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April 29, 2023
Tri-C Eastern Campus
Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center
What is the Men's Elevation Conference?

The Men's Elevation Conference, presented by Step Forward, is Cuyahoga County's first-ever opportunity in which men will come together to ignite a passion for growth through education, motivation, and celebration.


Topics throughout the one-day event will include financial literacy, entrepreneurship, physical and mental health, fatherhood and marriage and the importance of civic engagement.

The conference is free to attend, but registration is required.

Check-in & Continental Breakfast
Dr. Todd Kitchen,
Tri-C Eastern Campus President
Breakout Session
Keynote Speaker:
LaRese Purnell
Breakout Session
Panel Discussion:
Civic Engagement, moderated by Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm
Closing Remarks
Pillars of Focus
Credit Card

Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship

Personal finance is 80% behavior, 20% numbers and identifying your “why” is critical for financial wellness.


The Breadwinners Academy presents, “What the FICO," a hands-on workshop that will focus on building one's credit score, how to read & understand credit reports, and how to rebuild credit.

Meditating on Bed

Mental Wellness

This session will educate, empower and equip Black men and boys with the essential tools necessary to live a mentally healthy life through healing hangouts and cultural artistic expression, while representing hip-hop culture.

Attendees will learn how to creatively cope with trauma, positively express emotions and foster community with others through healthy relationships with self, partner, family and protective relationships with the world.


Health and Wellbeing in African American Men

In Northeast Ohio, African American men have the lowest life expectancy and the worst overall health. In this session, attendees will examine the current health landscape, the history that drives these poor outcomes, and discuss a practical approach to improving overall health through nutrition, exercise, and prevention. 

Happy Dad

Fatherhood and Marriage

The Cuyahoga County Fatherhood Initiative seeks to strengthen families in our community by encouraging fathers to play a more active role in raising healthy, strong children. In this session, attendees will learn the importance of family engagement and ways to strengthen the father-child relationship. Men will also receive the knowledge, skills and attitudes to translate into behavior conducive for nurturing a healthy marriage.

Father and Daughter

Fatherhood and Marriage

Describe one of your services

The Men's Elevation Conference will be a safe place where men will have the opportunity to gather, discuss, and learn in areas that most will not typically allow themselves to be vulnerable in.

LaRese Purnell, Managing Partner, CLE Consulting Firm & The Real Black Friday


Dedication. Expertise. Passion.

The Men's Elevation Conference is a unique opportunity to put aside any distractions and spend time connecting with like-minded individuals and peers. During this one-day event, we will renew our energy and focus, learn how to achieve new lifestyle and career goals, and explore undiscovered tools to success. Network, have fun and walk away inspired!


Managing Partner, CLE Consulting Firm Entrepreneurship and Money 

Board Chair, Step Forward Board of Directors

LaRese Purnell

LaRese Purnell has 18 years of experience in business management, tax and finance. He is one of the founders and managing partners of CLE Consulting Firm, an accounting, tax and payroll company located in downtown Cleveland. As a strong, innovative financial and strategic leader with both instincts and intellect, Purnell is a formidable combination in the business world. He has served in executive positions, leading business and finance departments within multi-million dollar for-profit and non-profit corporations.

Purnell is the author of Financial Foundations: Building Financial Freedom One Tool at a Time, where he uses everyday language to address the fundamental questions people have about money. Purnell also created The Real Black Friday, an organization that brings awareness to and creates educational and collaborative opportunities for hundreds of small Black-owned businesses. 

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Tri-C Eastern Campus President

Dr. Todd Kitchen, Ed.D

Todd Kitchen joined Tri-C in 2021 after a decade of service as vice president of student services at Northwest Arkansas Community College. He has extensive experience in driving strategic initiatives to increase access to education and improve student completion rates, having implemented online education programs, created a collegewide counseling and wellness center and led collaborations with four-year institutions to guarantee admissions for underserved students.


Kitchen is a member of the National Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association of Student Affairs Professionals. He is a U.S. Army veteran.

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President and Chief Executive Officer, Step Forward

Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm

Jacklyn A. Chisholm, Ph.D. is President and Chief Executive Officer of Step Forward, the largest Community Action Agency in Ohio.  


Prior to joining Step Forward, Dr. Chisholm served as Chief Executive Officer of the Global Music Cultural Center (GMCC), a museum and cultural arts center planned for Atlanta, Georgia.  She is the former Vice President of Planning and External Affairs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum where she was responsible for the development and implementation of the Museum’s strategic plan, management of government relations and community outreach activities, and Project Director for the construction of the Rock Hall’s $13 million Library and Archives.  Dr. Chisholm also served as Associate Vice President for Community Partnerships at Case Western Reserve University, where she developed the Center for Community Partnerships. 


Founder, Peel Dem Layers Back

Manager, BIPOC Male Mental Health at National Alliance on Mental Illness

Archie Green

In his own words, Green is a “dream, then wake up and go-getter.” He is well-known for his lyrical abilities as a Hip-Hop artist. In fact, Green's introspective single, “Layers,” which was about his lived experience with depression, premiered at in 2016 and garnered more than 25,000 streams in two weeks. He subsequently founded Peel Dem Layers Back, a 501(c)3 to promote mental health awareness through a Hip-Hop lens. 

Green has been the recipient of various awards for his work as a Mental Health Advocate including the Gallant Gentleman Award for Mental Health from Alpha Kappa Alpha's Linking Partnership Opportunities, Cleveland Magazine's Most Interesting People Class of 2018, and the 2021 Rising Star Award from the 100 Black Men of Greater Cleveland.


Director, The Fatherhood Iniative

Al Grimes

Coming Soon!


Strategy Consultant, CEO 360, Inc.

Step Forward Board of Directors

Jerry Primm


Strategy Consultant, CEO 360, Inc.

Step Forward Board of Directors

Jerry Primm

Meet our Panelists
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Jerry Primm

Business Strategy Consultant,

CEO 360, Inc.

Step Forward Board of Directors

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John M. Hairston

Retired District Director

for Congressional District 11

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Andrew T. M. Newsome

G-PAC President, Political Action Committee

  • What does Step Forward do?
    Step Forward has served residents of Greater Cleveland for 55 years. The Community Action Agency formed in 1964 in response to Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. In the past half a century, we have helped thousands of Greater Cleveland residents. We understand how hard it can be to make ends meet and how difficult it is to ask for help or know where to start. Step Forward counselors, coaches and teachers work with each individual or family to sort through the chaos and connect them with help to restore hope in the future. We do this by addressing four key areas: Step Forward is one of the State’s leading providers of Head Start, the preschool program that offers a holistic approach to learning for children and their families. Assisting people with job placement and earning a living wage or higher; Step Forward career planning and job training opportunities enable people to learn or improve skills, earn certification or improve readiness to pursue and win better job opportunities. Encouraging and teaching personal development; Our Neighborhood Opportunity Centers help low-income individuals and families access resources and support to address immediate needs and build long-term skills and opportunities to transform their lives. Step Forward helps ensure Cuyahoga County residents are warm in the winter and cool in the summer through energy assistance programs that help low-income individuals and families with their home energy bills during crisis and non-emergency situations.
  • Step Forward used to be called The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland. Why did you change the name?
    For decades, we quietly, steadfastly opened our doors to help low-income individuals and families in Cuyahoga County take steps toward brighter futures. Throughout our 55-year history, we continuously evolved to meet people’s changing needs as the barriers and challenges of poverty changed. Our new name, Step Forward, reflects the next step forward for the organization to continue to be a vital resource to Cuyahoga County and the low-income residents who call it home. By stepping forward, we can help transform more lives and further strengthen our communities. We are stepping forward, but we are not walking away from the legacy of our organization. In fact, throughout our history we have shown that we must continuously takes steps to help us better serve low-income individuals and families in our community. To learn more about the name change from our President and CEO, Dr. Jacklyn Chisholm, please click here.
  • What are the eligibility requirements for your programs and services?
    All customers must be Cuyahoga County residents. The majority of Step Forward’s programs also have income requirements in order to qualify. Requirements differ based on the specific program. To find out if you qualify for our Early Head Start and/or Head Start programs, please call (216) 589-9922. To find out if you qualify for one of our personal or professional development courses, please call the Neighborhood Opportunity Center nearest you.
  • When do you take applications for your programs?
    Our programs take applications throughout the year. Head Start and Early Head Start are always enrolling children and families at their locations throughout Cuyahoga County. If a particular center is full, you can apply and be placed on a waiting list. The center will contact you as soon as a spot is available. The Personal Development/Family Development and Professional Development programs accept applications throughout the year at all of our locations. Step Forward's Home Energy Assistance Program has a select number of programs available year-round. The HEAP Winter Crisis Program operates from November 1st – March 31st. No new applications are accepted after March 31. For applications in process on or before March 31, all documentation for the Winter Crisis Program must be submitted to Step Forward's HEAP office by April 9, 2024. Documentation submitted after April 7th, 2024 is at risk of not being processed. The HEAP Summer Cooling program operates from July 1st – August 31st.
  • Where are you located?
    Step Forward has seven Head Start centers, four Neighborhood Opportunity Centers, and one Home Energy Assistance Program located throughout Cuyahoga County. Please click here to find the location that is most convenient for you.
  • What is a Neighborhood Opportunity Center?
    Step Forward operates four Neighborhood Opportunity Centers located in Cuyahoga County. The centers allow Step Forward to meet people in need where they live and work. NOCs are accessible and convenient locations designed to reduce or eliminate the need for transportation into Downtown Cleveland. Staff who work at Step Forward's NOCs assist clients by connecting them to early childhood education, the Home Energy Assistance Program, emergency assistance such as food, clothing, and rent and internet payments, personal development including counseling, anger management and Baby and Mommy Support, and professional development like workshops, job training and employment connection.
  • What is the Men's Elevation Conference?
    The Men's Elevation Conference, presented by Step Forward, is a first-of-its-kind event in Cuyahoga County. Introduced in 2023, the conference served as an opportunity for men to come together and ignite a passion for growth through education, motivation, and celebration. If you are interested in participating, presenting, or attending the next Men's Elevation Conference, please visit for more information.
  • What does the Head Start application process entail?
    When a family calls or files an online application to enroll a child, one of Step Forward's recruitment staff will answer the call or follow up on the application. The recruitment staff will complete the application process with the family member and depending on their location preference, will make a referral. At that time, one of Step Forward's Family Service Workers from the particular center will follow up with the family to finalize the enrollment process and gather required documentation to determine eligibility.
  • What documents are required for registration?
    Enrollment at Step Forward's Head Start is a collaborative process and our Family Service Workers are here to assist every step of the way. To complete the enrollment process, we require certain documents to ensure that we can provide the best care for your child. These include: -Proof of Birth: Birth Certificate, shot records, birth letter, etc. -Proof of Income: Two most recent pays stubs, 1040 tax form from previous year, W2, or written statement from employer, etc. -Proof of Residency -Medical Card -Shot Records -Physical Exam within 30 days of enrollment Our team is ready to help ensure that you experience a smooth and supportive enrollment experience.
  • Are you still enrolling children in Head Start for this school year? How can families sign up?
    Head Start preschool begins each fall in accordance with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's academic calendar. However, Early Head Start and Head Start are always accepting new students. If a particular center is full, you can apply and be placed on a waiting list. The center will contact you as soon as a spot is available. Call (216) 589-9922 or click here to start the enrollment process today.
  • How much does the program cost?
    Early Head Start and Head Start are available at no cost to income-eligible families. Eligible participants include children whose families are living at or below the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Other eligible participants include children who are in the foster care system and those who are experiencing homelessness. Our program also accepts a limited number of children who do not meet the aforementioned criteria. Families can call (216) 589-9922 for more information.
  • Does Step Forward provide transportation for Head Start children?
    Step Forward does not provide transportation to and from the agency's Head Start centers. We have made it our mission to provide seven convenient and accessible locations across Cuyahoga County. Each location can be found here.
  • What if my child has a disability?
    Step Forward and Step Forward's Head Start are committed to providing inclusive environments where all children, including those with disabilities, are welcomed and supported. Through our Early Head Start and Head Start program, we embrace the unique abilities of each child and strive to create an atmosphere of acceptance and belonging. Staff is trained to accommodate diverse needs, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to thrive in a nurturing and inclusive setting. Inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood education is vital for their holistic development. It fosters a sense of belonging, promotes social interaction, and encourages learning experiences that are tailored to individual needs. By participating in inclusive programs like Head Start, children with disabilities benefit from a supportive environment that values diversity and empowers them to reach their full potential. If a child is physically or mentally challenged, they are automatically eligible for Step Forward's Early Head Start or Head Start program. The family will be required to provide medical documentation for the child's diagnosis.
  • What if my child does not speak English as their primary language?
    Step Forward is dedicated to providing an inclusive environment for children whose primary language is not English. We recognize the importance of supporting linguistic diversity and ensuring that all children and families feel welcomed and valued. In instances where a child does not speak English, our programs are equipped with bilingual staff members who can communicate effectively with the child and their family. Additionally, we are committed to making necessary arrangements to assist families in accessing our services in their native language, ensuring that language barriers do not hinder a child's ability to fully participate and thrive in our programs.
  • What kind of support does Step Forward provide for the health and well-being of enrolled children?
    At Step Forward, we prioritize the health and well-being of all enrolled children. For Early Head Start children, we provide formula and diapers to ensure their basic needs are met. For Head Start children, we offer breakfast, lunch, and a snack as part of our nutrition program. Step Forward's Health and Dental Coordinators collaborate with each center to schedule essential health services, including dental checkups, medical checkups, hearing screenings, and more, ensuring that every child receives the comprehensive care they need to thrive.
  • Can I apply online or over the phone?
    HEAP clients can apply online at Clients can also download a copy of the application and mail it to Step Forward's HEAP office at 2203 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44114. Those interested in emergency energy assistance will need an appointment in order to receive service. Appointments are available Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. You can make an appointment as early as 8am via phone at (216) 350-8008 or you can schedule online at Appointment slots are secured very quickly. Due to the volume of requests for assistance, we encourage everyone who can't secure an appointment right away to keep trying. Scheduled customers need to have all necessary paperwork in-hand to receive assistance at the time of appointment.  Customers with scheduled appointments should submit their documentation at least 3 days in advance of their appointment to help with the telephone interview process. You can submit those documents via email to Learn more here.
  • What information do I need to bring with me when I meet with a HEAP representative?
    Please read the PDF here for a complete list of required documents.
  • How did your agency respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?
    The devastating impacts of COVID-19 meant the need for our programs and services increased dramatically. Like so many other nonprofits and businesses in our community, we rose to the challenge. We made our individual and family programs available online, we closed our Head Start Centers, but continued to engage with our children and families with virtual meetings and provided necessary resources and delivered baby items and daily lunches. We also updated our internal protocols to keep our locations safe and clean for our employees and the people we serve. In addition, Step Forward received funding through the CARES Act that allowed us to directly assist the people who needed it most. If you’ve been impacted by COVID-19, we may be able to help. Please click here to find out more. We know the impacts of COVID-19 will have far-reaching effects on our community. Whether you need assistance with immediate needs, or skills training to get a high-paying job, Step Forward is here to help.
A message from the Conference Chair
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Step Forward’s mission is to propel educational attainment and economic self-sufficiency for multiple generations in Cuyahoga County. With this as our mission, we must expose community members to a differentiated education that inspires them to take a quantum leap from poverty and dependence to self-sufficiency. This is why I was inspired to create the Men’s Elevation Conference.

As the conference board chair, it is my hope that you walk away from this event with momentum and purpose. I look forward to you attending!

Derek Cluse

Chief of Staff at Step Forward

Planning Committee

Derek Cluse

Jerry Primm

Douglass Bennett

Christopher Kelly

LaRese Purnell

Cecil B. Lee

Saaid Mansour

Austin Sims

Judge Michael J. Ryan

Steven Rhodes

Nelson Pagan

Taylor Wilson

Derek Cluse

Jerry Primm

LaRese Purnell

Cecil B. Lee

Judge Michael J. Ryan

Steven Rhodes

Douglass Bennett

Nelson Pagan

Saaid Mansour

Kerry Austin

Dwayne L. Hurt

Christopher Kelly

Get Involved

The Men's Elevation Conference, presented by Step Forward, offers a variety of sponsorship opportunities to meet every budget. Sponsorship investment may include in-kind donations.​

For further opportunities about a sponsorship opportunity, contact Derek Cluse at

  • Keynote Sponsor

  • Full-page, color ad in conference program

  • Logo on conference signage, event promotions and conference webpage

  • Pre and post-event social media mentions

  • Event Banner

  • Preferred event table location

Thank you to our sponsors
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See the photo gallery

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