Foundation seeks to address systemic racism in Valley
WARREN — Vincent Peterson, a longtime Trumbull County probation officer, pastor and former Youngstown State University football standout, has seen and experienced much in his 57 years.
A graduate of the Raymond John Wean Racial Equity and Inclusion workshop, Peterson said the two-day program opened his eyes to the history of inequality in the Mahoning Valley and around the country.
“It brings a lot of awareness to the history of why different things that are happening today started many years ago,” Peterson said. “With that awareness, it opened up conversations about race and biases that people may have that initially people may have felt uncomfortable discussing.”
Peterson went to his first Race, Equity and Inclusion workshop three or four years ago. He went through it a second time earlier this year with 20-plus law enforcement officers from communities across the Mahoning Valley.
“The workshops I attended had diverse groups of people,” Peterson said. “I believe the workshops opened up a lot of eyes and ears to do things differently in their businesses.”
Tara Walker Pollock, a representative of the Raymond John Wean Foundation, which has sponsored the workshops in the Mahoning Valley since 2016, said the goal is to identify systemic racism and chip away at it so it’s no longer a part of everyday life.
“This is not about recognizing and calling out a person for being a racist,” Pollock said. “It — racism — is more subtle today. It is about identifying how systemic racism has been designed and built in housing, in education, and recently highlighted in public health.”
The Raymond John Wean Foundation is sponsoring seven Race, Equity and Inclusion virtual workshops in 2021. Two already have taken place, one is happening Tuesday and Wednesday, and a fourth is scheduled Aug. 11 and 12. Others have not been scheduled.
The Tuesday and Wednesday workshops are virtual and are open for registration. To sign up for the workshop, go the the Raymond John Wean website.
For more information, call the Foundation at 330-394-5600.
“You can see systemic racism in the disproportionate number of black babies that die in their first year of life compared with the number of white babies that die during the same period,” Pollock said.
Trumbull County’s infant mortality rate is 8.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, higher than Ohio, according to the U.S. and Healthy People 2020’s infant mortality rates. From 2013 to 2017, the infant mortality rate for Trumbull County African Americans was 18.1, compared to 6.1 for Caucasians.
Infant mortality is defined as death during the first year of life, and 66 percent of those deaths, for all races, occur in the neonatal period in the first 28 days of life, with 14 percent within the first hour and another 26 percent within one to 23 hours.
“It does not seem to make a difference the educational background and the wealth of the black mother; the rate of infant deaths is higher for blacks than that of white babies,” Pollock said.
In another area, Youngstown unemployment among black workers is three times higher than unemployment among white workers, she said.
Other issues remain.
“We have seen changes in laws,” she said. “Red lining in real estate sales has been illegal for many years, but we still are experiencing the effects of these practices due to housing values in the neighborhoods where blacks were steered many years ago.”
The workshop uses both historical and current statistical evidence to show racial and ethnic biases.
“I’m hoping that people feel a sense of discomfort,” Pollock said. “We want them to take that discomfort back to their businesses and offices and work to make changes.”
Since 2017, when the Foundation began doing the workshops, more than 500 people have gone through the two-day courses.
“It is important to understand the history of systemic racism,” she said. “It is easy to blame the individual for circumstances that they have no control over. I am not saying there is no personal responsibility, but some outcomes are based on circumstances that already existed.”
Warren Safety Service Director Eddie Colbert said the intensive two-day workshop has changed the way he approaches governing.
“There are a lot of programs that exist that address the problems being faced by individuals,” Colbert said. “This has shown me while there may be a need for these programs, we also need to broaden our gaze to look at programs that also address the issues of the communities in which the individuals live.”
Colbert noted organizations, such as Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which for more than a decade has been tearing down hundreds of abandoned and dilapidated homes, have been improving neighborhoods by getting rid of unsightly and unsafe housing. This improves the health and safety in the neighborhoods.
“The workshop was eye-opening,” he said. “It gives you a broader understanding of not only where some of our challenges are, but on some of the things that may or may not be hindering progress in solving them.”