July 2022

Former Olympic hurdler: Racial disparities keeping Columbus’ Black babies from breaking the tape

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Stephanie Hightower, Guest Columnist
July 8, 2022

Stephanie Hightower is president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League.

The Columbus Urban League stood up 104 years ago with a mission to advocate for racial equity and social justice.

Our legacy remains our destiny.

We continue to believe that equal opportunity and an inclusive economy are not just attainable, but, in fact, necessary to our shared future.

Columbus Urban League leads by serving as a relevant, effective, trusted, culturally authentic organization with an array of holistic initiatives to stabilize families and grow their earning power and wealth. COVID-19 forced us to mobilize and re-organize into an emergency front-line provider more than ever before.

Over the last two years, we made 157,000 connections, including 25,000 calls on housing alone, and we provided nearly $12 million in direct relief to small businesses, people struggling with COVID-related income losses and people trying to keep their home.

The masks may be off for now, but the pandemic’s “long” form carries long-term financial impacts. For example, thousands of households, mostly led by Black single moms, still teeter on the brink of eviction and homelessness. Since March of 2020, 28,697 evictions have been filed in Columbus, according to the Eviction Lab—even with a three-month moratorium in 2020.

Racial inequities persisted and deepened during our social distancing. Black people experienced three times higher unemployment rates, according to 2021 data released by the Center for Community Solutions.

A recent Goldman Sachs survey found that Black-owned businesses lagged their white counterparts in rebounding, doubted their ability to secure capital and were more likely to need a loan to survive.

National Community Reinvestment Coalition research also found that Black business owners were more likely to be denied Paycheck Protection Program loans than white-owned firms with similar profiles.

So, disparities in every measure of what makes a person or community thrive—health, education, employment, income, family stability—deter and diminish justice and progress.

Black people experienced three times higher unemployment rates, according to 2021 data released by the Center for Community Solutions.

Old problems call for fresh solutions that are innovative, thoughtful, culturally informed and comprehensive.

Our path forward must reflect and respond to new and existing realities, such as significantly reduced child care options and a shortage of affordable housing. Columbus Urban League is ready to be at the table with our community to refine the best and most responsive, result-oriented systems.

We are ready because you’ve opened new doors for us more than ever before. We have been blessed to recruit smart, culturally authentic, energized leaders who continually test and implement best practices, fueled by new unrestricted investments in core infrastructure like technology and training, and committed to the principle that everyone deserves a chance, whether it’s their first or their 31st.

The events of the last few years laid bare long-standing disparities and exposed tremendous opportunities for change, reawakening our collective consciousness about racism and the benefits of inclusion.

We rediscovered that, even when physically apart, we cannot stand alone, a fact reinforced by the Ukrainian crisis.

Columbus Urban League by necessity focused on recovery, reform and resiliency. These three objectives remain important. Yet, we also have to raise our sight line. Central Ohio must seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to unleash our community’s untapped and undeveloped potential.

The benefits of a wider, deeper economy where everyone has greater access to success, where we take steps to build bridges where racial chasms once kept us back from realizing our full value, are enormous. Organizations with diverse leaders are more innovative and successful. The U.S. economy could gain a $2 trillion annual boost to our U.S. gross domestic product. But only if we’re willing to rethink status quo.

Research from McKinsey & Co. documents that “sustainable and inclusive growth can be a dynamic, self-reinforcing combination,” but only if we are willing to address the “counteracting” or counterproductive forces.

As a former Olympic hurdler, I sometimes visualize it like a track meet.

If I’m 100 feet behind the starting block to start, I’m not going to break the tape unless someone changes the course.

Likewise, if I’m a Black baby born into a low-income household in a high-crime neighborhood with failing schools, my chances of achieving economic mobility are diminished from day one. Unless someone changes the course.

Let’s continue working together to bridge racial and gender divides.

Together, we can awaken the gifts and talents of everyone, increase the number of active consumers and taxpayers and make our region a national model that demonstrates the community-wide value of inclusive excellence.

Everybody wins when everybody’s in.

Stephanie Hightower is president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League.

Download Article Here

Print Friendly, PDF & Email