Prism: A Racial Equity Learning Lab

Prism is our racial equity learning lab, which typically runs twice each year in the spring and summer.

Prism participants explore the historic conflict that continues to shape the United States and determine the fate of all its people.

Racism is examined on four levels: internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural. Tools to assess the state of one’s organization and community are introduced. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in caucus groups and bridge the chasm between community and institution throughout their Prism journey.

Leaders leave the program with greater self awareness, an individualized plan for beginning to dismantle racism in their neighborhood or organization and greater capacity to do so. They also gain a group of fellow travelers to support them well beyond the structured program experience.

Prism is led by two of Cleveland’s most experienced and dynamic racial equity facilitators: Erica Merritt and Adele DiMarco Kious.


All sessions held 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Minimum registration of 15 for lab to proceed.

Session I: Building Ground
Participants will become familiar with the program components, other participants, terminology and explore historical elements that led to our current context. They will also have their first caucus experience. A caucus component will be built into each session.

Summer date: July 18

Session II: The Story of U.S. 
This session will explore the internalized components of racism including bias, privilege and internalized oppression. We will discuss how the brain
influences our conscious and unconscious biases and share tools for diminishing bias and using privilege strategically. Participants also begin to explore their own racial identity and examine the psychological process through which one attaches to that identity.

Summer date: July 19

Session III: Racing Together
This session will focus on the cross-racial relationships and overcoming the barriers to authentic connection. Session will include tools for managing cross-cultural and difference-based conflict with power/privilege dynamics in mind. Emphasis on restorative community- based practices.

Summer date: August 8

Session IV: System Dynamics
This session will focus on the role that institutional and structural racism play in the organizations and communities where we work and live. We will examine how racism thrives even in the absence of malice or bad actors. Participants will be provided frameworks for examining their community’s/organization’s current state and provided with tools for positive transformation.

Summer date: August 29

Session V: Co-Creating Cleveland’s Future 
This session will support participants in getting clear about the kind of community they would like to live in/organization they would like to be a part of and their role in that transformation. We will explore choice points and the shared power model to dream about Cleveland’s transformation. Whether engaging neighbors, colleagues or organizational partners, strong, equity-based relationships are
essential for co-designing Cleveland’s future. Participants will leave this session with a personalized racial equity plan.

Summer date: September 13


Registration has closed. Join the waitlist to be notified when registration opens for the next session.

Cost to attend Prism is $750, which includes all sessions, meals and parking. Payment by check is accepted at the start of the session, we are working with different free invoice tools, so To receive an invoice or if you have questions, please email Lila,


Erica Merritt

Erica Merritt is founder of Equius Group, LLC a consulting firm committed to supporting individuals and organizations to see and experience the world and their work through an equity lens. She uses her expertise in social justice, team dynamics, individual change and the power of inclusion to help leaders transform themselves, their teams and organizations in powerful and sustainable ways.

Erica has been training, speaking and facilitating around issues of social justice for more than 15 years. She has designed programs and facilitated workshops focused on race and racism, oppression and social change, heterosexism and homophobia just to name a few.

Erica holds a Bachelor of the Arts Degree in Public Relations from Ursuline College and a Master of the Arts Degree in Psychology with a certification in Diversity Management (NTL) from Cleveland State University. She also holds coaching certifications from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and the Center for Credentialing Education.

As an engaged community member, Erica serves on the Institute for Creative Leadership’s Advisory Board, Ursuline College’s Graduate and Professional Program Advisory Council, and as Director Diversity & Equity for the Junior League of Cleveland.

Adele DiMarco Kious

Adele DiMarco Kious is the founder and lead steward of Yinovate, LLC. Using frameworks and processes grounded in systems thinking, Gestalt theory, Anthropology, Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry, her passion is working with groups, supporting them to lead transformational change within themselves and the communities and organizations they serve.

She has co-launched three social change initiatives in Greater Cleveland: SOMO (Social-Emotional) Leadership; Change Makers, a dialogue series on race, power and privilege; and City Repair, a neighbor-led empowerment and beautification process. Through her work with sister firm, Currere, Inc., her clients have included The Cleveland Leadership Center, YWCA Greater Cleveland, The Gund Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, The Cleveland Clinic, The City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland MetroParks, The City of Cleveland, and many more.

Adele has bachelor degrees in Biology and Anthropology, master degrees in Business and Anthropology and has completed extensive training with the Gestalt Center for Organization & Systems Development and the Center for Positive Psychology.

Wealth, Equity & Happy Hour!

Neighbor Up members are committed to building wealth and working  towards economic interdependence. You’re invited to join us.

Connect! Happy Hour + Meetup for Entrepreneurs

Join us to connect with other entrepreneurs, contractors, artists and creative people; hear stories of success; and get mutual support in building your business. Last Thursdays every other month.

July 26, 6 to 8 p.m. @ 3rd Space, 1464 E. 105th St.

September 27, 6 to 8 p.m. @ Las Tienditas Del Mercado, 2886 W. 25th St.

November 29, 6 to 8 p.m. @ Brittany’s Record Shop, 6410 Fleet Ave.

Excited to announce $3.1 million grant from Cleveland Foundation

The continued funding supports our signature initiatives – the grassroots grants program and the work of the Neighbor Up network, a diverse group of Greater Cleveland residents striving to make positive change in their neighborhoods and find innovative solutions to larger health and employment issues plaguing communities. The foundation’s board of directors approved the three-year grant earlier this month.

“We could not do what we do without support from the Cleveland Foundation,” said Tom O’Brien, program director of Neighborhood Connections. “The funding allows residents to continue working for meaningful change – not only in their own neighborhoods, but across the entire city.”

Neighborhood Connections’ grants program – the largest grassroots grants program in the country – offers grants of up to $5,000 to groups of residents in Cleveland and East Cleveland to organize projects that improve the quality of life in their communities. Groups are encouraged to work with partners, and to propose creative solutions to challenges in their neighborhoods. Since 2003, Neighborhood Connections has awarded more than 2,655 grants totaling more than $7.9 million. In just the past three years, more than 550 Neighborhood Connections grants totaling $1.5 million have helped secure an additional $5.1 million into Cleveland and East Cleveland neighborhoods.

In addition, Neighborhood Connections’ Neighbor Up network is leading community engagement work in several Cleveland neighborhoods and with University Circle anchor institutions. The network now has more than 2,000 active members, representing a broad constituency from neighborhoods and anchor institutions. Among the initiatives launched through the Neighbor Up Network is “Step Up to UH” – a jobs pipeline training program. Since its launch, 182 residents have been hired through Step Up.

“The innovative work of Neighborhood Connections is positively transforming neighborhoods in and around the city,” said India Pierce Lee, Cleveland Foundation Senior Vice President, Program. “The Cleveland Foundation is proud to continue our support for the impactful work Neighborhood Connections is doing on the ground every day to improve the lives of our community’s residents.”

The Cleveland Foundation launched Neighborhood Connections in 2003. Its mission is to fuel the power of neighbors to create, together, an extraordinary world right where they live.



More about Neighbor Up

What is Neighbor Up all about?

Neighbor Up was created using the idea of Community Network Building.

We believe that at its core and when executed well, Community Network Building is a way to make big change. Community Network Builders create spaces that level the playing field, everyone has a voice and power is shared. Only then can diverse people tackle tough challenges and begin to create extraordinary neighborhoods where economic and racial justice thrive. We do this using practices.

What is a practice?

A practice is something that when repeated becomes a habit. Habits make up a culture. Neighbor Up is about nurturing a new, aspirational culture of civic action in Cleveland.

Find out more about community network building from Trusted Space Partners, who helped us launch Neighbor Up, or by attending a Neighbor Up gathering.

Are you planning your first Neighbor Up gathering? Here you will find everything you need to be a host. NU_logo

  1. Neighbor Up flier & logo: Download the flier here. Find the logo here.
  2. Make a Facebook event: Create a Facebook event (sample here)to let people know about your gathering. Tag @NeighborUpCLE so we can share the event, too. Don’t know how to make a Facebook event? Learn how at an Action Clinic. Clinics held from 6 to 8 p.m. on the 1st Tuesday of every month at Neighborhood Connections, 5000 Euclid Ave. #310 inside the Agora. Parking behind the building off of Prospect avenue.
  3. Use #NeighborUpCLE when talking about your gathering on social media and encourage others to do the same.
  4. Welcome: Welcome folks to your gathering with the Neighbor Up Welcome so they understand the power of the network.
  5. Conversations: Use the Conversation Harvest Sheet to keep track of the conversations people host at your gathering and to have a member follow up with those interested in taking action on an issue. Please give a copy of the sheet to Lila. 
  6. Membership: Invite people to Neighbor Up! The online membership form is here or folks can text NUP to 474747.
  7. After your gathering, please send an email welcoming new members called Hello New Neighbor Up Members.

Who We Are

Neighbor Up is a group of 3,000 people using our talents and skills to improve life in our neighborhoods. We use people power to build bridges across lines of difference and create an extraordinary world right where we live!

Read our Mission, Vision + Values here.


Neighbor Up started in 2012 with a small group of 25 people. It emerged from the pain and isolation many of us were feeling. We felt it and heard it from our neighbors at community meetings, on front porches and in the streets. People were feeling that most of the decision-making about neighborhoods was made by just a few people and residents were not taken seriously.

A small group of neighbors and Neighborhood Connections staff got together and had conversations about what could be done differently to better our community.

We determined that there needed to be a place where all voices could be heard, and where people could work together to create a more inclusive and powerful community. Neighbor Up was born.

Neighbor Up members:

  • create positive spaces where people can bring and share their skills, wisdom and knowledge;
  • tackle hard conversations about race, equity and inclusion and build bridges across lines of difference;
  • are working together to create a more just, equitable and inclusive Cleveland.

Since Neighbor Up formed, members — with support from Neighborhood Connections — have created hundreds of small-scale initiatives on their streets and in their neighborhoods. Members have worked to get seats at the tables where big decisions are made and have worked on issues like hire local job pipelines, infant mortality, lead poisoning and racial equity.

There’s still a lot of work to be done. We look forward to continuing to work together. Neighbor Up!

Our Mission, Vision and Values

Our Mission

To ignite the power of everyday people to create, together, an extraordinary world right where they live.

Our Vision

A united Cleveland, supported by thousands of engaged residents and Neighbor Up members, where we recognize our community’s assets, where bridges are built across lines of difference, and where authentic relationships lead to a new culture of trust, and a more just, equitable and inclusive community.

Our Values

Abundance – We believe that most of what we need to improve our community exists and that we need to identify and connect these assets to spark change. People, and their gifts, need to be at the center of this change.

Aspirational Spaces – We believe that well-designed and effectively stewarded spaces (whether in-person or online) feed the aspirational energy of residents and can unleash the capacity for creative local solutions and cultivate new connections across class, ethnic, racial, geographic and generational divides.

Authentic Relationships – We believe in the power of authentic relationships. We believe that every person has gifts and strengths they bring to the community table and that everyone is needed to create a stronger, healthier Cleveland.

Equity – We believe we need to work to create a fairer, more just community where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and to become the person they were meant to be. We work with residents, civic groups, public and private institutions, and congregations to bring people together across lines of difference, to build understanding and empathy, and to work together to break down oppressive structures and systems (work together to create/build/develop an extraordinary world right where we live?).

Inclusion – We believe everyone is needed and everyone has important contributions to make to the community. We believe that people who have been historically excluded based on race, gender, sexual orientation, poverty, or other biases must be at the center of designing and implementing the solutions to create a more just and equitable community.

Innovation – We believe in social innovation. We take risks, believe it’s okay to fail, and believe in the possible. The forms needed to support this work must be flexible and more adaptable than traditional community-based organizations (solutions instead of organizations?).

Interdependence – We believe that the fundamental law of humanity is interdependence. Our humanity is inextricably bound up in one another.

Shared Power – We believe that as stewards of these aspirational spaces, we must lead from within by fully inhabiting these spaces ourselves, exposing our own questions and vulnerabilities, and working to diminish the impact of positional power on the co-investment process. By creating a diverse network where power is shared, we can create a more just, equitable and inclusive community.

Truth and Healing – We believe we need to have  difficult, yet eventually healing, conversations and take action to address the long-term and ongoing effects of oppression and trauma caused by racism, classism, homophobia and sexism. By doing so, we can create ways of building trust and re-establishing relationships of mutual respect in the face of these biases and create change at the personal, intrapersonal, institutional, and systems levels of society. 

From our blog: One Woman’s Inspiring Back-to-School Story

Brenda Metzger, a headstrong, firecracker and Neighbor Up member, who lives in the Central neighborhood, is going back to school — decades after graduating from high school.

She sat down at the Ka-la Healing Garden Center on East 73rd Street earlier this month and told her story. As she talked, about 15 teens from the neighborhood worked in the garden tending the plants.

“Look around,” she said. “That’s what sent me back to school. I have all these young people in my life in this neighborhood. All this potential. All these future taxpayers. They’re going to pay taxes. I love it!”

“I kept pushing these kids about how important education is, but I had made it all the way to an associate director on a high school diploma,” Brenda continued. “So I went back to school — boy, did I go back! I hadn’t been to school in 35 years.”

Brenda, now 56, started at Cuyahoga Community College in 2013  after meeting a Tri-C assistant dean at a Neighbor Up Network Night. She earned her associate’s degree earlier this year. And last week, she took her first class at Cleveland State University where she’s studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in urban studies.

“We keep trying,” she said. “We keep trying. I want to be able to work and do more for the community, for the kids in the neighborhood. I want the kids to understand that anything you get in life, you work for it.”

Raised in Cleveland near East 119th Street and Harvard Avenue, Brenda learned the value of hard work and education from her parents.

“They required us to read 10 books each summer,” Brenda remembered. “We were all well-read.”

Brenda graduated from John Adams High School and built a career working with youth and senior citizens. She lived in Johnson City, Tennessee, Boston, and Orlando, Florida. In 2002, she and her husband Herbie moved to Central.

“Our neighborhood was in chaos,” Brenda said. “You name it, they were doing it — drugs, prostitution. But I’ve always had the idea that you don’t wait for someone to do something for you. You do it yourself. Don’t wait on the government. You live here! And it’s all about collaboration. You can’t do anything by yourself. We try to bring everybody in.”

Brenda and Herbie worked with their neighbors and with Tanya Holmes, who started the Ka-la Healing Garden on the street. They also worked with Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Cleveland Police Commander Patrick Stephens and business owner Pernel Jones, who also lives on the street.

Some small grants from Neighborhood Connections funded some of their work, including a kids day at the garden.

They connected with KaBOOM! to bring a state-of-the-art playground to a vacant lot on the street and turned the space into a park.

Their 6th Annual Read a Book, Read a Poem event was last weekend at the garden center. Young people get to pick a book and keep it, but first they have to read Brenda a paragraph from the book. Once they do that, they also get a bag of school supplies.

“I’m just happy,” Brenda said reflecting on how she and her neighbors made their street a better place to live. “I have bad days of course. I miss my husband. (Brenda’s husband Herbie passed away in 2007.) But it’s better here now … I’m not stupid. I know there’s still work to do, but it’s better.”

“I have been threatened,” Brenda added. “I told them, “I’ll be here when you’re not.” Those people who made those threats are now either in jail or dead, and I’m here. I wouldn’t move for all the money in the world. I have too many good memories here. There’s too much potential here.”