Heights residents excel at Accelerate

SoundBender Institute's Keenan Williams, left, and Stephen Prewitt, right, with CLC Board Chair Bill Caster. Photo courtesy of Cleveland Leadership Center

Cleveland Heights residents Myesha Watkins and Keenan Williams were among the top winners at “Accelerate 2023: Citizens Make Change,” the annual civic-pitch competition presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center (CLC) in partnership with Citizens Bank and other organizations.

Watkins and Williams were among the six finalists selected from 32 pitches, each focused on making a meaningful impact in the Cleveland area. More than 550 people attended the Feb. 23 event at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.

Judges selected Watkins and Williams as finalists in their categories. Each received $2,000, membership in the Economic and Community Development Institute (ecdi.org)—a small-business support organization—and an opportunity to pitch at Northeast Ohio SEA Change (seachange.org).

Watkins’ pitch was for an initiative called “Another Homegirl,” which produces community-building events for local and visiting women in the Cleveland area. She envisions growing her programs to build a safe and enriching community experience for all women who participate.

“Women do not need anything more to worry about,” Watkins explained, stating that she plans to use her Accelerate winnings to provide the events, which usually cost $40 to $45, free of charge. Watkins also praised the networking component of the events, saying, “The prize is not always monetary. The prize may be the connections you make."

Williams with business partner Stephen Prewitt presented their SoundBender Institute project (soundbenderinstitute.com), a DJ school located on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. They started SoundBender in March 2022 and since then have been teaching children and adults how to deejay in as little as four weeks. The goal, Williams said, is for students to gain socio-emotional skills that go far beyond scratching.

Initial funding for SoundBender Institute relied mostly on one-on-one meetings and phone calls, Williams said. He recognized how much easier it is to ask for the support needed for the institute using the skills acquired through the Accelerate pitch practice, run by CLC. “You win just by being in the room,” he said. "Since Accelerate, the influx of opportunities has been absolutely amazing.”

Williams and Prewitt plan to use their Accelerate winnings to purchase mobile-friendly DJ equipment. The smaller equipment will help them reach their goal to run DJ mini-camps at schools such as Heights High and Monticello Middle School.

Both Williams and Watkins suggested that others who have ideas to make a difference should consider pitching at a future Accelerate. “Swallow your nerves and just go for it,” Watkins said. “You are going to walk away a winner, whether as a finalist or through making connections. Give it your all because you are going to win regardless.”

The 10th anniversary Accelerate competition will take place in February 2024. Pitch submissions will be accepted in November. Details are available online at www.cleveleads.org/accelerate.

Dani Gosky

Dani Gosky is the board liaison and program associate at the Cleveland Leadership Center.

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Volume 16, Issue 4, Posted 10:47 AM, 04.02.2023