Few others work as hard promoting Cleveland as Alonzo Mitchell III. The 33-year-old Cleveland native organizes massive events that bring thousands of people to the city and then uses the proceeds for public service projects like fixing up some Cleveland schools that have fallen into disrepair. He's now working on fixing up a Glenville street and moving young professionals in.
After a two-year stint in Washington, D.C., Mitchell moved back home in 2010, "to help to improve Cleveland" and change what he thought was a drastically unfair national reputation. "I was doing well in D.C., but I felt I wasn't living in my purpose."
"We started Ohio Homecoming the first year," says Mitchell, who put on the inagural four-day festival that culminated in thousands of people filling downtown for a Kid Cudi concert; the crowd also sang "Happy Birthday" to Cleveland, celebrating 214 years as a city. The next year's concert featured Drake.
"All the money from the events goes to service projects," says Mitchell, who organized service days to clean up schools like Martin Luther King Jr. and Hough high schools. "We took $25,000 of our own money and we slept in this school, painted the classrooms and lockers, landscaped the whole property. These kids are going to a school you cannot learn in."
This past year, he organized the massive New Year's Eve celebration, hosted by Drew Carey with a show by Krewella, where 15,000 people braved a massive snowstorm to ring in 2014 on Public Square. It as an extremely successful night despite minimal cooperation from the city and little advertising support from Cleveland businesses, he says. Pulling it off has been his most rewarding moment so far.
"After New Year's was over, I cried like a baby that night," says Mitchell. "It had been a year of fighting everyone, begging them to let us do this, and then it happened, and happened the way it did. Really, what it proved was it could be a hundred times better: This is what we were able to do with a band-aid budget." Still, with disorganization and a couple nickels, it wasn't a bad first crack at all in bringing a signature NYE event to Cleveland.
In addition to planning this year's New Year's Eve bash, much of Mitchell's time is devoted to the Village Project, where the Ohio Homecoming group is planning to restore a dilapidated block in the Glenville neighborhood, fixing up a street of mostly vacant homes across from Rockefeller Park and moving in 20 or so young professionals to live there. The solution to Cleveland's vacant home problem — there are 16,000 vacant homes in the city, he points out — isn't just to knock them down, but to focus on certain blocks, restore some of the houses, and give people a reason to move in.
"Community is about the people," he says, "the people who live there. We could be a great example for some of these kids and families over there."
Mitchell also co-hosts the Mansfield Frazier show every Sunday evening on WTAM and attends Cleveland city council meetings "every Monday for the past 25 weeks." If you ever want to meet him, he says, just stop by council. He'll be there.