Keeping the Peace In Cleveland (P. II)

July 1, 2015

(BLOGGER ADDITIONAL COMMENT: This story appears in the July 2015 edition of the Public Relations Society of America publication TACTICS. There is a link to the onlne portion of the publication below. It was written before the tragic shootings in Charleston, SC, on June 17.  One final note — Rev. Rodney Maiden said in his interview that there are two justice systems in the U.S. — one for whites and one for blacks. Sadly, he’s right.)

Just weeks after devastating rioting and looting in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, it became Cleveland’s turn to take center stage in the growing national debate over police treatment of blacks

In November 2012, 62 Cleveland police vehicles went on a 20-minute high-speed chase after a car whose driver disobeyed a police pullover order. The car had two black occupants. The chase ended when numerous police cruisers stopped and surrounded the car, then 13 officers fired 137 bullets at the occupants, killing both. They turned out to be unarmed. One officer, Michael Brelo, was charged with manslaughter. In a four-week bench trial, Cuyahoga County Judge John P. O’Donnell found Brelo not guilty, despite his firing 15 shots into both suspects from the hood of the car after the chase had ended.

National news networks broadcast the verdict live on Saturday, May 23. Anticipating violent protests after the announcement, Cleveland Police mobilized and called in back-up from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Additional safety forces were on standby.

At nearby Mt. Zion Church, 800 people of all races were attending a Northeast Ohio Gridiron Men’s Conference. When event organizers heard that the verdict announcement was imminent, they immediately suspended the program and collectively prayed for peace in Cleveland.

“It was God’s timing,” says Rev. Rodney Maiden, senior pastor of Providence Baptist Church on Cleveland’s southeast side for the past 35 years. “(We) got on our knees and asked the Lord no matter what the verdict … don’t riot.”

REV. RODNEY MAIDEN

REV. RODNEY MAIDEN

ALL IN THE TIMING

National observers believed that by May 2015 Cleveland was trapped in race relations zugzwang, a German term meaning no matter what move the city made next, it would be worse off. Six months earlier, a 12-year-old black boy, Tamir Rice, was killed by Cleveland police officers responding to a 9-1-1 call. It turned out that Rice was wielding a toy gun. A month later, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced findings in a 21-month investigation into the Cleveland Division of Police (CDP), calling the CDP “structurally flawed.” Some of the DOJs conclusions included:

  • During encounters with citizens, CDP officers frequently used excessive force;
  • CDP officers were not trained properly on how to act in encounters with physically or mentally ill citizens; and
  • Cleveland failed to properly investigate and discipline officers who used excessive force

Over this template came riots in Ferguson, Mo., protests in New York over the chokehold death of Eric Gardner, excessive police force resulting in deaths of blacks in other cities, and then Baltimore.

Events in late May proved that Cleveland was different. Perhaps divine intervention helped. Certainly the city and its leaders benefited from excellent public relations counsel. Additionally, timing played a role in the public reaction.

“During early discussions, a weekend morning verdict was mentioned as a potentially good time because that’s when the fewest people would be downtown,” explained Darren Toms, Community Outreach Coordinator for Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. “A work-day announcement could have led to traffic jams and additional safety concerns. We did it on Memorial Day Weekend Saturday simply because the verdict was ready, and there was no reason to prolong it for another week.”

Additionally, the court system also closely coordinated with law enforcement and safety leaders as well as the Cleveland Municipal Court, which was responsible for processing of anyone who was arrested. “Having these groups on the same page was critical in the organization and reading of the verdict,” Toms added.

Additional factors helped make May 23 an even more opportune date. School was out, helping to prevent a repeat of the teen protests seen in Baltimore. The Cleveland Cavaliers  were home for the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and  superstar LeBron James, who called for justice in the Eric Gardner death, used his Twitter account to plea for peace. CDP allowed peaceful protests, but eventually arrested 71 people after a couple of the protesters turned violent.

TOM BERES

TOM BERES

“So much time had passed that much of that anger and passion of the moment had dissipated,” said Tom Beres, senior political correspondent at WKYC-TV in Cleveland, about the Brelo verdict. “Even though Cleveland had the same potential  brew of poverty, crime, hopelessness … and other conditions as a backdrop as Baltimore, the outcome was not the same outrage and violence.”

Beres added that Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson had been making extensive outreach efforts with community groups and clergy leaders such as Rev. Maiden. Street peacemaker groups also helped keep matters calm.

SETTLEMENT DECREE CHANGES THE FOCUS

Two days later, on Memorial Day, media reports circulated that the DOJ and Cleveland had reached a consent decree addressing the CDP’s many flaws. Different players now took over as the national spotlight intensified on the city.

DOJ and Cleveland held a joint news conference to announce the agreement on May 26. Here the city benefitted from experienced hands. Dan Williams, Cleveland’s Media Relations Director, is a U.S. Army public affairs veteran who helped manage the Abu Ghraib crisis in 2003-2004. Additionally, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (similar to a chamber of commerce) called upon Dix & Eaton, a leading Cleveland public relations firm, to assist the city.

In the consent decree, which Chief U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. approved on June 12, Cleveland will make substantial changes in its CDP in six major areas. Three are:

  • Community engagement, including creation of a Community Police Commission to provide input on police policies, training, civilian oversight, and community engagement; and implementation of a comprehensive community and problem-oriented policing model to strengthen partnerships and solve problems;
  • Search and seizure practices and bias-free policing, including revision of policies and training to ensure that all stops and searches are Constitutional and take community values into account; tracking and analysis of interactions between the police and residents; community input into comprehensive training related to bias-free policing; and development of a recruiting plan which will attract a diverse group of applicants; and
  • Use of force practices, including revising policies and improving training and guidance on when and how officers may use force; strengthening systems for reviewing and investigating uses of force; and creating a Force Review Board to review serious uses of force.

(More details are at: http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndoh/pr/summary-settlement-agreement-between-justice-department-and-city-cleveland-regarding)

City of Cleveland sources told TACTICS that, although the timing with the Brelo verdict was coincidental, Cleveland leaders worked hard to achieve a comprehensive resolution of the CDP’s numerous flaws. This began when Mayor Jackson and Chief of Police Calvin Williams, both black, held a series of highly-publicized community town hall meetings in the months after the DOJ findings against the CDP.

“Our community relations board was active connecting with many groups, all talking about the same thing at the same time,” said one Cleveland source.  “There was a whole different atmosphere of two-way conversations going on, and then a lot of rolling up the sleeves and hard work to get the consent decree done.”

Dix & Eaton declined requests for interviews for this story.  “The professionals in the PR community in Cleveland are very strong and tuned into the city,” said Christian Hunter, APR, President of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of PRSA. “We take a lot of pride in our city and are very vocal about issues affecting it, so it’s no surprise we come together to help each other in challenging situations.”

Beres, who’s covered politics in Cleveland for more than 30 years, gave Mayor Jackson high marks for his insistence on both dealing with the CDP’s deficiencies and quickly achieving a consent decree. “The Mayor’s outreach (efforts) also paid dividends,” Beres added. “Mayor Jackson and his team are (now) talking to a lot of people out there, and leaders are being educated on what the decree will do.”

Rev. Maiden also applauded the settlement, with one huge caveat.  “What the DOJ did was unveil and reveal some things that most people in the community already knew,” he said. “A law cannot change a person’s heart, and there is a lot of skepticism in the African American community. Will the Police Department go back to business as usual, or are there going to be any major changes?”

HURDLES, WORK STILL TO DO

Cleveland’s peaceful reaction to police treatment of blacks could change.  On June 11, Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Ronald B. Adrine ruled that there was probable cause to indict two CDP officers in Rice’s death. “It will almost be a slap in the face of the community if they (the courts) don’t do anything about it (the Rice shooting),” Rev. Maiden said. “African Americans believe that we have two justice systems – one for whites and one for blacks.” He added that blacks are paying rapt attention to the case, seeking justice.

Additionally, Cleveland’s public relations community has room for improvement in racial diversity. A majority of the city’s population is black, but none of the Dix & Eaton personnel assisting the city with communications on the dissent decree were minorities. A quick survey of the area’s leading public relations firms found very little diversity among their employees.

“When thinking about what it takes to have a robust, well-rounded team, PR chapters should include points of view with a diverse perspective, “ says Larcine Bland, a diversity management consultant with Texas-based LLB Consulting.  Bland has worked for and helped to shape diversity initiatives for national retailers such as Dunkin’ Brands and 7-Eleven.

Bland adds PR firms and PR chapters should embrace diversity as an important value-added component, make diversity and inclusion top-down strategies, be intentional about inclusion, and build community contacts and diversity liaisons.

Link to Tactics:  PRSA Tactics

Link to USPR Network, of which Larcine Bland and I are members: USPR Network

Kerezy is associate professor of journalism/mass communications at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland. He is also director of crisis, governmental & political communications for the Unified Strategies Public Relations Network.


Keeping the Peace in Cleveland (Part I)

June 21, 2015

Many observers around the country thought there would be riots, perhaps even violence, in Cleveland when Cuyahoga County Common Please Court Judge John P. O’Donnell announced a verdict  of “not guilty” in the trial of Cleveland Police Dept. Officer Michael Brelo on May 23. The verdict was the latest in a string of acquittals of white police officers on trial for shooting African-Americans.

The violence didn’t happen. Those who thought otherwise don’t know Cleveland.

Just two days after that, word began spreading that the U.S. Dept. of Justice had reached a consent decree with the City of Cleveland to end a pattern of excessive violence and depriving Cleveland citizens of their Constitutional rights.

How did all this unfold?

For the past dozen years of so, I’ve been fortunate to be selected to write stories for two main publications for the Public Relations Society of America, TACTICS and THE STRATEGIST.  Below are links to information about these publications.

My story about how Cleveland kept the peace will appear in the July issue of TACTICS. It will also appear here. But the article would have been impossible without the help of two long-time men of excellent character and integrity who assisted me via interviews, Rev. Rodney Maiden of Providence Baptist Church and Tom Beres of WKYC Channel 3 News.

REV. RODNEY MAIDEN

REV. RODNEY MAIDEN

Both came their current positions more than 35 years ago. Both have overcome some daunting personal obstacles.

Rev. Maiden has mentored and helped prepare more than a dozen of the leading African-American ministers in Greater Cleveland since he became pastor at Providence Baptist Church in 1980. Dennis Kucinich was striving to stave off a recall challenge when Tom Beres began reporting at WKYC in 1979.

Their interviews provided key information for the story.  Below are links to the digital audio interviews, podcasts, of both of them. If you want to “hear” the story of how Cleveland kept the peace, in their own words, you can do so here. Right-click on the link below, and then click on “Open in New Window” to download and hear the files. (You do not need to belong to Amazon to obtain and hear the interviews.)

Rodney Maiden Interview

Tom_Beres_interview

Providence Web Site

About Tom Beres, WKYC TV

My thanks also to Darren Toms of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, and others who assisted me with the story.

TOM BERES

TOM BERES

Special thanks to Christian Hunter, Greater Cleveland PRSA Chapter President, and long-time acquaintances Rick Batyko of Team NEO and Larcine Bland for their help.

PRSA The Strategist

PRSA Tactics


$60 million building boom in Broadview Heights

May 28, 2015

_20150527_171506Lately it seems that you can’t drive very far in Broadview Heights without seeing a bulldozer at work or a foundation being poured. There’s a good reason why: More than $60 million in new construction (non residential) and at least 10 different projects are underway in Broadview Heights.

Here’s a quick rundown, in words and pictures, of some of the developments. This isn’t comprehensive – it’s just what one person found out by using a smartphone, the Internet, and through some emails.

UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS

Contractors for University Hospitals’ new 52,000 square feet outpatient health center and freestanding emergency department are still putting up steel girders. This facility, valued at $28 million, is at the northeast corner of Interstate 77 and Royalton Road, adjacent to the Heritage office building. You can see it as you enter I-77 Northbound.  This health facility should bring a lot of new jobs to Broadview Heights as well. Here’s the link to a news article about it:

http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20140612/FREE/140619904/university-hospitals-to-build-28-million-health-center-in-broadview
   _20150527_171423

NOTE – Just east of Bob Evans, construction is underway on an extension of Treeworth Blvd which will provide access to a similar medical facility which MetroHealth Medical Center is constructing in Brecksville, just below the southwest corner of Interstate 77 and Royalton Road.

BOB EVANS/CHIPOTLE

IMG_20150418_111631800More than $1 million went into the construction of these two new restaurants on Royalton Road.  Bob Evans has been open since March, with Chipotle opening its doors in late May. The parking lots seems always full, especially at the lunch and dinner hours. Don’t be surprised if a third restaurant finds its way here also – there’s a vacant spot next to the Chipotle.

PETROS HOMES

Petros is constructing new homes in three locations in Broadview Heights.  This is a picture of the model home in Town Centre Village, just east of Broadview Road and just south of Royalton Road.  Below is a link to their web site with details.IMG_20150418_100742741_HDR

Additionally, Petros also has new home construction at Wiltshire (off Edgerton Road) and at Bella Terra off Wallings Road. Petros Homes’ headquarters is also in Broadview Heights, by the way.

http://www.petroshomes.com/community_detail.php?CommunityID=2681337026&PageID=13

DANBURY WOODS

When completed later this year, Danbury Woods senior living will be a 101-unit complex   90,000 square feet with a mixture of independent living, assisted living, and memory care.  This is a IMG_20150418_100542954project costing nearly $13 million.  The two-story, V-shaped building takes up about six acres at the corner of Broadview and Akins Roads.  Here is a link with more information:


http://www.cleveland.com/broadview-heights/index.ssf/2013/10/broadview_heights_approves_pro.html


OHIO CATERPILLAR

With its headquarters in Broadview Heights Ohio Caterpillar is the factory-authorized Caterpillar dealer for the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. It has more than 1,100 employees at its various facilities. Ohio Cat is in Phase II of the _20150418_151042expansion of its corporate headquarters at Royalton Road and Taylor Avenue, a project costing $17.8 million.

Here are more details:

http://www.cleveland.com/broadview-heights/index.ssf/2014/06/ohio_cat_in_broadview_heights.html

CUYAHOGA COUNTY EOC FACILITY

Work is in the preliminary stages behind City Hall, but by sometime in 2016 Cuyahoga County will have a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC) behind City Hall.  Here’s a recent site picture.

According to Cuyahoga County officials, this facility will feature an EOC floor with extensive communications and information display capabilities; a multi-position communications center for the county’s emergency communications systemcceoc bvh (known as CECOMS), which can also serve as a regional dispatch center; a Joint Information Center; officers for the County Office of Emergency Management; a training room; and a storage and maintenance facility. Here is a link to a Cuyahoga County web site with more details:

http://ready.cuyahogacounty.us/en-US/Emergency-Operations-Center.aspx

DREES HOMES

Drees is building larger single-family homes in the city.  The pictured home is in a development called Brookside Crossing, IMG_20150418_101556384off Victoria Drive. Here’s a link:

http://www.dreeshomes.com/custom-homes/cleveland-northeast-ohio/community/brookside_crossing/brookside_crossing/

785 E. ROYALTON ROAD

Jeffrey Halpert, DPM, and his partners are apparently planning to move their Podiatry of Greater Cleveland practice and offices down a bit on Royalton Road to aIMG_20150527_163129940 new office building, just east of Stoney Run condominiums. This building has a construction cost of about $500,000.  Here’s a link to some information:

http://broadview-heights.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/07092014-457

http://www.clevelandfoot.com/

COMMUNITY OF HOPE CHURCH

This church, which has met at Blossom Hill in Brecksville for the past 19 years, plans to build an 11,160 square foot sanctuary and classrooms on the south side of Royalton Road, just west of Dunkin Donuts. Construction is estimated at $1 _20150527_171546million. The sanctuary will seat 250 people. Community of Hope owns 13 acres at this location.  The new church building is expected to open in 2016. Here’s a link to the story:

http://www.cleveland.com/broadview-heights/index.ssf/2015/03/lutheran_church_plans_new_sanc.html#incart_related_stories


Timeless truths and media ignorance

April 19, 2015

Twice in the last 19 months, friends and acquaintances have asked me to make presentations about the media at Cuyahoga Community College. The first presentation, in Fall 2013, regarded media coverage about the humanitarian crisis in Syria.  Back then, almost no one in the United States had heard of ISIS.

Why not?

Many of our main media outlets are more concerned about profits and ratings than providing in-depth news and analysis about matters of national and global concern. So, as Syria’s civil war goes on and ISIS becomes a major threat to peace, Americans are pretty ignorant about it.

One of these days I will post all four of my “Timeless Truths” about the mass media in a blog. Suffice to say, students in my JMC 1011 Intro to Mass Communication classes learn these truths and gain a much greater appreciation that way of how the media functions. But Timeless Truth Number 1 is simple enough for everyone to get: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS.

But I digress.

About 10 days ago, I was privileged to be a speaker for “Culture Shock” a terrific annual program presented at Cuyahoga Community College’s West Campus. The event is part of the college’s very important Diversity Series. This particular time, I was fortunate to have a co-presenter with me, Shamina Merchant, who’s a senior at Brecksville Broadview-Heights High School.

shamina merchant john kerezy

Shamina Merchant with me at Culture Shock 2015

Shamina spoke on the Muslim faith, and gave an excellent summary of some tenets of it.

My role was to present information on our mainstream media, and how it mis-characterizes Muslims and the Middle East in general.  (Confession: due to my recent eye surgery, I didn’t research this talk as much as I had for the Syria talk in Fall 2013.).

It is gratifying to make these presentations, and I’m glad that students and adults believe the talks and explanations shed a lot of light on why the U.S. media does such a poor job covering Muslims, the Middle East, etc.

Below I’ve uploaded and created links to my 2015 presentation, to Shamina’s presentation, and to my 2013 presentation about Syria. Feel free to download and take a look. I’m grateful to my long-time friend Pierre Bejjani and the non-profit, non-partisan organization CAMEO, to Shamina Merchant and her family, to  Isam Zaiem and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and of course to my friend and colleague Dr. Susan Lohwater at Cuyahoga Community College for encouraging me to make these presentations.

Our beliefs are not the same, but we all share a dislike for those who hate and we have a longing to replace ignorance with information and understanding. That’s needed more than ever in 2015.

If you wish to speak further with me about this topic, don’t hesitate to email me at john.kerezy@tri-c.edu

SOME OTHER LINKS ON THIS SUBJECT:

http://www.cameocleveland.org/  

http://www.cairohio.com/ohio-chapters/cleveland-a-northern-ohio.html

http://www.tri-c.edu/administrative-departments/human-resources/documents/diversity-and-inclusion-speaker-series-calendar.pdf

My 2013 presentation on Syria            syria

Shamina’s presentation on April 9        Misunderstandings

My presentation on April 9                    misunderstand muslims

ON DECK:  Matt Lupica and inside Major League Baseball.
http://www.kentstateuniversitypress.com/2014/the-baseball-stadium-insider/

Read the rest of this entry »


Young People and the Grieving Process

April 9, 2015

John’s note — Julia Romito submitted this story to her JMC 26001 Multimedia Newswriting class in the Fall 2014 semester.  I am posting it here on my blog with her permission.

GUEST BLOGGER

Julia Romito

Hormones, relationships, and homework cause high school to be a difficult time of every teenager’s life, but imagine how unbearable it becomes when a high school student also has to cope with the death of a close friend.

Suicide, cancer and car accidents are all in the top five causes of death in young people.  Different people deal with death in different ways, but everyone goes through the grieving process.

Laura Serazin, a grief counselor at the Cornerstone of Hope in Cleveland, OH, stated that the grieving process is divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“Grief is the hardest work anyone will ever do,” said Serazin.

Serazin explained that, in her experience, her patients deny that the deceased is gone, become angry that he or she was taken from them, grow depressed and then eventually learn to live with the fact that the departed is gone forever.

“In reality, everyone’s grief is unique and everyone slips back and forth between the stages,” said Serazin.

Serazin also stated that adults and teens grieve differently, and she later added that teens grieve in doses. She said: “Their ability to tolerate intense emotion is more limited, so they need to shut down their emotions.  You may see them very upset one minute, and then, laughing or playing a little while later.”

Anthony Gill, 17, committed suicide on January 13, 2014. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people 15 to 24 years old, and results in approximately 4,600 deaths each year.

AnnaMarie Romito was friends with Gill since they were babies, and he was like a brother to her. Romito was dazed and wretched when she heard the news of his death.

“I immediately fell to the ground and couldn’t breathe, and I was screaming [and] crying,” said Romito.

Romito added that the most difficult part about losing Gill was not being able to talk to him anymore because he always helped her with her problems.

“Sometimes I feel like it still hasn’t hit me that he’s actually gone, and I still don’t want to accept the fact that he’s not here,” said Romito, indicating that she is still in denial regarding Gill’s death.

Cora Flemming, 18, died of osteosarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer, on May 5, 2013. Each year, approximately 800 new cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed in the United States, and half of those cases are in children and teens.

Alex Cameron was friends with Flemming before and throughout her nine-month battle with the deadly disease, and he recalled that it was very emotional.

“I called [my friend] Haley and she told me that she [Cora] had died, and I just instantly started crying and hung up on her right away,” said Cameron.

Cameron later added that Flemming was positive about her cancer, and she did not feel she was going to die, which made losing her harder.

“I truly believed it was going to be fine because she believed that it was going to be fine,” said Cameron.

Cameron also mentioned that he has accepted Flemming’s death over the past year and a half. He said, “I just think that death is a really hard thing to accept, and it just takes time.”

Jeff Chaya, 18, was killed in a car accident along with three other teens on June 3, 2012. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, there are over 6,400 people 15 to 20 years old that are killed in car accidents every year.

Sobhit Haribhakti was friends with Chaya throughout all four years of high school, and he was in utter disbelief and devastation when he heard the news of Chaya’s death.

“I ran downstairs and started crying and yelling and screaming. It was one of the worst moments of my life,” recalled Haribhakti, with tears in his eyes.

Haribhakti also added that the hardest part about Chaya’s death was the untimeliness. He said, “I don’t think anyone should have to lose someone so close to them so early in their lives…He’s in a better place.”

Over the past two years, Haribhakti has come to accept Chaya’s death, but it was not an easy process. Haribhakti suffered through depression his first year of college, but he eventually overcame the sadness with the help of his friends and family.

“I can still hear his voice in my head, [and] all the memories are still living in my mind,” said Haribhakti.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC

http://www.cornerstoneofhope.org/

https://juliamarieromito.wordpress.com/


Seeking non-profits, causes

February 27, 2015

This semester I’m teaching a class which I helped shape, and which Cuyahoga Community College has offered since 2007.  The class name is Social Media and Blogging.

As part of the class requirements, my students need to develop and carry out a social media campaign for a non-profit group of a social media cause.

It can’t be too extensive (the student will need to complete the campaign in a five-week window), but the student will be responsible for doing the social media aspects for the cause, and also for writing a couple of blogs about it.

So, right now, I’m actively seeking non-profits and causes who would like some student help in late March and April.

No charge.  Your student has already received education and some practice on blogging and social media techniques by the time they assist you.  The “outline” for this activity is attached/below.

Interested?  Email me at john.kerezy@tri-c.edu or call my office at 216-987-5040.  If we can work out details, I’ll put a brief description together for the students and try to “match up” causes/campaigns with students.

Thanks!

SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE OR NON


GUEST BLOG: Dining Diversity Found in Food Trucks

February 13, 2015

See note at the bottom of this story …

By ANDREW KEIPER

A big yellow truck rolls to a stop in the middle of the Lester A. Lefton Esplanade. A generator mounted on the rear bumper kicks to life and a line of students forms. The awning rises and the metal gate is pulled open, showing the cooks bustling inside. The LCD menu flickers to display this week’s choices. With that, the Fork in the Road food truck is open for business.

“I know that students don’t want to eat the same thing everyday,” said student and campus tour guide Lauryn Rosinski. She has been giving prospective students tours for about three semesters, and almost always touts the campus food truck as a highlight of the diversity among the dining options at Kent. “They think that’s really cool that they’re getting to eat different stuff all the time. I’m kind of showing them, you’re not going to get bored with the food.”

College dining is often the object of scrutiny. High prices, repetitive choices, a lack of healthy menus for students on the go, all of these are problems that afflict most campuses. Kent State University has taken a unique approach to offering students quality food in a convenient way. Fork in the Road is a food truck owned by Kent State and operated by Executive Chef Christian Booher and his team of cooks.

For students at Kent State, a lack of dining options on the north end of campus left them hungry and in need of something tasty and convenient. According to Richard Roldan, Director of Food Services at the university, the Fork in the Road food truck is the university’s solution.

“The biggest thing to push it was the last couple years I’ve been having a lot of conversations with students and folks across campus about under-serviced areas of campus,” said Roldan. “Places where students were coming across campus to get something to eat was a little inconvenient.”

The trend of university-run food trucks is not isolated to Kent State University. Many colleges across North America are seeing the benefits a mobile dining unit offers their student body and the popularity of such options. According to a Wall Street Journal article from August 22nd, 2012, nearly 100 colleges have their own food truck in use. This is compared to only about a dozen schools with food trucks only five years earlier. The statistics are courtesy of the National Association of College and University Food Services, which represents around 550 universities in North America.

The mobility of food trucks allows the businesses to tap into markets that wouldn’t be available with a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. Especially on college campuses, a food truck is a profitable endeavor. The demographic spending the most money at food trucks is the 25-34 year old group. They spend an average of $44 per month. Those under 25 spend comparably, about $39 per month. This is according to a survey done by the statistical site IBISWorld.com in 2014.

The food truck uses it’s Twitter account (@KSUFoodTruck) to communicate with student’s where it’ll be setting up shop for that day. With over a thousand followers, the account is a popular way for students to interact with the unique service offered to them by the university.

According to Roldan, Kent State’s food truck cost about $160,000 to go from idea to a fully operational dining mobile. The truck has a twenty-foot chassis and is completely functional as a kitchen. It features a convection oven, full range grill, fryers, everything Chef Booher needs to propagate his menu.

“We decided we really wanted to have a truck that changed with the seasons, with the availability of local items,” said Roldan. The Fork in the Road menu is diverse as it is globally influenced. He described it as global fusion. There are elements of classic Americana alongside Latin dishes with Asian elements involved. All these influences combine to create a healthy, palatable alternative option to the campus’s other dining options.

The truck, which began servicing students this semester in August, has averaged about three hours per day on campus. During those days it has served an average of 200 people and pulls in roughly $11,000 in total revenue. All of this considering the average cost of a dish is only five dollars. Fork in the Road has been present at all of Kent’s home football games. Roldan said the truck will be operational when there is not classes. As long as there is a demand on campus, the wheels will be rolling to satisfy that hunger.

The boom in the food truck industry has Starbucks, the coffee chain behemoth,  testing the waters of mobile dining services at three universities in 2014. According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the corporation wants to further tap into the huge coffee market of college students. Of Starbucks’ nearly 11,500 store locations, only about 300 are located on college campuses. Depending on the success of their mobile coffee ventures at Arizona State University, James Madison University, and Coastal Carolina University, the chain could expand food truck services across the nation.

Kent State University has gone to lengths to ensure students have a variety of dining options across campus. They’re currently offering six different locations spread across campus for student’s to eat, including the mobile Fork in the Road. The Student Center offers a variety of places to choose from, including an Einstein Brothers Bagels, Subway, and a sushi booth. Student’s often flock to The Kent Market, located upstairs, for additional options.

The trend of universities becoming proprietors of food trucks is a sign that the wants and needs of the student body are being recognized by the powers that be. In Kent, Fork in the Road serves as a direct response to the need of convenient sustenance for students in the far corners of its broad campus. Across North America, mobile dining units have become staples in cityscapes and college campuses.The renaissance of the food truck is being taken seriously in culinary circles. Trucks like Kent State’s Fork in the Road prove that convenience, creativity, and sustenance can coexist in an affordable way.

Andrew is a journalism student at Kent State University, and wrote this in his JMC 26001 class in the Fall 2014 semester.  You can reach him at akeiper@kent.edu

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,589 other followers