One neighborhood in Cleveland shows that achieving racial equity means multiple challenges and multiple opportunities for partnership.
Ohio is considered a bellwether for the rest of the United States, indicating trends in politics, economics and as it turns out, health and well-being. To see this first-hand, a coalition of city, county and state officials, hospitals, community organizations and the business sector invited Dr. Gail Christopher of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to visit the state’s largest metropolitan area, Cleveland. The knowledge she brought back from area leaders makes clear that health inequities among Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native and White Americans are indeed identified locally and exist within communities.
The coalition that issued the invitation is part of Place Matters, a national initiative led by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies with the support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Place Matters works in 24 communities throughout the U.S. to shed light on how place and race intersect to determine healthy outcomes for vulnerable children and their families. The discussion between Dr. Christopher and local area leaders took place at the City Club of Cleveland, a venue that serves as the oldest independent continuous free speech forum in the country and shares these dialogues nationally to inform, educate and inspire broader audiences. This rich and tough discussion focused on how the history of a community and the decisions made by that community affect residents’ health and well-being.
For example, the inner-city Cleveland neighborhood of Hough—where data shows that residents live on average 24 years less than those residing in the suburbs and exurbs of the same county—is a community still grappling with racial wounds of the past. This majority African-American neighborhood was devastated in 1966 by deadly “race riots” fueled by decades of economic disenfranchisement and segregation. These riots destroyed homes and businesses and were followed by even more decades of economic disinvestment. The 24-year gap in life expectancy that is an outcome of these social determinants makes action urgent. The history of the community means that such action would need to be firmly grounded in the lived experiences of its residents.
The Place Matters team in Cleveland is addressing the health inequities in Cuyahoga County by first listening to communities like Hough for insight into how to meet these challenges. For instance, community members have expressed that while student bussing programs may have helped integrate the schools, they also deprive those children of the exercise they would have received if they walked to local schools. When compounded with a school district that has virtually eliminated physical education programs to help ease budget constraints, residents can feel and see the effects on the neighborhood’s children—obesity, diabetes and poorer performance in class. So healthy outcomes for these students requires that the scope of work be expanded beyond just what public health agencies and hospitals can do; it means the education department, transportation officials, city planners, the parks department, grocery stores, and housing developers collaborating on strategies to move forward.
Sandy Chappelle, Place Matters lead in Cleveland, says it is this “multi-layered approach” that will help propel Cleveland’s young people into a healthy future. And it is this kind of collaborative action, supported by key community learnings, that is at the heart of W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s work to build equitable opportunities for all of America’s children.
To learn more about Dr. Christopher’s visit to the Place Matters team in Cleveland, you can listen to this podcast and to share your own community’s story of healing and racial equity please visit us on Facebook at America Healing.