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Perspective: On a mission for a healthier, more equitable future

Several Dayton-area leaders were named as supporters of a Senate resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. Elevate Dayton is publishing the opinions, perspectives and analysis of the Dayton leaders in a series. Shannon Isom, president and CEO of YWCA Dayton, explains how she and the organization she leads are proactively working to create a more equitable community for all.

By Shannon Isom, president and CEO, YWCA Dayton

On June 24, I stood before the Ohio Senate Health, Human Services, and Medicaid Committee, testifying in support of S.C.R. 14 to declare racism a public health crisis. Such a declaration would make ours the first state in the nation to do this; and appropriately so, we should be.

As president and CEO of YWCA Dayton and president of the Ohio Council of YWCAs, I represented 14 Ohio YWCA associations. YWCA is driven by a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all, and serves the largest constituency of women across the state.

Hundreds of years of marginalization in this country that started with slavery and continues with racism and discrimination have compounded to deliver poor health and economic outcomes for Black people — heart disease, diabetes, and poverty— that are being magnified under the current coronavirus pandemic. This legacy of racism has also led communities of color to have less trust in institutions like the public health system, leading to even poorer health outcomes. In Ohio, the highest excess death rates exist for African Americans and Native Americans at every stage in the life course, and our infant mortality rate for infants of non-Hispanic Black women is the eighth highest in the nation.

Declaring racism a public health crisis is the long-term policy response that can outlast this particular moment, redress the wrongs of the past, and shepherd us into a healthier, more equitable future.

A personal story: Last summer, my 19-year-old daughter was driving to Dayton, and was stopped. And she remembered all the things I have told my son, who is just 16, on how to stay alive, just in case. And she called me because she heard me tell him that if he ever gets stopped, call. Just have me on the phone, so I can listen, just in case. And for the first time, I realized that the fear and the generations of tears that we have for our baby boys, I have for my daughter. She was just 30 minutes away and I realized that not only do I have the fear, but I put it in her. That has to stop.

I’ve done it all “right.” I’m in the “right” class, I’m invited to the “right” things, I know how to “speak well.” And I am nothing besides a Black mother who has Black children, and I share in the experience that we are fearful that not only can our babies dies faster within us, but they can die faster outside of us. That has to stop.

Our bodies can no longer walk around and pretend that we don’t manifest our fear and anxiety, that we don’t have any power over what happens to our families; we have the power to change that.

I stand collectively, both personally and professionally, in alignment with the mission of YWCA Dayton that requests that we declare racism a public health crisis in Ohio and proactively work to create a more equitable community for all our residents, for all of us that live here.

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