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Real Talk Conversations Turn Focus to Racism and Health

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Racism is a Public Health Crisis sign
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The Real Talk series, a combined effort of multiple Leagues of Women Voters from Northeast Ohio, is gearing up to focus on racism as a public health crisis.

Throughout this spring, the Leagues of Women Voters from the Akron Area, Greater Cleveland, Kent and Hudson are banding together for conversations about
inequity, injustice, insecurity, intolerance, and indignity in their communities.

Next up for the Real Talk series is a much closer look at racism as a public health crisis. Judi Hill, president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP, one of the partners of the virtual forums, talked with WKSU about the upcoming events April 7 and 14.

An opportunity

These discussions are billed as opportunities to bring together those who are working to bring about racial equity in health care. There has been an increased focus in the past year on racial and social equity. Does that mean there's also been progress on long-standing issues like the lack of access to health care and the uneven quality of care that's available?

"It didn't take us a year to get to this place where we are in America, so it's going to take us more than a year to get out of it. But what I'm excited about is that we are moving and doing some things differently. And that's what I am hopeful about," Hill said.

"You're going to hear from the panel discussion on the two nights ... how people are changing the narrative and actually took advantage of what happened last year — all the unrest, the fact that everybody across the world saw what was happening in the United States — and took that to create some legislation around racism as a public health crisis. And so from a legislative standpoint, because you and I both know that if it's not in writing, if it's not mandated for some it won't get done. This gives us an opportunity to look at our our policies and our practices so that we can make some change," she said.

Stark discrepancies in access to health care and quality of care

Hill explains that in every area, every social determinant of health, African Americans are at the bottom of the spectrum.

"When we talk about the word health care, African American and people of color. When we talk about housing, African American and people of color. When we talk about prison, African American and people of color are always at the bottom of, or have the highest numbers of incidents of all of these," she said.

Hill says there are systemic policies and procedures that are in place that keep change from happening. It's in "all the areas of social determinants of health. That's how severe it is. And all of that impacts our health and well-being. There's no question," she said.

What comes after the declaration of a crisis

So far Summit County and Cuyahoga County have declared racism a public health crisis. While it may be a start, Hill said many more factors need to come next.

"This conversation, I think, is one of those next steps. We have to keep it on the forefront of everybody's mind and and in their hearts. Because if we don't, we'll miss the opportunity to create change," she said.

With these discussions, Hill sees an opportunity to do great things.

"The other step is that we also have to lend our voices to those individual places, and legislation in programs that we represent, in businesses that we represent, that take our information in and help them make changes as well," she said.

The conversations for these two meetings are geared towards a legislative focus this week and for next week's, more programmatic.

The panelists for the event April 7 will be:

  • Ohio House Minority Leader, State Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes
  • Cuyahoga County Council Rep. Shontel Brown
  • Akron City Council President Margo Sommerville
  • Kathleen Clyde, former Portage County Commissioner
  • Moderator: Rick Jackson, senior host and producer at ideastream

The second conversation April 14 will feature:

  • ​Dr. Frederick Harris, Health Co-Chair, Ohio NAACP, Internal Medicine, Cleveland Clinic
  • Dr. Ronald Hickman, Jr., Assoc. Dean for Res., Assoc. Prof., Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Case Western Reserve University
  • Iris Harvey, President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio
  • Yvonka Marie Hall, Executive Director, Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition
  • David Maywhoor, Executive Director, Ohio Public Health Association
  • Moderator: Marlene Harris-Taylor, managing producer of health news at ideastream
  • Opening remarks: Judi Hill

When it comes to these conversations and this series as a whole, Hill hopes the one takeaway is that everyone can be honest and collectively make a change.

"I know a lot of people feel that when you start to talk about racism, they go, 'Oh, I don't want to talk about that. We dealt with that in the past.' I wish it were just in the past. But we need to recognize it was something that started in the past, but has continued," she said. "And if nothing else, if we can get people to understand that racism is alive and well, even in 2021. And that we collectively can make a change, and individually and collectively."

More details and registration information about the next two virtual forums is available at RealTalklwv.org.

Updated: April 8, 2021 at 9:15 AM EDT
This story has been updated to correct a misspelling in Judi Hill's name.
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Andrew joined WKSU News in 2014. He oversees the daily operations of the WKSU news department and its reporters and hosts, coordinates daily coverage, and serves as editor. His commitment is to help foster reporting that marks the best of what public radio has to offer: a mix of first-rate journalism with great storytelling. His responsibilities also include long-term strategic planning for news coverage in Northeast Ohio that serves WKSU’s audience via on-air, online, by social media and through emerging technologies. Andrew also serves as a back-up local host for Morning Edition, Here and Now and All Things Considered.
Melissa Meyers is a senior at Kent pursuing a major in broadcast journalism. Along with interning at WKSU, she is also involved with Kent State's student-run news station, TV2 News. She currently anchors and produces the 6 pm newscast. After college she hopes to get a job working as a news reporter/anchor.