First two Accelerate finalists named

Pitches for Black artists and early literacy selected on first day of civic pitch competition

CLEVELAND – The first two finalists in Accelerate: Citizens Make Change were selected Monday (February 22, 2021) on the first day of day of a week-long virtual event presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center in partnership with Citizens. They are:

  • 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. Their pitch was in the Authentic Cleveland Experiences category presented in partnership with Destination Cleveland and KJK
  • Sara Kidner, who pitched “Read Like Me,” a literacy and role model initiative. She wants to provide internships to young Black males to address the reading achievement gap in Black male students in grades 3-5. Her pitch was in the Education category presented in partnership with Nordson.

In its seventh year, Accelerate offers a public and influential platform that encourages civic entrepreneurs to develop and share a vision to improve our region, offers them mentoring and support, and nurtures the creation and development of initiatives that are making Northeast Ohio a better place.

Last year, the event brought together 700 people for a single evening. It is being presented virtually this year due to the pandemic. Throughout the week, panels of community leaders are selecting a finalist among five pitches in each of six categories.

The six finalists will pitch Thursday night, February 25, with the audience voting to determine the overall winner. The winner receives $5,000 and five runners-up each receive $2,000. Everyone gains exposure for their ideas and networking opportunities with community members who can help them succeed.

Category finalists to be determined Tuesday and Wednesday are in Economic Development, Health & Well-being, Social Change, and Quality of Life.

Registration is still open. Tickets are available for Pay What You Can at For one purchase, an entire household can access streams of:

  • All six preliminary category competitions, which can be viewed live or recorded after each day (Monday-Wednesday).
  • A special Technovation competition (Thursday).
  • The finalist competition, including audience voting on the grand prize winner (Thursday).

Registered participants can access a community board, meet-ups, and other networking and engagement opportunities this week and beyond. The remaining schedule includes:

  • Tuesday, February 23, 2021
    • 4-5 p.m. Economic Development with virtual networking until 5:30 p.m.
    • 5:30-6:30 p.m. Health & Well-being with virtual networking until 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, February 24, 2021
    • 4-5 p.m. Social Change with virtual networking until 5:30 p.m.
    • 5:30-6:30 p.m. Quality of Life with virtual networking until 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, Feb. 27
    • Technovation competition 4-5 p.m.
    • Teen Entrepreneur Showcase 5:30-6:30 p.m.
    • Finals with audience picking winner 6-7:30 p.m.

In addition to Citizens, the event is offered in partnership with sponsors for each pitch category. The MetroHealth System is serving as Lead Category Sponsor. Other category sponsors are Destination Cleveland, KJK, The Lubrizol Corporation, MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Nordson, Oatey Co., and Thompson Hine LLP.

Oswald Companies and Westfield are sponsoring the technology needs to present the event virtually. Cleveland Foundation is sponsoring the Technovation competition for ideas leveraging technology, with that winner receiving $3,500. The Burton D. Morgan Foundation is sponsoring a Teen Enterprise Pop-Up shop – the winning pitch at Accelerate 2018. Additional Accelerate support is provided by ECDI, ioby, SOS, Weiss Movers and Storage, and Zinner & Co.

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,