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Language debate around Cuyahoga County ADAMHS Board's "Racism is a Public Health Crisis" Declaration

Following the summer Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, many cities and health organizations declared racism a public health crisis. [Julian Leshay/shutterstock]
Following the summer Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, many cities and health organizations declared racism a public health crisis. [Julian Leshay/shutterstock]

In the summer of 2020, the national outrage of police brutality against Black people, combined with the knowledge that Black people were dying disproportionately from COVID-19, led many cities, counties and health organizations to pass resolutions stating that racism is a public health crisis. 

A June 2020 editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine seemed to back up these statements, by writing that discrimination and racism can lead to a variety of health issues, including brain disease and accelerated aging, and it can impede vascular and renal function, all of which produce disproportionate burdens of disease on Black Americans and other minority groups.  

Here in Cuyahoga County, 10 out of  60 towns and cities have declared racism a public health crisis since 2020, which represent about 45% of the county's population according to an analysis by The Land, in partnership with Ideastream's Connecting the Dots series. Our series is taking a look at health inequities and what can be done to address barriers and structures which have perpetuated health disparities. Our reporters and partner organization are also examining what declaring racism a public health crisis means for local governments and organizations.

The Land also recently looked at one health organization's recent amendments after they declared "racism is a public health crisis" more than a year ago. In November, 2021, the Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, also known as the "ADAMHS" Board, made the unanimous decision to replace the word "racism" with "discrimination," so the resolution then read, "Discrimination is a public health crisis."

But reporting on this word change from The Land and Ideastream Public Media led to a backlash in the community to that decision, and now the ADAMHS board has reversed their position again. Yesterday the board voted to revert back to the original "Racism is a public health crisis" declaration.

This hour, we're going to dive into the discourse around this resolution, and talk about what these resolutions mean more broadly for improving health outcomes for minority populations. 

Also on the "Sound of Ideas," we'll learn about the short sweet film festival that began this week. And, an episode of WKSU's Shuffle podcast tells us more about Brite Winter Fest's return this weekend. 

-Michael Indriolo, Reporting Fellow, The Land 
-Rev. Benjamin Gohlstin, Chairman, ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County & Senior Pastor, Heritage Community Baptist Church 
-Scott Osiecki, Chief Executive Officer, ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County 
-Ronnie Dunn, PhD., Director, The Diversity Institute & Associate Professor of Urban Studies, Cleveland State University

-Mike Suglio, Creator, Short Sweet Film Fest
-Amanda Rabinowitz, Host, Morning Edition & Shuffle Podcast 

Rachel is the supervising producer for Ideastream Public Media’s morning public affairs show, the “Sound of Ideas.”