Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) President and state Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) joined fellow OLBC lawmakers Tuesday for the group’s annual Day of Action. The event provided an opportunity for Ohioans to interact with state legislators and discuss issues that affect their families, communities and everyday life. The theme this year, “Still History, Still Black: Championing the Causes of African-Americans in Ohio Year-Round,” focused on struggles that disproportionately affect the black community.
“Black history is more than one month,” said Howse. “The problems and triumphs black Ohioans experience are year-round. We must nurture and encourage more engagement between black people and their elected officials to make sure all Ohioans feel connected and empowered to advocate for their own interests. We also need lawmakers to be more aware of the obstacles we all experience as Ohioans but that disproportionately affect black families. Together we can make sure black Ohioans are stronger, because when black Ohioans are strong – our state is strong.”
According to the Ohio Development Services Agency, nearly 33 percent of black Ohioans live in poverty, double the state’s average poverty rate. In addition, black high school students graduate less often than their peers, with a 61 percent graduation rate compared to the state average of 81 percent.
Still, there has been a significant uptick in the number of Ohio’s black-owned businesses, rising to over 81,000 in 2015. OLBC believes that growing development opportunities for black Ohioans could aid in addressing issues such as poverty, lack of access to health care, lagging education rates and high infant mortality.
NY Assemblyman Michael Blake was a keynote speaker for the Day of Action, delivering a message of hope and persistence to the crowd of roughly 100 community leaders, business owners and citizens. Blake recognized the significant challenges African Americans face, but also said African Americans’ “progress in America deserves celebration.”
As part of the program, community advocates held workshops examining topics such as healthcare, entrepreneurship and the state budget.
“More Ohioans should know how the state budget process works,” said Howse. “I believe it is in everyone’s best interest if we help empower the voices of everyday people—that’s how a real democracy functions, and that’s what fosters a more equal and fair society.”
To further facilitate such engagement, the OLBC plans to coordinate more events throughout the year, including a celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary in October.