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What's changed since Cleveland was named the worst city for Black women? Survey seeks feedback

A Black woman sits on a medical exam table as she speaks with a male doctor. Project Noir's 2020 survey found Black women in Cleveland felt unheard and unseen by doctors and other medical professionals.
Black women living in Northeast Ohio who are over 18 are encouraged to complete Project Noir's new survey. A similar survey back in 2020 received overwhelming responses from Black women who said navigating health care in Cleveland was a traumatic experience for them.

Enlightened Solutions, a Cleveland research and advocacy firm, is seeking feedback from Northeast Ohio's Black women to identify the status of their well-being.

The researchers want to determine if life is getting easier to navigate for Black women since 2020, when a Bloomberg CityLab report deemed Cleveland dead last in livability for Black women among U.S. cities. Enlightened Solutions launched Project Noir to directly survey Cleveland's Black women about their experiences rather than rely on data or third-person narratives to tell their stories.

Black women living in Northeast Ohio who are over 18 are encouraged to complete Project Noir's 2024 survey, which covers a range of topics based on experiences across the workplace, health care and education systems. The survey closes April 30.

The 2024 survey has been modified since its 2020 predecessor to gather important data on the cusp of another presidential election and in the wake of a global pandemic, said Chinenye Nkemere, co-founder of Enlightened Solutions.

"We want to be able to see all of the promises that we heard about DEI, health equity, education reform," Nkemere said. "Are those promises that were made here in Northeast Ohio, and have they been born into fruition? More than that, are we being faithful to passing the microphone to those who are the most proximate to the problem?"

The 2024 survey features additional and extended questions as Enlightened Solutions hopes to receive 1,000 responses. The 2020 survey received 450.

In addition to giving a voice to Cleveland's Black women, Nkemere hopes the survey provides a communal space for them.

"Many times, folks will study Black women, but they will never actually ask them directly how this has affected their lives, and this happens worldwide for any kind of women's issue. We study women, but we never ask them their opinion," she said. "This is an opportunity for Black women to be able to pass the mic, for them to be able to find community within each other, and more than that, for us to take a beat, to sit down, listen and create and effectuate change."

Nkemere said she's interested to hear how Northeast Ohio's Black women view the region's DEI initiatives since 2020, such as declarations of racism as a public health crisis, or the Cleveland Commission on Black Women and Girls. Cleveland City Council passed legislation creating the commission in the summer of 2022 to advocate for programs and legislation that improve the lives of Black women and girls in the city, but action has been slow. The commission was sworn in last month, nearly two years after its proposal.

The question is if such initiatives dig deep enough to effect change, or if they're merely performative.

"White guilt is a finite resource," Nkemere said. "You cannot trade everything on diversity, equity and inclusion, or everything on feelings as opposed to making sure that structurally, foundationally, these changes actually take root."

Action and response from city and county individuals has varied, but Enlightened Solutions is proud of the in-roads it's made with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne's administrations, Nkemere said.

"Our region ceases to exist if Black women are not having children and raising children in this region," Nkemere noted. "It is extremely important to invest in the individuals who are birthing the next generation of Clevelanders."

The hope, Nkemere added, is that Cleveland can become a nationwide example on how to address a system that has been constructed against Black women.

"Can we illustrate to the nation, hey, in the city that has the most proximate, deep-rooted issues racially and gender-wise in Cleveland, is this a space where we can be a national leader and export this genius throughout the rest of the nation? That's yet to be seen, though," Nkemere said, adding that results from the 2024 survey can be expected as early as this fall.

Learning from 2020

There was a common thread among responses that Nkemere said was the most surprising finding from the 2020 Project Noir report.

"The second-most word used in the accounts that women gave us in 2020 was in the health care section, the word trauma," she explained.

Cleveland's Black women revealed the level of misogynoir — the intersection of anti-Black racism and sexism — from medical professionals at an alarming frequency. Stories stemmed from a range of health care issues — birthing, access to in vitro fertilization, chronic disease and accessing telehealth services — combined with a range of experiences, such as rude hospital staff or security, to dismissive doctors and nurses ignoring women's symptoms.

A 2022 survey by the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, UHCAN Ohio, the Ohio Unity Coalition, and the Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competency found Black women were most likely to report facing discrimination in the health care system. Of the 800 Ohioans who completed the survey, Black women reported being treated with less courtesy or respect in a medical setting twice as often as white men.

"Those health care stories were probably the most surprising, specifically because we are at the intersection of three major health care institutions," Nkemere said.

Improving life for Cleveland's Black women is more than just a matter of health. They're at the center of Cleveland's economy, she added.

"Our region lives and dies with Black women, and the sooner we get this, the sooner we understand this, the quicker that our economic viability will be, not just for our region," she said. "It's not just Cleveland versus Detroit. This is Cleveland versus the world."

In 2023, Ideastream Public Media teamed up with Enlightened Solutions and others to produce Living for We, a podcast series that explored, "Is Cleveland really as bad as they say it is for Black women?" For more information and to listen to the podcast, visit the show page.

Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.