Throughout the month of March, we celebrated Women's History Month by sharing the lives and stories of women from the past, present, and future leaders in sustainability.
The Women of the Past fought for change in a time when women could not dare to dream, dedicating their lives to building a better future for all. Standing on their shoulders and reaching unimagined success, the Women of the Present work hard each day to create a more sustainable and equitable community while passing on their knowledge and expertise to the women of the future. The Women of the Future, although young, are our future change-makers, protesters, and policy-markers for decades to come.
With a wide range of sustainable careers, backgrounds, and expertise, we're happy to highlight their significant strides and accomplishments to building a thriving green city on a blue lake.
- Helen Millikin Nash, born in Cleveland in 1893, Helen Millikin Nash was an original trustee of the Shaker Lakes Regional Nature Center whose interest in the preservation of open space contributed to local efforts to create the center. With a passion in horticulture and conservation, she became a member of the Shaker Lakes Garden Club serving as president. Later joining the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland now known as the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
- Anna Brown, an African American woman born 1914 was an advocate and voice for the elderly - dedicated to improving the lives of older adults. She spent her life working to address issues faced by aging residents and patients. In 1971, she developed the Cleveland Department of Aging, and was appointed executive director of the Mayor's Commission of Aging by then-Mayor Carl Stokes. Mrs. Brown participated in White House Conferences on Aging for nearly a decade and in 1977, she was inducted into the Ohio Department of Aging Hall of Fame. She later became president of the National Council on Aging and served as a consultant to the Congressional Black Caucus Brain Trust.
- Florence Bundy Fairfax was born in Cleveland 1907. She was a long-time employee of the City of Cleveland, Division of Recreation, spending decades teaching physical education and outdoor recreation. In 1954 she was appointed superintendent of the new Bureau of Special Activities, which was designed to help "the youth find better ways and better places to play". She hoped the bureau would be able "to help children to form good social patterns of behavior through recreation". Through hard work, she became the first woman African American Assistant Commissioner of Recreation in 1966. The Fairfax Recreation Center is dedicated in her honor, recognizing her years of devotion to the recreational needs of Cleveland's inner-city youth.
- Bell Greve, born in 1894 was a pioneer who worked to help children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. She was director of the Cuyahoga County Relief Bureau between 1937 and 1944 and created the first county nursing home. The first woman city cabinet member in 20 years, she won approval for a $2.4 million bond issue to improve Cleveland's correctional facilities, including Cleveland Boy's Home, the Blossom Hill School for Girls, and the Cleveland Workhouse. She was the head of the Cleveland Department of Health and Welfare from 1953 until she died in 1957.
Aleksandra Brankov is the founder of Cafilia, a subscription platform to local independent coffee shops that eliminates paper cup waste along the way. The idea for Cafilia sparked when she picked up a reusable mug and wondered if she can transform it from a vessel that only carries liquid into a “sustainable coffee wallet”, where coffee drinkers use their exclusive Cafilia cup to access their subscription in partner coffee shops, thus creating an effectively sustainable positive reinforcement loop and eliminating countless takeaway cups from the landfill.
She is helping both coffee drinkers and coffee shops become more sustainable with Cafilia, while helping drinkers find local shops more easily and driving necessary foot traffic through shop doors.
Marka Fields is the Chief City Planner for the City of Cleveland and chairperson of Vital Neighborhoods which is a working group of Sustainable Cleveland 2019. The group is made up of residents and institutional volunteers and formed in 2010 during of the Sustainable Cleveland Summit.
The purpose of the group is to cultivate sustainable neighborhoods of choice, where residents are engaged, empowered, enlightened, resilient, and self-reliant. Marka has led the group in projects focusing on energy-efficient housing, skill-sharing between residents, community cohesion, and local money. From 2018 to the present she has been leading the, Cleveland Spaces Vital Places initiative. This initiative provides residents who are interested in turning vacant lots into vibrant community spaces, with knowledge and tools to create quality, sustainable greenspaces throughout Cleveland.
Nicole McGee, co-founder of Upcycle Parts Shop. Her work is environmental sustainability integrated with community building and creativity. The colorful storefront on St. Clair Avenue accepts donations of secondhand creative materials, sells them at low retail costs, leads workshops and programs (virtually and in-person), and builds community in and with the neighborhood we call home.
In her words, "It’s been an exciting journey over the last 7 years -this work moves people to join in and contribute to Upcycle Parts Shop growing and thriving. It's a team effort, a people-powered endeavor, and a labor of love. As it’s proud co-founder, I’m grateful for it all. We like to say we create less waste, more art, and more community and we invite you to join us!".
Jenn Szalkowski is co-founder of Refill Goodness, an eco-market and mobile refillery offering plastic-free swaps for common household tools and bulk refills of cleaning products, beauty essentials and DIY supplies. Refill Goodness aims to be a resource for the community through partnerships with local businesses offering green alternatives, an on-going recycling initiative and the low-waste living blog, Full of Goodness.
Her goal is to make sustainability simple and accessible to all. She believes that every small swap can make a big impact for your home and our planet. She believes that women are important leaders in sustainability because we consider the entire footprint of business, including the ethical treatment of the environment, our employees and supply chain. We have the extraordinary power to create significant and lasting change when we lock arms and work together for the common good.
Dr. Aparna Bole, pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital is passionate about environmental health, environmental justice, health equity, and is especially interested in the intersection between sustainability and pediatric public health. Vibrant, inclusive cities that offer accessible parks and green spaces, safe places for people of all ages to walk and play, multimodal transportation infrastructure, healthy housing, and equitable access to essential amenities are good for the planet and for children’s health.
She is also interested in advancing climate-smart healthcare – that means investing in preventive healthcare, as well as positioning the health sector for leadership in climate mitigation and resilience. She believes women leaders and role models are essential in sustainability because, "diverse sustainability leadership is important to making bold and collective action for the climate solutions we need to ensure a healthy environment for all children to grow, learn, and thrive".
Marcia Hood (r) questioned the lack of diversity on the Winter Olympic slopes and was inspired to do something about it. In 2009, working as a Mother-Daughter trio with her two daughters, Ebony (c) and Erika (l), they founded See You At The Top, now Syatt, with a goal to expose Black and Brown children and their families to the natural environment through outdoor experiences and sporting activities. The phrase, ‘see you at the top,” is also applicable to a desire to see youth participants leading at the top of their classes, in the community, and in their families.
After more than 10 years in existence, Syatt has earned a reputation for curating and delivering grassroots programming that uplifts and empowers Black and Brown communities to the innate healing power of nature. They are working to overcome barriers to help build an inclusive society for a sustainable and just future for all.
Ramona Lowery currently serves as the Commissioner for the City of Cleveland Water Pollution Control (WPC) and has spent most of her professional life involved with sustainability of some sort. In her current position, she is the designated stormwater manager—responsible for operations that not only sustain the local sewer infrastructure but also uphold the quality of local waterways and the environment. Lowery became the first black and first female engineer hired at WPC in 1996. Her priority is to ensure WPC delivers reliable and efficient service, sustains Cleveland’s sewer infrastructure, and thrives as the city’s official Stormwater Manager. Prior to joining WPC in 2015, Ramona served as Manager of Operations & Maintenance for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. Before that, she was Sewer Superintendent/Project Manager for the City of Shaker Heights.
Having a passion for helping youth succeed, Ramona volunteers for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) high school chapter, the City of Cleveland’s Student Technical Enrichment Program for middle school students and the youth ministry at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. Ramona also serves as a mentor for the Cleveland State University LINK Program and Chairperson of the Scholarship Committee for the Black Professional Association Charitable Foundation. At WPC, Ramona manages Mayor Jackson’s Summer Youth Employment Program with Youth Opportunities Unlimited. In 2017, Ramona received the “Cleveland Hometown Heroes, Poverty to Power” Black History award for her community leadership. In 2015, she received the Nsoroma (shining star) Award from the National Technical Association and was featured on the local CBS affiliate’s Romona’s Kids program, highlighting her youth outreach efforts with the Architectural, Construction & Engineering (ACE) and NSBE Jr. programs.
Cynthia Cicigoi has held positions in the sustainability field for over 10 years, with experience in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. She has been the Executive Director of the Cleveland 2030 District since 2014. The District is a non-profit, helping commercial buildings reduce their energy consumption, water use, and transportation emissions. Their goal is a 50% reduction in all three by the year 2030.
The City of Cleveland was the District's first member, committing to the 2030 goals by resolution of City Council in 2012. Addressing climate change is something we need to accomplish together. In her role at 2030, Cindy collaborates with District partners and several other organizations to provide education sessions and opportunities to share best practices. Creating this community of stakeholders focused on sustainability and environmental stewardship puts Cleveland at the forefront of the movement to create healthier, more resilient, high-performing cities.
Divya Sridhar is the Manager of Climate Resiliency and Sustainability at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP). In this role, manages programs and projects at the intersection of sustainable land management and equitable resource distribution – reforestation, collaborations around local air quality, water equity.
She is a trained architect with a permaculture background. Having grown up in India brings with her the immigrant experience, combined with a deep appreciation for resources. She is passionate about community-driven problem solving through a collaborative and asset-based approach.
Rachel is the Owner of Better World Refill Shop, Cleveland's first refill shop dedicated to helping the community reduce their plastic waste, refill their own vessels with natural products and live more sustainably. She started her own sustainable journey back in August 2016 when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and decided to eliminate all chemicals from her home in an effort to start understanding how chemicals were affecting her health. With that, she learned more about sustainable practices and fell in love with the concept of reusing and refilling. It is important for women to be leaders in sustainability because we have the power to make a difference in our families and communities while nurturing and educating them about sustainable practices.
She believes that it is important for women to be leaders in sustainability because we have the power to make a difference in our families and communities while nurturing and educating them about sustainable practices and finds herself empowered by the customers who constantly share their own journey and how they are evolving into leaders in their own homes, workplaces, and the community.
Calley Mersmann is the Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator for the Cleveland City Planning Commission. In this role, she helps integrate active transportation improvements in plans and road projects, work with partners on community programming and outreach, and coordinate the shared mobility (scooter and bike-share) and Vision Zero Cleveland initiatives. From 2015 to 2018 she volunteered with an amazing core team of women to bring Open Streets Cleveland to life.
She loves to walk and bike around Cleveland because it is healthy, climate-friendly, and equitable, but most of all because it’s FUN! You see neighbors, visit local businesses, and experience community in a way that’s not possible in a car.
Dr. Monyka S. Price is the Chief of Education for the City of Cleveland. In her role, she serves as the conduit from Mayor Frank Jackson, to CEO/Superintendent, Eric Gordon, of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and advances a regional approach to education. Dr. Price was a chief architect in creating the Cleveland Plan, the city’s legislative blueprint for education reform. She has also been instrumental in the establishment of, and serves in leadership roles, in PRE4CLE, the Higher Education Compact, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, and Say Yes To Education, Cleveland.
In the spirit of female leaders as role models in sustainability, Dr. Price focuses on youth and their future, because education is the foundation and gateway to their success. Moreover, lifelong learning for them is transformative, which enables them to become globally aware, and build a more equitable, socially just, and sustainable society.