Meet the Speakers | Company Challenge Breakfast

Blaine A. Griffin
President, Cleveland City Council

Council President Griffin

Ward 6 Councilman and Council President Blaine A. Griffin represents one of Cleveland’s most diverse wards, encompassing the East Side neighborhoods of Fairfax, Larchmere, Little Italy, Woodland Hills, and parts of Buckeye-Shaker, University Circle, North Broadway, Slavic Village and Union-Miles.

Prior to serving on council, Councilman Griffin had been executive director of the city’s Community Relation’s Board for 11 years. He led a staff and board trustees in efforts to improve cross-culture relations throughout the city. The Community Relations Board also oversees police/community relations and youth initiatives.

Prior to City Hall, Councilman Griffin worked with the Cuyahoga Department of Justice Affairs. As a program officer, he managed community re-entry efforts and initiatives to help transition serious violent offenders from correctional facilities back into their communities. Councilman Griffin also served as a program director for the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland. He was responsible for the fiscal and operational oversight of the largest network of emergency food distribution sites in Cuyahoga County with a budget of more than $2.7 million. He managed seven staff members and more than 800 volunteers throughout Cuyahoga County to service 160 emergency food distribution centers.

Councilman Griffin began his community-based service work with the Harvard Community Services Center, as well as a community organizer and later program manager at East End Neighborhood House. While at Harvard Community Services Center, Councilman Griffin established a coalition of community residents, activists, and businesses to fight infant mortality and morbidity as part of the Healthy Family/Healthy Start project.

He is affiliated with a number of community and professional organizations: He is a member of Mount Sinai Ministries; F.B.I. Citizen’s Academy; Malone University Advisory Board; Ecclesiastes #120 Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons; and Bezaleel Consistory #15. Griffin is a graduate of the Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levine College of Urban Affairs Leadership Academy and the Cleveland Leadership Center’s Leadership Cleveland; Class of 2014, as well as a German Marshall Memorial Fellow.

Councilman Griffin, originally from Youngstown, moved to Cleveland in 1993. He and his wife of 20 years, Jeanette, and their three sons live in the Larchmere neighborhood of Ward 6. Griffin graduated from Malone College in Canton, Ohio, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. He was reelected in November 2021, and first started representing the ward in May 2017.

Tom Dewey
Executive Vice President, Health Plan Operations and Chief People Officer

Tom Dewey

Tom Dewey serves as Executive Vice President, Health Plan Operations and Chief People Officer. In this role, he oversees the Company’s claims, customer service, membership and billing teams and has responsibility for the hiring, compensation, benefits and leadership development for more than 2,900 employees. He also heads up the Company’s Project Management Office and provides leadership to Medical Mutual subsidiaries MedMutual Protect and Employee Services Inc. (ESI EAP).

Mr. Dewey joined Medical Mutual in 2012 as Director, Financial Planning and Analysis. After working in that position for two years, he took on the important role of Vice President, Human Resources.

In 2016, Mr. Dewey was promoted to Senior Vice President, People and Strategy, a role in which he added mergers and acquisitions to his HR responsibilities. He was promoted to Executive Vice President, People & Strategy in 2020. He directed Medical Mutual’s acquisitions of Superior Dental Care, Bravo Wellness, ESI EAP and MedMutual Protect.

Mr. Dewey is a Certified Public Accountant (inactive) and holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from The Ohio State University and a Master of Business Administration in healthcare from Baldwin Wallace University. Mr. Dewey is the immediate Past President of the board of the Cleveland Public Library Foundation and currently serves as chairman of the Governance Committee. He is also a member of the board and Executive Committee of College Now Greater Cleveland, serves as vice chairman for the Baldwin Wallace University Healthcare Advisory Committee, and is active with several other charitable organizations. He is a 2021 graduate of Leadership Cleveland and a member of the 50 Club of Cleveland.

Donna L. Flynt

Donna Flynt is the Manager of Workforce Governance and Compliance for the Parker Hannifin Corporation, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, where she oversees the Employee Relations and Human Resource Compliance Department for North American operations.  She has over thirty-five years of diversity, inclusion, employee relations and regulatory experience.  In her current role, she serves as an internal consultant to the executive management, group and division management on strategic employee issues and activities that support the corporation’s goals.

Prior to joining Parker Hannifin Corporation, Ms. Flynt served fifteen years as a senior investigator for the U.S. Department of Labor.

She received her bachelor’s degree in business from Notre Dame College; a master’s degree in social psychology from Cleveland State University; and a certificate in applied behavioral sciences from the NTL Institute.  She graduated from the Diversity Management Program at Cleveland State University and is a Certified Diversity Professional. She completed coursework for her certification in Appreciative Inquiry from CWRU Weatherhead School of Management.

Very committed to empowering women and children, Donna has served on a number of non-profit boards. She is past president of Sankofa Fine Art Plus, a community arts organization committed to the preservation and education of fine ethnic art. She served on the corporate committee establishing the Cleveland Municipal School District’s first STEM school, MC2. She also served on the boards of the Glenville YWCA; The Eastside Catholic Shelter; and CEEOA.  She served as a past mentor and N.E. Ohio Chair of the NAACP ACT-SO Youth competition. 

Donna currently serves on the UNCF Leadership Team for the Ohio region; and serves as a board member of Front Steps Housing and Services, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing permanent supportive housing and wrap-around services to the homeless. She is Vice President of the board for Community of Hope, a non-profit support organization for youth aging out of foster care. Using a team-based approach, “communities” of adults support a youth’s needs with housing, health care, finances, education, and any other service or support needed to provide them with the skill set needed to thrive in the community.

Donna has been recognized as a “Woman of a New Tribe” a national recognition of women who work improve their communities through service.  She joined 18 women from the NE Ohio area to receive the national recognition and was included in the national traveling exhibit.

She has served as presenter and facilitator on diversity and inclusion issues; and has also presented on empowering women and girls at various professional and educational conferences and meetings throughout the United States.

Donna is a Cleveland native and an avid sports fan. She is die-hard supporter of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Ohio State, and Glenville High School, her alma mater. She enjoys every opportunity to support them in person during their season.  

Eric Gordon
Chief Executive Officer, Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District in June 2011 after serving as the district’s Chief Academic Officer for four years. He is responsible for the leadership and daily management of Cleveland’s 35,600 student school district.

In July 2012, Mr. Gordon led a citywide coalition to develop Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools or The Cleveland Plan which has resulted in dramatic improvement in academic performance over the last decade, including a 29 percentage point gain in graduation rates to a record 80.9%.  Following years of decline in post-secondary enrollment for CMSD students despite the increasing graduation rates, Mr. Gordon then led a city-wide coalition in bringing Say Yes to Education to Cleveland that, for the next 25 years, will make CMSD students eligible for full-tuition scholarships upon graduation. After launch of the Say Yes scholarships, CMSD saw its first increase in postsecondary education enrollment in five years, from 44 percent to 49 percent.    Among his many awards, CEO Gordon received the Green-Garner Award of the Council of the Great City Schools in 2016, distinguishing him as the top Urban Educator of the Year, the highest national honor for an urban school superintendent.   In addition to being named one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People” early in his tenure as superintendent, Mr. Gordon’s active engagement in the Cleveland community has been noted with a number of community awards, including the Diversity Center of Cleveland’s Humanitarian Award, Inside Business Magazine’s Power 100 Award and Smart Business Magazine’s Top 50 Award, which honors the most successful executives in northeast Ohio, and most recently the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation’s Outstanding Ohio Superintendent Performance Award

Constance Hill-Johnson, MPA
Owner and Managing Director, Visiting Angels Living Assistance

Constance Hill-Johnson

Constance Hill-Johnson (Connie) is the Owner and Managing Director of Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services in Cleveland Ohio. Visiting Angels is an in-home service provider assisting the elderly and older adult to live as independently as possible by remaining safely in their own familiar home environment.  

Now a seasoned entrepreneur, Connie is celebrating close to 21 years in business, and has successfully served hundreds of seniors throughout the greater Cleveland area and surrounding communities. 

Connie is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of The Cleveland Foundation, the oldest community foundation in the country.  In 2020 she was honored as a YWCA Greater Cleveland Woman of Achievement award winner and in 2017 was selected as a Crain’s Women of Note.   Connie currently serves on the boards of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging (BRIA) and Adults at Risk, a pillar of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry. She is a member of the African American Outreach Committee of Hospice of the Western Reserve and is one of the architects of The Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland & Celebrate Those Who Give Black, exhibits which reframe how philanthropy looks in the African American community. A committed philanthropist with a servant’s heart, Ms. Hill-Johnson is committed to giving of her time, talent and treasure and testimony in service to others.

Ms. Hill-Johnson has earned the degree of Master of Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Services Administration from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California.  Additionally, she holds a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. A committed philanthropist with a servant’s heart, Ms. Hill-Johnson is committed to giving of her time, talent and treasure and testimony in service to others.

Hal Martin
Policy Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

Hal Martin

Hal Martin is a Policy Economist for the Program on Economic Inclusion at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, where he began working after completing his Ph.D. in Economics at Georgia State University in 2015. His primary area of expertise is housing, where he studies mortgage finance, neighborhood sorting, the rental market, and issues impacting low- and moderate-income individuals.

Shari Obrenski
President, Cleveland Teachers Union

Shari Obrenski

Shari Obrenski is the President of the Cleveland Teachers Union. She served as an American History and Government teacher at Jane Addams Business Careers Center in the Cleveland Municipal School District for 22 years prior to becoming President of the CTU.

President Obrenski is a proud product of public eduction, having graduated from Jefferson Area High School in Jefferson, Ohio, as well as earning her B.S.Ed. from Miami University (Ohio) & her M.Ed. from Cleveland State University.

Her experience with the CTU before becoming President includes 3rd Vice President, Senior High & Special Schools; Chair of the CTU Publications & Social Committees, Member of Grievance Committee (including Director of Grievances from 2008 – 2014), and Director of Negotiations. As Director of Negotiations, President Obrenski led the CTU members to two ratified contracts (2016 & 2019) that were good for the students of Cleveland and fair for the members of the CTU.

Ms. Obrenski also serves at the 1st Vice President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, Board Chair for the North Shore Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), and as a Vice President for the Ohio AFL-CIO.

Shari and her husband, Dan, have been married for 28 years and have two adult children, Kaitlin (27) and Kyle (24).

LaRese Purnell, MBA
Managing Partner, CLE Consulting Firm

LaRese Purnell, MBA

LaRese Purnell has 19 years of experience in business management, taxation, and finance. He is the current Managing Partner of CLE Consulting Firm, an Accounting, Tax and Payroll services company located in downtown Cleveland and one of the largest minority firms in Northeastern Ohio and co-owner of Black Box Fix Restaurant located in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. He is a strong innovative financial and strategic leader with instinct and intellect, a formidable combination in the business world. He has served in executive positions, within leading businesses and financial departments within multi-million dollar for profit and non-profit corporations.

LaRese received his MBA in Finance from the University of Toledo. He is currently pursuing his master’s in accountancy in Corporate Taxation from John Carroll University, with an expected completion date of Spring 2024. LaRese is committed to the community and its residents, so he serves on the following Board of Directors, he is currently the Chair Elect of the YMCA of Greater Cleveland, The Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital, Vice Chair for Cleveland Public Library Foundation, is the current Chairman of the BOD for Step Forward Today (formerly CEOGC) the largest community action agency in the State of Ohio, recently named the Co-Chair of the National Board of the Economic Empowerment Program of the 100 Black Men of America, Inc based in Atlanta, GA and a board member of Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU). He is also a proud member of 100 Black Men of Greater Cleveland and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. 

He’s the author of Financial Foundations, Building Financial Freedom One Tool at a Time, where he uses everyday language to address the most fundamental questions people have about money. He has traveled to over 35-40+ cities nationally to teach financial literacy at various conventions, seminars, colleges and universities and various other events. He is also the founder and visionary behind The Real Black Friday that is responsible for helping to bring awareness and providing access to black owned businesses throughout Northeastern Ohio, within an over $5.5 million-dollar economic impact. He has been featured in various local and national publications and has appeared on multiple radio and television programs discussing various Financial matters. In 2023, he has been named as the National Ambassador for Our Money Matters, an organization that is focused on creating wealth for students at HBCU’s across America and working with organizations and non-profits nationally to decrease the wealth gap in the black community. He was named as one of Cleveland Magazines Most Interesting People, Smart Business 50 and Crain’s 40/40 and many other recognitions. Outside of work, LaRese stays busy spending time with his wife Rashaunda, son (Gaven) and (Maceo) and daughter (Gabbi), serving the community, playing sports, and traveling.

Felton Thomas, Jr.
Executive Director, CEO, Cleveland Public Library

Felton Thomas, Jr.

Felton Thomas, Jr. has served as Executive Director and CEO of Cleveland Public Library since January 2009.  

As Executive Director and CEO of Cleveland Public Library, Thomas has launched initiatives aimed at addressing community needs in the areas of technology, education, economic development, and diversity and inclusion. He has guided the Library through its first facilities master plan in over 40 years – creating a plan to reimagine every one of its 27 branches over the next ten years. Cleveland Public Library has maintained its prestigious “Five Star” status from the Library Journal, earned the John Cotton Dana award for the Library’s 150th anniversary, and received honors from the Urban Libraries Council for its anti-racism, equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. 

Thomas is an active member of the Greater Cleveland community serving as a trustee on the boards of DigitalC, Digital Public Library of America, United Way of Greater Cleveland, University Circle Inc., FRONT International, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Cleveland School of the Arts, where he serves as President. Thomas is a past President of the Public Library Association, a 2010 graduate of Leadership Cleveland, and a fellow in the Urban Library Council’s Executive Leadership Institute.  

His awards and accomplishments include recognition by Cleveland Magazine on its 2022 Cleveland 500 list, which profiles successful, influential, and powerful people in Greater Cleveland, and as the 2019 Community Leader of the Year. He was also named a “Mover and Shaker” by the Library Journal. Thomas was also named a White House Champions of Change for Making in 2016 for doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire his community.  

Thomas earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from The University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a Master of Library and Information Science from The University of Hawaii and a PhD in Managerial Leadership Management at Simmons College. 

He lives in Shaker Heights with his wife and two daughters, is an accomplished musician, and a devoted Cleveland sports fan.