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Cleveland group presents strategies to address racism as a public health crisis

Stephen Langel
Ideastream Public Media
Community members, including Cleveland resident Gilder Malone (above), commented upon and listened to a presentation of solutions and strategies for addressing racism as a public health crisis at Outhwaite Community Center on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024.

Cleveland's Racism as a Public Health Crisis Coalition held the first in a series of community dialogue sessions on strategies the group has identified to address systemic racism.

About 30 people attended the first feedback session, held Jan. 25 at the Outhwaite Community Center on Cleveland's East Side. Coalition leaders presented goals and possible solutions to achieve them.

The RAPHC was formed after Cleveland City Council declared racism as a public health crisis in 2020. It mostly kept quiet about its work until a town hall update last April. The coalition has defined its work as identifying systemic barriers and ways to advance equity within five social determinants of health: public health; housing, environment & infrastructure; education; economic mobility, wealth creation & workforce development; and criminal justice.

Latest work

Heidi Gullett, associate director of Case Western Reserve University Medical School's Center for Community Health Integration, and a partner in the coalition, said that the RAPHC has so far focused on combating cardiovascular disease, combating gun violence and ensuring access to fresh produce.

"You might wonder why we chose these three," Gullett said. "They were the ones we had data for at the city of Cleveland level. But we are not satisfied with that. So one of our overarching strategies is that we are looking for lots of ways to collect data on the ground, so that we can better create new solutions."

Among the proposed solutions for combating gun violence were sponsoring "rites of passage opportunities for young people" and creating better networks centered around youth services.

Strategies to meet those solutions included improving system response through crisis training, trauma informed care, cultural and linguistic competency and racial equity. The coalition also proposed expansion of violence interruption programs and services to avert gun violence, as well as equipping mental health services to better respond to behavioral crises.

To increase adult consumption of fresh produce, the coalition noted a lack of education on the importance of fresh produce and the effects of unhealthy foods. It also called for a need to shift "generational norms” and improve transportation and lifestyle choices.

The proposed strategies to achieve those solutions included incentives for buying healthy foods, increasing public transportation access to grocery stores, strengthening farm partnerships and emphasizing healthy eating and cooking within the medical community.

Heart disease solutions and strategies included stress reduction programs, anti-tobacco legislation and paying for community health workers embedded in neighborhoods.

Response to criticism

The coalition has faced criticism for taking too long to devise specific strategies and make final recommendations.

But Gullett defended the group’s pace of work.

"This is only the beginning," she told attendees. "This is very long term work. And so what you're seeing here is many, many, many hours of work so far, but the very tip of where we're headed over the next couple decades."

The coalition has said it plans to release a report with its findings early this year.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.
Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.
Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.