Conversation About Race Must Include More Voices

by Heather Steranka-Petit and Margaret Mitchell

Posted on cleveland.com on November 8, 2015 and in local Sun Newspapers on November 12, 2015

Talking about race is challenging. While it’s true that race is a complicated issue, we know that addressing it is critical for a healthy, thriving community.

A recent poll by CBS News and the New York Times said that 61 percent of Americans (white and black respondents) characterize race relations in the U.S. as “bad.” This figure is at its highest since 1992.

In Northeast Ohio, we are not immune to these negative effects.

  • According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Northeast Ohio businesses have paid more than $3 million to settle lawsuits for discrimination based on race over a 6 year period.
  • In Cuyahoga County, there is a documented 30 percent wage gap among whites and African Americans and Hispanics.
  • In a 2011 census brief, Greater Cleveland ranks in the top ten U.S. cities for levels of segregation and racial isolation.
  • According to the Health Improvement Partnership–Cuyahoga, structural racism contributes to health disparities by race, limiting our region’s successes.

If we can’t talk honestly about the issues of racism, prejudice and discrimination, then we can’t hope to address and eliminate these documented detrimental effects to our economy, communities and health outcomes.

The strength of our region’s future depends on our ability to develop new skills around cultural competency, understand the realities of racism today and commit ourselves to action.

The YWCA Greater Cleveland’s mission is “eliminating racism, empowering women”—certainly not an easy task.

Action is at the core of the YWCA’s work, demonstrated in our programs and outcomes.

YWCA’s Nurturing Independence and Aspirations (NIA) program empowers children, youth and families through education and a comprehensive support system. NIA helps those who have experienced homelessness, foster care or other adverse conditions.

A Place 4 Me coordinates local efforts to improve outcomes for transition age youth in housing, employment, education, permanency, physical and mental health, financial capability and social capital.

How are these programs eliminating racism?

First, we acknowledge that racial disparities exist. In our community, and across the US, we know that people of color are disproportionally affected by foster care, homelessness, and trauma. Second, we are committed to action. NIA and A Place 4 Me are making a difference in the lives of those we serve, and improving the strength of our community, one person—or one family—at a time.

To achieve our vision of a culturally competent Cleveland, the conversation about race must include more voices. That is why more than 350 individuals and 25 sponsors joined us for It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race in February 2015. Local businesses, organizations, educational institutions and community members joined together in honest dialogue about race and started on a path to powerful action.

We’ve continued this work with many individuals and organizations, providing an update on their progress at The City Club of Cleveland on October 22, 2015. As panelists reiterated, cultural competency is a long journey. Everyone must continue to expand their knowledge and self-awareness to strengthen our community.

It’s Time to Talk: Forum on Race returns on February 22, 2016 at the Renaissance Hotel. We hope to expand the conversation and to meet all participants where they are on their journey to cultural competency. Move forward with us in our mission to eliminate racism by attending this event.

YWCA Greater Cleveland is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

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One Response to Conversation About Race Must Include More Voices

  1. CHERYL FIELDS says:

    Hi, let me know if you want to go to some of these workshops. Blessings, Cheryl

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