presenters have represented a broad diversity of age, race, gender identity, and background. Accelerate has been a catalyst for ideas that impact everyone from pre-kindergarteners to senior citizens. Dozens of projects have become reality in the months and years after being presented. Updates on past pitches are at

Background, links to pitches and ticket information:

Twitter: #AccelerateNEO, @CitizensBank, @cleveleads

Facebook: @cleveleads, @CitizensBank

Instagram: @cleveleads @citizensbank


Media contact
Michael E. Bennett, VP of External Affairs, C: (216) 408-3874, O: (216) 592-2426,