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Home Solutions 400 Years of Inequity: A Step Forward

400 Years of Inequity: A Step Forward

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As an outcome of November’s 400 Years of Inequity Action Summit, a meeting was recently held with Cleveland City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee to discuss the integration of equity and equitable practices into policy and declaring racism a public health crisis. First Year Cleveland, in partnership with the YWCA Greater Cleveland, NAACP, the Urban League, United Way and Birthing Beautiful Communities, joined together to bring this issue to the table. Several other friends and partners were in attendance to show their support of this urgent matter.

Council Chair Blaine Griffin opened the discussion by stating several efforts already underway within the city to address racism, with the end goal of developing a comprehensive policy around the issue. Efforts to date include racial equity training for directors and above, research efforts to determine what other cities and states are doing to tackle this issue, and several city departments working with Mayor Jackson on equity.

Representatives from NAACP, the Urban League, First Year Cleveland, YWCA Greater Cleveland, Birthing Beautiful Communities and United Way then proceeded to discuss the rationale for bringing this issue to the Council and the need for attention and action.

Dr. Arthur James, senior advisor to First Year Cleveland, cited the legacy of slavery and discrimination that has been placed upon the African American population for the last 400 years, the segregation that still exists today, and the challenges facing black residents throughout Cuyahoga County, particularly within the City of Cleveland.

“When the conditions we create have negative consequences on individuals or populations, or when policies more favorably influence one segment of our community relative to others, it is important for leadership to recognize these outcomes and create new and different policies and systems that fairly distribute opportunity and positively impact outcomes for the entire population,” stated James. 

Margaret Mitchell, YWCA Greater Cleveland president and CEO, added, “It takes courage to look at and correct this issue … but Cleveland is ready. The time is now!”

Marsha Mockabee, Urban League of Greater Cleveland president and CEO, outlined the decades of important work the Urban League has undertaken to advance the African American community and went on to thank First Year Cleveland and the YWCA for performing the strategic steps necessary to lay the foundation for this work, a culmination of the 400 Years of Inequity Action Summit held in November 2019. She added, “We can begin to eradicate systemic racism. Let us not allow this to be a movement moment that is filed away.”

Danielle Sydnor, NAACP Cleveland branch president, vowed to be a prominent voice in advancing the work of racial equity and inclusion. She stressed how poorly Cleveland performs in national polls in terms of economic, educational and health outcomes for African Americans, especially women of color, and that this would likely not change until it is acknowledged that racism is the driving force that leads to these disparities. She concluded with a quote from Nelson Mandela, “’I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear.’ Let us NOT be afraid to be bold and speak truth to power.”

Following these powerful opening statements and discussion, Council Chair Griffin emphasized that it is important to put action behind all that was heard. He charged the organizations in attendance to work together to develop a committee with clear, measurable goals and objectives. He suggested the committee develop an executable document that can be brought to City Council for consideration, one that would outline a remedy to the structural racism that is so prevalent in our society. Mockabee stated the importance of ensuring a coordinated city-wide effort as well as targeting resources to address the issue. She also suggested the need for community engagement and community buy-in. Council member Santana urged that the Latinx population be included, as this community is growing due to immigration as a result of hurricanes and earthquakes and also faces discrimination and racism.

Council members were supportive and engaged in the discussion. They expressed the need for the best people from the community to lead conversations around this topic, but also warned that there are many who feel the issue is not important. Clearly, an ordinance or law may be passed, but that doesn’t change the hearts and minds of the community. Council members stated they are working on hearts and minds as well as policies and laws.

Margaret Mitchell concluded the meeting by saying “We do not want this to be a moment. We want this to be a legacy, a turning point. We cannot turn back now." 

Indeed, we cannot.

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