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Issue Date: January 2014 Issue


Most Interesting People 2014: Sheila Wright

Sheila Wright

CLEVELAND NAACP EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, 43

Why she's interesting: Wright, named executive director of the Cleveland NAACP a year ago, was a much-quoted speaker on local and national issues throughout 2013: the East Cleveland serial killer, the Trayvon Martin case, the Opportunity Corridor, immigration reform, the investigations of untested rape kits in Cleveland, last November's Cleveland police chase and shooting, and the Voting Rights Act. She's also worked for Judge Raymond Pianka in Cleveland Housing Court, tackling the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis.

Late bloomer: Wright, who was a teen mother, started college at 25 at Cuyahoga Community College, then graduated from Cleveland State University's Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.

Like daughter, like mother: Wright inspired her mother, 61-year-old Colleen Wright, to follow her path to education. "My mom, who left high school to take care of me and worked at LTV, went to Tri-C, got the same scholarship I did at Cleveland State, graduated and completed her master's degree." Now the elder Wright is starting a doctoral program in English.

Like mother, like daughters: Education now runs in the family. Wright's daughters, Leslie, 26, and Corbyn, 21, both graduated from Laurel School. Leslie, a Hampton University graduate, directed the play And Her Hair Went With Her at Karamu House when she was 23. Corbyn, a senior at Spelman College, hopes to be a restaurateur.

Transients to tenants: Wright admires Pianka for looking for ways the city's housing court can address social ills. She did her part by starting a "what every tenant should know" program. She and the court magistrates gave presentations at the City Mission, YMCA and other community organizations that help and house transient people, telling them about the duties and rights of tenants.

The mission: Wright started her job by talking to people throughout the African-American community, where many wondered if the NAACP was still relevant. Inequality makes the case for the NAACP, she says, from children not graduating from high school to the large share of African-Americans in prison to more money going into highways than transportation for the least of us. But she says '60s-style agitation is no longer the most effective route to change. "I'm all about relationships."


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