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Meet Commissioner Juan Cespedes


For Commissioner Juan Cespedes, the work of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission is a team effort to stop discrimination in Ohio and protect employees and employers. He was appointed to the commission on Feb. 26, 2016, to a term that will expire on July 29, 2020. 

According to Commissioner Cespedes, each commissioner has an area of expertise that adds value to the team. Chairperson Lori Barreras has human resources expertise, Commissioner Bill Patmon has legal experience, Commissioner Madhu Singh uses her business acumen, and Commissioner Cespedes says he approaches his role with a pragmatic eye. He believes the newest commissioner, Dr. Carolyn Peters, will bring contributions from her social work and disability services background.  

Although Cespedes always believed in the commission’s mission, it wasn’t until he joined it that he understood the depth and specificity of what the commission does. “I’m always fascinated with what I don’t know,” he notes. Although some cases contain similarities, Commissioner Cespedes believes commissioners must stay educated about developments in civil rights law and be mindful of the nuances that make each matter before them unique.

Commissioner Cespedes considers protecting the integrity and viability of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission among his responsibilities. He says the commission provides a valuable mechanism for people to resolve their differences instead of going to court. However, like any judicial body, at least 50 percent of people (usually the losing party) may be unhappy with the commission’s decision. 

One of the commission’s roles is to educate through training to employers and housing providers so discrimination stops before it begins. Commissioner Cespedes says some employers and housing providers simply do not know or understand the law, and others are not aware of the services the commission provides. He says he is surprised by the lack of knowledge of civil rights laws, including from some large organizations. He wants outreach efforts to help large and small organizations be better educated about Ohio’s civil rights laws and to provide safe, comfortable living and work environments.

Before serving on the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, Cespedes served on the Ohio Arts Council, which distributes federal and state dollars to museums, institutions, programs, and constituencies across the state. The commission has a long history of supporting youth art activities with its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Art Contest, and Commissioner Cespedes added a photography program originally created while he was at the Ohio Arts Council to the commission’s activities. The program gives students the opportunity to showcase their neighborhoods, and the finished work is displayed in the commission’s offices. Students get the opportunity to display their art in a public space, which furthers their careers as artists and brightens up the commission’s offices, at no cost to Ohio taxpayers. 

Commissioner Cespedes is also the founder of a government relations practice, which helps companies interested in working in Ohio find a good fit in the state. He uses his experience working at the state treasurer’s office and from serving on different boards and commissions as a guide for creating successful governmental relationships.

With his sense of teamwork, his practicality, his appreciation for education, and his eye for the arts, Commissioner Cespedes has quickly become a valuable member of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.