Cleveland Black History Month Guide: Innovators, resources, events and more 

Meet the Clevelanders of yesterday, today – and tomorrow – who are making a better world for all 

Cleveland inventor Garrett Morgan changed the world for the better. More than once.   

The son of former enslaved people rose from rural poverty and a sixth-grade education to become one of the most important innovators and businessmen in Cleveland history. In 1916, he created an early version of the gas mask called a “smoke hood,” which was used heroically in 1916 to rescue workers trapped in a tunnel under Lake Erie after an explosion.  Less than a decade later, he followed this up with the invention of the three-way electric traffic signal, sold to GE in 1923 for $40,000. 


That’s not all.  In 1908, Morgan founded the “Cleveland Association of Colored Men, an organization for business and professional men dedicated to improving economic and social conditions, and in 1920 he founded the Cleveland Call weekly newspaper. He was dedicated to innovation, and the community. 


Morgan, who was born in 1877 and lived until 1963, is one of many Black innovators and changemakers who helped make the region, and world, better. The wide-ranging list includes Mayor Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major American city; Harlem Renaissance leader Langston Hughes; Olympian Jesse Owens; baseball legends Larry Doby, Satchel Paige and Frank Robinson; writer Toni Morrison; pioneering social worker Jane Edna Hunter; and many, many more 


Cleveland is still a home for innovators, changemakers and groundbreakers working to make their business and world a better place. In honor of Black History Month, GCP will be shining a spotlight on these leaders on our blog, social channels and newsletters 


Black History Month demonstrates how Black American contributions have shaped our country and given us a global competitive edge,” says Patrice Blakemore, Senior Vice President of Equity and Inclusion at GCP. 


But Black American contributions should not just be talked about in one month, she adds. 


Black History Month is a springboard to acknowledge contributions from all people of color that have shaped and improved our country. One of my favorite software applications is Calendly, a scheduling tool that has serves ten-million people globally.  Tope Awotona, its creator, was born in Nigeria and moved to the Georgia as a teenager.  He turned a fledgling company into a $3B company.  Awotona shows what is possible and we need to highlight these types of success stories throughout the year. 



Business in Ohio 


As part of our Black History Month coverage, as the region’s chamber of commerce we are taking a look at the state of Black-owned businesses in the country and state – how many are there, and how can there be more? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Black-owned businesses account for 9.75% of all businesses, approximately 3.24 million businesses. Black Americans make up approximately 14.2 percent of the population.  

In Ohio, according to the SBA, there are 89,663 Blackowned small business. This makes up 9% of small businesses in a state that has a 12% Black population. There is some good news.  According to Merchant Maverick’s research of Census Bureau data, “Ohio performs solidly across a range of metrics. The Buckeye State ranks particularly well for the share of its workforce employed at Black-owned businesses (1.47%, or 8th overall) and for the average annual payroll of those businesses ($358K, which ranks 13th). And, with a cost-of-living index of 91.7 (12th-best nationally), Ohio is affordable to most entrepreneurs. 

Nationwide, according to study by UC Santa Cruz, there is progress. Black-owned businesses grew 38% between February 2020 and August 2021, while white and Asian businesses fell by 3% and 2%, respectively. The Kauffman Foundation found that more Black Americans started businesses during 2020 than in any of the previous 25 years. 

There is still much work to be done, however. A 2021 Federal Reserve Small Business Credit Survey found just 13% of Black businesses received the funding they sought, compared to 40 % of white businesses. 




How can regional leaders help achieve equity in the business world? There are numerous programs working towards that goal in Greater Cleveland.  At GCP, one of our five foundational pillars is to bring about Inclusive Opportunity. This includes scaling minority business enterprises to help them become more competitive through the MBDA, diversifying hiring in middle and high wage positions, and increasing digital equity. 

“MBES are underrepresented in the region, and often lack the resources and connections needed for growth. Scaling MBEs in our region can help position minority businesses to take advantage of the economic opportunities being created by the innovations of the 21st Century. We must become a region known for being fertile ground for minority companies to grow and thrive,” says Freddy Collier. Sr. Vice President of Strategy and New Initiatives. 

For more information on resources and programs available to minority entrepreneurs: 


Read More 

Want to read more about the contributions of Black Clevelanders to American history, and the roots of Black History Month? Check out the following stories:  


Cleveland Events 

In honor of Black History Month, Greater Cleveland Partnership is spotlighting Black-owned businesses, leaders, changemakers and events throughout  February on our blog, website and social channels. We’d love your input. Email suggestions to . 


Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Inclusive Opportunity. 



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