In 1991, before many current JCU students were even born, Joe Cimperman was already a major voice in local politics. He stood in a black suit before the JCU student body, having just been elected Student Union president. Twenty years later, Cimperman once again stood before the student body, this time as a long-time member of Cleveland City Council.
Last Wednesday, Feb. 8, Cimperman came to JCU to discuss the issues that are currently affecting Cleveland’s urban and suburban communities.
His visit was part of an Arrupe project for seniors Deni Klein, Michelle Spangler, and Jeff and John Hatgas.
In their sophomore and junior years, they put together mini-immersion experiences to the city of Cleveland to work with the homeless. During these, they met Cimperman.
“He’s so charismatic that [we thought] he would be perfect to speak,” said Spangler.
His main focus was poverty and homelessness, which is impacting an increasing number of people locally and nationally.
“He did a wonderful job of encompassing that [poverty and homelessness] in his speech,” said Spangler.
Cimperman is currently the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee for the city of Cleveland and works with other developmental programs for the economy and public works.
“The city of Cleveland is facing some pretty serious issues right now,” said Cimperman.
Cleveland has ranked in the top five poorest cities in the nation for several years now. This is a problem that must be addressed, said Cimperman.
He defined three specific types of poverty that the city is experiencing, and they are all interrelated: economic, spiritual and civic poverty.
As he explained, when an area suffers economically, then their spiritual poverty also goes down. He described this as the “sin of despair,” meaning that those people who are in serious financial trouble also tend to lose hope of recovery.
This leads to civic poverty – people’s lack of enthusiasm in their community. “[This is] the most devastating cancer Cleveland has ever experienced,” he said.
The problem doesn’t stop at the East Cleveland border, he said – poverty is spreading. The proof is evident when comparing the neighboring communities of Lyndhurst and Hough.
According to Cimperman, because of diet and smoking problems, people in Hough have a shorter life expectancy by 24 years.
However, the outlook isn’t completely bleak. The key, he said, is giving the impoverished people of the city a chance to regain their confidence.
Local farmers markets have been a huge asset to the economic enrichment that Cimperman said will be the redemption of Cleveland.
Currently, Cleveland has more farmers markets than it ever has before. However, these initiatives only go so far.
“This is why we need more Jesuit-educated people in politics,” he said. “We have to lead by example … People respond to being loved, to being treated like human beings.”
Because of the Ignatian values, Cimperman feels that JCU students are the best-equipped people to promote change in this impoverished social and economic climate.
Ultimately, the biggest elements of change are race, class and educational status, according to Cimperman.
He encouraged JCU students to take action and work to create change in their community, emphasizing the importance of building urban farmers markets, changing diets, getting citizens healthier, stopping smoking and improving education.
He urged, “Please stay engaged in your community.”
Freshman Nicole Shellenbarger said, “I took a lot away from it. I found it impactful because he graduated from John Carroll and is doing great things with his education.”
Students interested in working with Cimperman towards a healthier and more enriched city can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit healthycleveland.com.