Brian Berger was a natural fit for “Your Vote Matters: The Republican National Convention and What It Means for Cleveland.”
The Shaker Heights resident, who went to Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights as a child, teaches government at Shaker Heights High School.
The Global Center for Health Innovation April 14 event, presented by the Cleveland Leadership Center in partnership with the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, appealed to his personal and professional passion.
For example, the talk on safety and security, delivered by Secret Service agents Timothy Lea and Ronald Rowe, even covered the other area he teaches: criminology.
After, Berger said he talked to Lea and Rowe and asked if they might be able to speak to his students at Shaker Heights.
“Anytime I go to an event like this, I try to definitely meet people and bring them into the classroom,” Berger said. “These people are dealing with it 24 hours a day. For the kids to be able to ask them questions directly is beyond meaningful.”
Berger said the event was impressive from the opening remarks, delivered by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, which he said highlighted the importance of the event and the convention as a whole.
He said the “what is a convention” talk helped him better understand the difference between the host committee and the Republican National Committee, while the “why Cleveland” talk filled the native Clevelander with pride. He said he was particularly excited by tourism being Cuyahoga County’s fourth-biggest industry and by an increase in future events since the convention was announced.
A talk on the media’s role at the convention excited him for two reasons. He said he enjoyed hearing television personalities Russ Mitchell and Kim Wheeler speak, but he might have enjoyed the tour of the media center even more. He said that they even got the chance to see where NBC would be sending hundreds of staffers to help cover the election.
“It was really interesting to see this and see the infrastructure,” Berger said. “You can just imagine the electricity.”
Berger said he first heard about the event from former Lyndhurst Mayor Joseph Cicero and went with the ambition of soaking in material and making connections that could benefit his students. He said that it would have been great for his students to attend – hundreds of students did attend from other schools – but it didn’t work well with the school’s schedule with regard to state testing.
“I want to be as involved as possible and make these connections and bring it to the classroom,” Berger said.
Fortunately, downtown trip or not, Berger said that his students have been very engaged in the election process thus far. He said their conversations have frequently turned to politics.
“In years past, no one would ever care about the primary,” Berger said. “Now, we have great interest about primaries.”
He said his students have volunteered for various campaigns and attended various rallies. Perhaps most important, they are asking questions about how to vote.
“Kids have a pretty good idea of what’s going on,” Berger said. “They’re really into it.”
The excitement, in Berger’s decade-plus of teaching, is akin only to the excitement of the last open election, when Barack Obama defeated John McCain to become the country’s first African-American president.
“The kids are more into it,” Berger said. “What they’re learning in the textbook, they’re seeing play out on a nightly basis.”
Perhaps the top sign of that newfound excitement was when a Democratic organizer contacted Berger with tickets to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ talk at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland. Later, Berger was able to offer his students tickets to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s talk at the same venue.
“They jumped all over it,” Berger said.
Perhaps most remarkably:
“Every single student showed,” Berger said.
Even on a weekend.
Some of his students attended the Clinton and Sanders talks at Olivet as well as the Donald Trump rally at the I-X Center in Cleveland.
“Some of our students got to see all three candidates within a month,” Berger said.