After a successful 20-year career in commercial banking, Renee Ligon moved from Florida back to her native Ohio and pivoted to community-centered work. In a perfect melding of her banking experience and her desire to make a difference, she served as the Regional Director of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland’s Minority Business Assistance Center. Renee made it a priority to hire motivated individuals who were passionate about carrying on the Center’s work — opening up banking services to minority, women, disabled, and veteran owned businesses — beyond her tenure.
“It’s about economic development with inclusiveness, so business owners of any color can sit at the table together with equity,” Renee says.
Driving Change in Her Current Role
Renee now works as the Director of Partnerships and Engagement with Team Neo, an organization focused on accelerating economic growth and job creation throughout Northeast Ohio.
In her current position, she again approaches economic development through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. However, her constituents now are elected officials, economic development directors and C suite executives hoping to make progress on those fronts. The job requires conversations with people for whom diversity, equity and inclusion can be intimidating, as they wonder how best to address challenges of race and equity as individuals in their workplaces and communities.
“I’m a change driver,” Renee says. “I’m listening for the common ground and where the opportunity may exist to connect with an individual, to meet them where they are without judgment. And we may not get there today, but maybe at some point in the future, we will.”
Supporting Purpose-Driven Local News
In addition to her professional responsibilities, Renee draws upon her expertise in communications, which she majored in at John Carroll University, to help shape the coverage of a weekly Cleveland- based local news startup. Her background in analyzing news stories for inequities in the reporting, or slanted narratives, led the startup operation, The Land, to seek out Renee’s counsel. She’s now the Vice Chair of its Board of Directors
“They’re covering communities that aren’t normally covered in a very positive light,” Renee says.
“Everything isn’t all doom and gloom. The stories have just been exceptional.”
Motivated by Personal History
Renee’s drive to help underserved communities — whether through expansion of banking services, inclusion efforts that open up opportunities for diverse candidates, or advocacy for positive news coverage — has roots in her own experiences contending with marginalization.
When Renee was in elementary school, her parents moved the family from Cleveland Heights to Geauga County, a suburban area further away from the city of Cleveland. “We were the first Blacks that many kids and families had ever met,” she says.
The family bought a three-acre property and added a backyard pool. To some of their new neighbors, these typical trappings of suburban life were suspect. People outright asked whether they’d made money from illegal activity, Renee remembers. “There were all kinds of assumptions and questions that if you were Black, you were not supposed to have these things.”
Renee’s mother worked as the COO of an auto-parts manufacturer, and her father was a plant manager. “They understood the importance of education, family values and working hard, and making sure that you sat down at the dinner table together and had conversations, even if they were stupid, silly conversations,” Renee said.
When asked what she’d tell younger people who may not yet know their path forward, Renee says it’s important to recognize that adversity is normal, and not necessarily a bad thing. “It’s part of life. Everybody faces adversity, some more than others. The key is to say, ‘I’m going to take this challenge on. And I’m going to make a difference.’”