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Daily Inspiration: Meet Donté Gibbs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Donté Gibbs.  

Hi Donté, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I would be remised if I did not acknowledge the influence, impact, and power of the women in my life in terms of my journey to who I am today. Growing up, my mom was instrumental in teaching my siblings and I our morals, values, and Christian beliefs. Granted, as kids, sometimes the belt taught us too. My grandmothers were the ones the whole neighborhood knew and loved. They opened their home to everyone and taught me the importance of giving back. My cousins and I began volunteering at food shelters across the city at the age of six. So, for 27 years, I have been an avid volunteer and community advocate (oftentimes not even realizing it). At 12, I was doing park clean-ups. At 14, I received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from Kirk Middle School. At 15, I was tutoring young people at the MLK Civic Ctr in East Cleveland. In 2006, At 17, I graduated as Valedictorian of Shaw High School – entering Case Western Reserve University that fall. At 21, I was President of the Black Student Association at MSASS – Case Western Reserve University. By 22, I had participated in and helped organize three playground builds in East Cleveland. At 24, I started Donte’s Gift Express® – where we annually surprise hundreds of East Cleveland families with gifts the whole family can enjoy during Christmas. That same year, I also co-created #TurkeyTakeover which provided thousands of Greater Cleveland families with turkeys, fresh produce, and winter items between 2013-2017. I organized the annual Boys to Men Health & Empowerment Summit where young men are connected to year-round resources and mentors via workshops by All About Your Health partners. At 32, I co-created #Masks4Community – where we provided 77,000+ free, cloth masks for Clevelanders & East Clevelanders at the onset of the pandemic. At 33, I am a proud homeowner and social entrepreneur who launches concrete actions to improve lives and elevate our communities.

Being from East Cleveland, we are instantly taught how the world views us, we are shown how we are mistreated and overlooked, and we are mocked. Yet we are often imitated, we are revered, and we are models for resilience, pride, and a close-knit community despite all the challenges. East Cleveland is home, and you will always know that about me, my family, and my friends. Others and I have chosen to stay and build, why? Because it is needed. Why is it needed? Because we are often encouraged to get up and leave, but what does that do for younger students walking the same halls as we did.

As East Cleveland continues its love/hate relationship with highs/lows, you will know that this young, handsome Black man continues to be here, continues to invest here, continues to shine a light here, and will continue to serve here.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The road is never easy, I am instantly reminded of the Mary Mary song, Can’t Give Up Now that says, “Nobody told me the road would be easy, but I don’t believe you brought me this far to leave me.” Early high school was a bit challenging. I was noticeably quiet and was often made fun of. It taught me to have a tough skin and to focus on my schoolwork. While my family and extended family were amazing, we still faced many challenges like those of one-parent households, “making ends meet,” and hand-me-downs.

Case Western Reserve University was a culture shock for me. It was my first time being thrown into an environment where I had to actively search for “belonging.” I was struggling to determine a major, I failed my first class ever – twice, I was on academic probation, and what the hell was FAFSA. The pressure of being “the one” from your city, from your family to go to a school like Case with scholarships as a Black man weighed heavy. I felt defeated, but also inspired. I had to do this for myself and for those living through me and those looking up to me. Plus, that partial scholarship money was going to run out after year 4. Tuition was more than what my family brought in annually, so I knew I had to buckle down. And that’s what I did, I began to thrive. I made the Dean’s List, I graduated on time, I continued on to grad school, and I served as diploma ceremony speaker at graduation.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am currently the Vice President of Community Partnerships at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. In this role, I am tasked with providing strategic insight around engagement and partnerships. While also leading progressive efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion around park use/awareness.

As an insightful, critical, and resourceful community leader, I am best known for community organizing and youth development. I am able to identify methods of philanthropic investment and galvanize people around a cause or issue. I am uniquely equipped to elevate organizations and communities simultaneously through action and empathy.

Outside of the Shaw High School Class of 06, I am most proud of what my team and I have been able to accomplish through Donte’s Gift Express – Over 3,000 families have received gifts during the holiday season or 37% of the city’s family population. As well as over 77,000 masks to residents. As we grow, we remain committed to lifting as we climb. I am forever grateful and proud of India, Dom, and Seretha (my team).

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
The Covid-19 Crisis continues to teach us valuable lessons. The importance of family and our loved ones. We must celebrate and love on folks while we can. We must continue to generate wealth within our families via multiple streams. We must always serve those who need it throughout our communities. In addition, we all learned how critical fast and reliable internet service is. Digital redlining today echoes the ugly truth of banks and legislation of yesterday, which allowed for homes in certain neighborhoods to be heavily devalued. Another epiphany is learning of the many benefits nature provides to our health and wellness, and how we need to address climate change and environmental justice aggressively. During the pandemic, we were reconnected to nature – its beauty, and its stillness. We must keep that same energy in protecting today and preserving tomorrow through environmental stewardship. See, many lessons from the Crisis.

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