‘We must fight every day’ the evils of racism and abuse, says Hamilton citizen of year

Neil Cohen receives award at annual Chamber event.

Despite Neil Cohen knowing he was being awarded the 2022 Hamilton Citizen of the Year, he was still overwhelmed by the moment.

Cohen was nominated for this award presented by the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce on Friday evening by several Hamiltonians for his work with the many organizations he’s championed, especially leading the charge to raise $1.8 million in five months for the YWCA of Hamilton’s domestic violence shelter.

And he’s doubled down on his commitment to continue the work he’s done for the past 47 years and will continue to do for the rest of his life.

“In the world around us, there are epidemics that we must fight every day,” said Cohen at Spooky Nook Champion Mill Conference Center. “There are the big ones like racism and drug abuse, and the hidden ones, like domestic violence and child abuse. There are plenty more, and we would surely run out of time naming them all. All of them are utterly intolerable and seemingly unending.”

His passion for the work at the YWCA of Hamilton, which aims to eliminate racism, empower women, promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity, as well as keep victims of domestic violence safe “keeps him up at night.”

“I will not stop working in this arena until all victims are safe and secure, and the world sees these fundamental tenets as a livable doctrine,” Cohen said. “I believe the measure of the community is based on how we attack these issues. Wellness should be measured by how members gain access to healthcare, access to education, access to social services. That access must not be denied, and its delivery can make all the difference. The incremental steps toward improvement can often go unrecognized. In Hamilton, the city that I love, progress, whether great or small, must be a constant, and my role, even though ever-changing, will never be ignored by me.”

While most of the 450 people at the sold-out Hamilton chamber annual meeting at Spooky Nook were there for Cohen, they heard the harrowing life story of Chef Mindy Livengood Shea.

Credit: Jessica Williford/JessicaTWphotography LLC

Credit: Jessica Williford/JessicaTWphotography LLC

The Liberty Twp. chef is an advocate for farm-to-table cooking, and after trying to be a nurse, went the business route but never gave up her dream of cooking. She opened a small catering company in West Chester Twp. and worked as a brunch chef at a café in Liberty Twp.

While the Season 21 Hell’s Kitchen contestant shared a little bit about her time on the Fox reality cooking show ― Chef Gordon Ramsey is really a nice guy, and his hair is always on point ― Livengood Shea told the crowd about her story, saying from the start, “It’s a good one, y’all.”

Livengood Shea battled demons for most of her adult life, from a cheating husband, being bullied by her ex’s paramour, the death of her 9-month-old daughter in 2013, years of battling her weight, and being pushed out by a toxic friend group, and at the lowest point of her life in 2016, she attempted suicide.

That suicide scar is covered by two of her seven tattoos as she is a survivor, and her eldest daughter, Payton, is a big reason for her being alive today.

“I had every reason to give up, I had and still have this massive hole in my chest that will never close from the loss of my child (Allison), but what I can tell you what I’ve learned over the last 43 years of my life is that it’s possible to go on,” she said.

Livengood Shea went on. She went back to school and Business Administration master’s degree, she lost 165 pounds, she was hired as a corporate executive chef. And Gordon Ramsey said he liked her soup.

“Being bullied is what caused me to be sad, broken, and close to suicide,” she said, and for a long time, not many knew her story. They didn’t know the meaning behind her tattoos, such as the anchor and wave that covers the suicide scar on her wrist.

“The old saying goes, you never really know what someone’s going through rings true,” she said. “Does your business say cover your tattoos, take out your piercings and don’t color your hair wild. I’m going to ask you to really dive deep into that because what you don’t know is I’m currently doing two people’s job at my corporate chef’s job. I work 60 hours a week salaried and I have nine tattoos, sometimes I have pink hair, and I have seven piercings.”

“But if I have this chef’s (knife) tattoo on my forearm,” she said, holding up her right arm, “and you say I can’t work for you, you could be losing the best employee you ever have based on a strict judgment just because of what you see on my arm. Don’t mistake tattoos and piercings for unprofessionalism. Think about the situation that drove the person to having those. You could be passing up the greatest employee of your career.”

Livengood Shea said despite all the negative that’s happened to her, she got back up. For her family, for herself.

“Success happens when you say, ‘No matter how many times I’ve failed, I got back up,’” she said. “I’m always looking for new opportunities, as should you. New employees, new successful people to work around. So get up. Try again. Accept people for who they are. Open up your mind and be brave. End up incredible.”

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