• Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

In wake of Michael Johnson’s departure, group says:

‘Core principles of inclusive leadership lacking in Cincinnati’

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Sean Rugless, a diversity consultant and president of The Katalyst Group, and a member of a group of 14 Black leaders that released a statement this week in the wake of the departure of Michael Johnson as CEO of United Way of Greater Cincinnati, said Cincinnati has an issue in retaining Black leadership, and this reputation, which can be observed nationally on the Internet, may be a turnoff for great Black talent looking to come to Cincinnati and make an impact.

“Michael Johnson’s situation is symptomatic of a bigger issue than what happened to him at United Way, but his leaving Cincinnati has sparked a bigger discussion.’’ Rugless said. “Michael was brought here for a particular skill set, and we are no better off that he’s gone. We missed an opportunity for us to move forward. We have seen other trends such as this, and our track record is not impressive. The core principals of inclusive leadership in Cincinnati are lacking.’’

The members of the group are now hearing from other African Americans in leadership positions, who are saying that Johnson is not alone, that they, too, face similar situations, Rugless said. “They re resonating with him, and saying, ‘Hey, that’s happening to me,’ ” he said.

“What we are doing is working to change that environment, and we have released a list of principals of inclusive leadership,’’ Rugless said. “Individuals need to determine how they are going to work with those principals. The goal in providing this narrative is so everybody’s effort can be focused on a set of principals we all agree on.’’

The Urban League of Southwestern Ohio, in its “The State of Black Cincinnati 2015, A Tale of Two Cities,’’ and the recently formed All-in Cincinnati, in its recent report, “Equity is the Path to Inclusive Prosperity,’’ have already done the research in regard to Black leadership, he said. “Now, we are issuing call to action in response to what happened at United Way.’’

This week, individuals will be meeting to talk about activating the principals outlined in the group’s statement, which follows:



The following commentary signed by 14 prominent African American leaders in Cincinnati, follows in the wake of the stunning departure of Michael Johnson, the first Black CEO of United Way of Greater Cincinnati, after less than four months in the position, and the termination or resignations of other prominent Black leaders in the region in recent years.


By Advocates for Inclusive Leadership

The last week of October 2018 has proven to be yet another challenging period for our region in the area of race relations. The very public departure of Michael Johnson as CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati continues a long-standing concern of the inability of public, private, and government institutions to treat Black leadership in equitable and respectful ways within our region, and created an environment for whereby concrete action needs to be taken to address this matter.

The constant failure to preserve Black leadership perpetuates episodes of institutional racism, disrupts our ability to positively impact all segments in our communities, and fosters an image that Cincinnati is not yet a welcoming and supportive region for highly capable diverse talent. This is well-documented in reports from All-in Cincinnati, the Urban League’s “State of Black Cincinnati” report, among others who have monitored this alarming pattern over a substantive period of time.

A group of respected and concerned African American community leaders have unified in our concern for what has been the lack of institutional urgency and commitment to this issue.

As Cincinnati has faced yet another loss in Black leadership and as organizations proclaim a renewed commitment to respond earnestly, we are encouraged and compelled to articulate a set of foundational principles that we believe must be acknowledged and embraced if Cincinnati is to be truly committed to inclusive leadership:

  1. Black leaders, at all levels, bring a distinctive set of values, experience, expertise, skills and talent that are critically needed in the Cincinnati region today, particularly to address issues related to poverty, equity and justice, which have been highlighted as vital to our region’s social and economic prosperity.
  2. In order for these attributes to be completely realized, Black leaders must be allowed to exercise the full authority and power that our positions warrant – whether we are a CEO or a middle manager.
  3. When our authority is undermined, and we are prevented by those competing for power from displaying the full array of our qualities as leaders, our region as a whole sacrifices the ingenuity and innovation needed to tackle the most difficult challenges we face.
  4. The damage from this weakening of Black leadership negatively impacts our region in many ways: youth of color lose prominent role models whom they would seek to emulate; talented young Black professionals become disillusioned by their opportunities to advance and contribute to the community and leave to pursue careers elsewhere; and efforts to attract and retain diverse talent to the region suffer. Consequently, our declarations that we value diversity, equity and inclusion are exposed as conversation and not actualization.
  5. The questionable treatment of Black leaders in prominent roles brings into question the treatment of Black employees at all levels in local companies and organizations. Their voices, input and, indeed, leadership are no less essential to the effective operation of civic and business enterprises that are viable and equitable.

As a region, we must deliberately embrace and embolden Black leaders to contribute all they have to offer so that we can maximize this essential asset of the overall civic leadership structure of our region. This is inclusive leadership. Without it, we will continue to struggle to overcome disparities regarding race and class that have plagued Cincinnati for decades, ultimately undermining our pursuit of a city that seeks to align itself as one of the best in the country for all citizens.


Signed, Advocates for Inclusive Leadership

Dr. Karen Bankston, Dion Brown, Stephanie Byrd, Ozie Davis, Eric Kearney, Jaime Love, Nelson Pierce, Iris Roley, Sean Rugless, Mardia Shands, Kiana Trabue, Vanessa Y. White, Byron P. White and Ashlee Young.