Portsmouth’s ‘Miracle’ Jeremy Burnside named All-America Leader

The National Civic League is honored to name Jeremy Burnside of Portsmouth, Ohio one of two 2022 All-America Leaders. Jeremy exhibited a lifetime of civic leadership and contributed significantly to the comeback of his beloved Portsmouth, Ohio. 

Too often people believe that it is hard for one person to make a positive difference, Jeremy Burnside turns that belief on its head. Jeremy holds no public office and isn’t the head of any civic organization, in fact, he isn’t even a native of the place he pours his heart into.

A lawyer from Cleveland, Jeremy moved to Portsmouth and opened Burnside Law when he met his wife. Whether it be as a professional, entrepreneur, volunteer, father, or community leader, Jeremy has made it his mission to breathe life into his community and make Portsmouth the ultimate comeback city.

For many, Portsmouth was best known for its battle with the opioid crisis and the negative attention was taking its toll on local businesses and community morale. Convinced that that there was more to Portsmouth, Jeremy initiated the idea of Portsmouth’s “comeback”. During a community meeting about how to bring people together, Jeremy had a seemingly harebrained idea:

“What if we can get community members to put a plant in a pot simultaneously and break a world record for the most people doing it?” And before we do that, we get the whole city to clean up downtown? We will call it Plant Portsmouth.”

More than an idea man, Jeremy jumped into action, organizing the city’s first community cleanup day. The event promoted community involvement and community pride as 2,000 residents spent the day power washing streets, painting curbs, pulling weeds, cutting grass, weed trimming, painting light poles, and repairing sidewalks and mortar. Following the community cleanup day, 1,400 people reconvened for Plant Portsmouth, where residents potted plants simultaneously to break a Guinness World Record.

Since then, he has helped to break 2 other world records: “The Most People Caroling Simultaneously” and “The Most People Wrapping Gifts Simultaneously.”

The world records also spawned new civic organizations inspired by Jeremy’s efforts: the Friends of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Unity Project. Friends of Portsmouth organizes community­wide events, such as the annual River Days Festival and Winterfest. These multi-day events rely upon hundreds of volunteers, with Jeremy consistently at the helm.

The Portsmouth Unity Project is a multi-racial organization that formed in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. As part of the project, Jeremy worked with the Center for Public History to create and install a series of “unity-themed” biographical banners on downtown streetlamps that celebrated Portsmouth residents who had contributed to the fight for abolition and equal rights.

Thanks to Jeremy’s leadership and contributions, the Portsmouth Unity Project successfully re-established the city’s celebration of Emancipation Day. To commemorate the 158th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln, Jeremy worked with community partners to create a community-wide event to raise awareness on the rich abolition history of Portsmouth. Jeremy took it a step further by portraying Milton Kennedy – an Underground Railroad operator and a Boneyfiddle grain merchant in that time period.

Portsmouth’s successful bid for the All-American City award in 2020 capped a multi-year transformative effort to redefine the city. No one was more instrumental in leading this transformation than Jeremy Burnside. Jeremy spearheaded new approaches to engaging this community and changed the way the community saw themselves.

In December of 2020, Jeremy was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, and in October 2021, over 1,000 people gathered to run and walk in his honor. Residents who had previously been divided due to race, religion, gender/sexuality, political beliefs, and socioeconomic position now stood together to support Jeremy, his wife, and four daughters.

On June 14th, 2022, Jeremy passed away, but his legacy lives on as his beloved Portsmouth continues to build a future that they can all be proud of.

If you were moved by Jeremy’s story, donations can be made in his honor to The Friends of Portsmouth.

Quotes from Jeremy’s Nominators:

“He is the spark that has ignited the movement in our small town of Portsmouth, Ohio. He is our miracle. Without him, we would not be where we are today.”

“His energy is contagious and when he speaks you are drawn into the world you wished you lived in. He has brought a community that was divided, hurt and broken back together with hope and dedication.”

“Jeremy has this type of energy about him that just inspires you and motivates you. It’s almost like you have no choice but to try to match his enthusiasm only to find out that level of intensity just keeps growing.”

“Breaking three Guinness World Records and giving back became an experience shared across the community; you were proud to live in Portsmouth even if you disagreed on other issues.”

“Jeremy’s energy, dedication to community and inclusion of all people, brought a broken community together.”

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