Dozens attend forum to devise plan to tackle problem of racism

By Sean Barron


Racism and Mahoning County’s high infant-mortality rate are two topics many people feel uncomfortable discussing, but both require greater collaboration and the removal of self-imposed barriers to tackle, a longtime activist and a health expert contend.

“We saw a need in the city to bring people together to talk about racism,” the Rev. James “Jim” Ray said about the purpose of Wednesday evening’s Greater Youngstown Community Dialogue on Racism forum at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Via Mount Carmel Drive near downtown.

Several dozen people attended the two-hour gathering, which was the culmination of previous group discussions aimed at addressing the problem of racism in the city.

They also came up with action plans based on past sessions and ways to bring people of different races and cultural backgrounds together, noted the Rev. Mr. Ray, a longtime civil-rights and community activist who also served as a small-group facilitator.

The keynote speaker was Michelle Edison, the Pathways/HUB coordinator with the Mahoning County District Board of Health, whose focus was on the county’s high infant-mortality rate and its connection to racism.

The thread between the two problems is largely “a culture that provides limited access to certain groups and resources that promote wellness,” Edison said.

Last year, black babies in the county were five times more likely to die before their first birthday than white ones, which has much less to do with genetics than with a system that contributes to the disparity, she explained.

Compounding the problem is some of her clients also live in their cars, are in extremely abusive relationships or are barely literate, so the HUB program provides community health workers who link the pregnant women to needed resources, help them develop goals and be more productive, she continued.

Other factors that play a part in the infant-mortality rate are a weak support system and poor living conditions, Edison said.

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