Steven A. Minter, MSSA, was a visionary, community builder, policy advocate, human services program developer, and leader of leaders. Minter steadfastly and selflessly served the social and governmental sectors, the educational and philanthropic communities, and mentored many others along the way. His leadership resulted in the launch of many bold initiatives where new paths were opened and have had sustained impact.
Minter had a profound impact on the wellbeing of children through leading state and federal policy and program reforms. In 1970, he was recruited by the Governor of Massachusetts to become that Commonwealth’s Commissioner of Public Welfare, the first African-American social worker to hold the position. Working with the dozens of local bureaus, 5000 employees and a billion-dollar budget, Minter reorganized the Massachusetts social services infrastructure, designed the adoption and foster care system, and implemented the food stamp program.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter created the first U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and Minter was recruited to become the founding Undersecretary, the Chief Operating Officer at that time. Driven by his vision for reducing inequalities in educational quality and outcomes, Minter and his team undertook the design and development of many initiatives including Title I and Head Start expansion. These programs continue to this day and are now fundamental components of supports for education in disadvantaged communities. He also co-chaired the highly influential National Commission for the International Year of the Child.
Following his successful term at DOE, Minter continued to have a significant impact on child wellbeing through his leadership on many boards, panels, and commissions relating to education, income maintenance, and child development. A highlight was his important service on the commission that crafted the early childhood program of Head Start.
Well ahead of others, Minter recognized the importance of tackling the community development needs of neighborhoods in decline. As a program officer at the Cleveland Foundation, he enabled investment in a novel affordable housing initiative development in a neighborhood that suffered from extreme disinvestment. Lexington Village received national notice because it was among the first examples that brought together private developers and non-profit and civic leaders, resulting in an early model of urban reinvestment. Following this success, he continued to support innovations in the community development sector and established it as an integral part of the Foundation’s grant activity. This exemplary work influenced foundations around the country to invest in community building and revitalization initiatives that included private-public partnerships in housing development as a fundamental building block of their work.
In 1984, Minter became the first grantmaker in the Midwest to undertake AIDS public health initiatives. He supported grassroots efforts to create more awareness of the growing AIDS epidemic that was affecting the gay community in 1984. While other leaders were reticent about stepping out on this issue, Minter, in his usual bold manner, moved forward and took a major leadership role in mobilizing the community. He ensured that funding was provided to many of the early programs that were developed to address the growing epidemic locally and nationally.
Minter also played an extraordinary and unique role as a mentor for leaders whose careers he helped to shape. He was the first major community leader in the Greater Cleveland area with a background in Social Work to identify and mentor emerging talent in the sector and who further served as a catalyst nudging the business sector to create more diversity on corporate boards. Minter never forgot the significance of being a visible and highly respected community leader who also was African American during a time when there were very few African-Americans serving in key leadership roles in the community.
Throughout his career, Minter remained a soft-spoken, dedicated mentor who shared his experience-based wisdom with other African-American professionals who were navigating the challenges of pursuing their interests in becoming leaders in academia, the corporate world, and the non-profit sector. Many African-American leaders would not be where they are now, professionally and personally, had it not been for the prescience of Minter. Minter’s steadfast guidance enabled many, including NASW Social Work Pioneers®, Dr. Richard Jones and Dr. Darlyne Bailey, to have the courage and confidence to journey toward reaching their own highest potential.
It is equally important to acknowledge that Minter used his powerful platform as the President of the Cleveland Foundation to create new opportunities in the corporate sector for underrepresented groups. Some of the very early corporate diversity programs in Cleveland and across the country resulted from his championing the need for increased diversity on boards of directors across the private sector, a veil which was not easily pierced. Many boards today are now more diverse because of his leadership.
Minter left an enduring legacy because of the impact he achieved in the many leadership roles he assumed throughout his distinguished career. He began his career in 1960 as a Social Worker in the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department, a role he performed in for more than nine years. The quality of his work with clients was exceptional and resulted in early recognition of the tremendous energy and skill he consistently brought to his professional roles. In 1969, because of exceptional performance, Minter was selected to become the Director of the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department. Among many “firsts’ he would achieve throughout his career, he was the first African American and the youngest person hired to carry out this significant leadership role in Cuyahoga County.
In 1970, Minter, was recruited to become the Public Welfare Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Many new initiatives, especially those addressing child wellbeing and family poverty, were launched during his tenure. In late 1974, he turned down the opportunity to be re-appointed as Commissioner to return to Cleveland, accepting an invitation as first a Program Officer and then Associate Director of the Cleveland Foundation, the oldest community foundation in the United States to become deeply immersed in City-wide renewal activities. Serving as the Program Officer for Human Services for one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the country, he also contributed to national debates on human services policy. Recognized widely for his ability to envision, advocate, and mobilize in 1977, Minter became the first African American-elected President of the American Public Welfare Association. Early on during his distinguished tenure with the Foundation, he took a leave of absence to help found the U.S Department of Education, another major and unique accomplishment.
In 1984, Minter became the Cleveland Foundation’s Executive Eirector and President, the first African American to lead a community foundation in the U.S. Focusing on what Minter called “enduring issues”, from that moment on until the time of his retirement in 2003, he remained adamant about attending to issues of public education, housing, healthcare, and human services, especially in relation to access and opportunity for underrepresented individuals and groups.
Following his retirement from the Foundation in 2003, Minter, served as an Executive in Resident at Cleveland State University. From that position he continued as a visionary and advocate for policies to further social justice. U.S. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge said, “for more than 60 years, Minter brought people together to work on important issues, from education and housing to civil rights and ending the cycle of poverty.”
Minter grew up as the first-born of eight brothers and sisters, in Akron Ohio. His parents were committed to education and volunteer service. His family reports that this, combined with Minter’s love of reading, led to his election as President of his Senior Class at the age of 16. A wise teacher and the then Superintendent of the Kinsman Schools encouraged Minter’s visit and application to Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.
While cleaning offices before class every morning and washing dishes in the dining hall, Minter met his spouse, Dolores (Dolly) Reicher Minter, who was working as a waitress. They fell in love and although interracial marriages were still illegal in more than half of the USA, they married in 1961 and remained married for 56 years until Dolly died from Alzheimer’s disease, after a decade of caretaking by Minter. Minter considered his “greatest accomplishment” to be his three daughters—Michele, Caroline, and Robyn. From their high school graduations through their graduate degrees from City University of New York (Michele), the University of Oxford and M.I.T. (Caroline), and Yale Law School (Robyn), to their own positions of academic leadership at Princeton, Stanford, and as a partner at a well-known law firm in Cleveland, Minter remained the proud father and then grandfather, as well.
Upon his graduation from Baldwin Wallace, Minter worked as a caseworker at the Cuyahoga County Welfare Department which supported his desire to attend ‘SASS’ at Case Western Reserve University, earning the Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1963. He went on to occupy a number of challenging and high profile positions, culminating in many years of leadership serving as the President of the Cleveland Foundation, the first community foundation and one of the largest in the nation, with assets of $2.5 billion and annual grants of more than $100 million.
SIGNIFICANT RECOGNTIONS AND AWARDS
- 2018—Cleveland Heritage Medal and Case Western Reserve University's Trailblazer award
- 2005—Community Champion Award by City Year Cleveland
- 2004—Ohio Philanthropy Award, Ohio Grantmakers Forum
- 2003—Distinguished Grantmaker Award, Council on Foundations
- 2003—Leadership in Nonprofit Award, Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University
- 2001—Louis Stokes Community Visionary Award, Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation
- 1999—Man of the Year Award, 100 Black Men of Greater Cleveland
- 1991—Ohio Governor’s Award for Education
- 1985—Cleveland Black Professional of the Year Award
Minter and his spouse, Dolly, were co-recipients of the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from Findlay College, Baldwin-Wallace College, Kent State University, Oberlin College, Lake Erie College, and Case Western Reserve University.