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OLBC outlines Build Up Black Families legislative package commemorating Juneteenth anniversary

June 19, 2019
Juanita O. Brent News

Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) members today held a press conference outlining their Build Up Black Families legislative package in honor of Juneteenth, which marks the anniversary of the first announcement of the abolition of slavery in America.

“As we’ve been working to restore the Ohio promise of a better life and brighter future for everyone, we say that family comes first and we mean that,” said Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland). “Our members have been working together, drafting common sense legislation to deliver results for a real shot at the American Dream for black families in Ohio.”

OLBC members highlighted legislation they are proposing this General Assembly that seeks to build up black families in Ohio. OLBC First Vice President and state Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) is a joint sponsor of one of the House’s priority bills, House Bill (HB) 12, which would establish the Ohio Children’s Behavioral Health Prevention Network that seeks to create and coordinate a comprehensive learning network to support young children in their social, emotional, and behavioral development and to seek to reduce and prevent behavioral health disparities among young children.

“HB 12 puts families first by giving parents the tools and support they need to have healthy children,” said West. “I am proud of the work we did to make HB 12 more inclusive of all voices – and I am confident that the stakeholder group’s work will reach black families and other communities who are too often burdened by stigma and experience barriers when getting help.”

OLBC Parliamentarian and state Rep. Erica Crawley (D-Columbus) spoke on an amendment in the state budget to create the first ever Pregnancy Associated Mortality Review Board in Ohio to study barriers and disparities pregnant black mothers face in Ohio and submit findings and recommendations to the Governor and legislative leaders.

“If we are really to address infant mortality in its totality, we have to address maternal health and mortality,” said Crawley. “Therefore, it is imperative that we look into the factors that contribute to, or directly cause the death of a woman and prevent future occurrences. We cannot have healthy babies or families without healthy moms.”

Senate Assistant Minority Whip Sandra Williams (D-Cleveland) has been working on Senate Bill (SB) 71, which seeks to create a committee to study the progress and challenges of African Americans in Ohio. 

“We know from previously released data that African Americans face higher rates of low-quality education, health-risks and homelessness in comparison to other ethnic groups. According to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the homeless, 70% of homeless people in Cuyahoga County are African American.” said Williams. “I believe we can teach people about our history and use the data collected to learn from the positive and negative outcomes of current legislation, to contribute to building a better and healthier community.”

State Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) submitted an amendment to the state budget bill that would increase funding to the Ohio Housing Trust Fund in order to help African Americans gain access to safe and affordable housing.

“We need to make sure that every Ohioan has safe and affordable housing.” said Craig. “Evictions, which largely affect families and communities of color, create health issues and fracture neighborhoods we have spent generations building. By increasing funding to housing programs and strengthening protections for homebuyers and tenants, we can keep families in their homes and our neighborhoods whole.”

On June 19, 1865 Texas became the first state to announce the abolition of slavery. Each year on June 19, dubbed Juneteenth, memorials and celebrations are held across America commemorating African American freedom, emphasizing education and achievement.

“I am proud to stand with our members today as we strive to address the challenges facing so many African American families in Ohio,” said OLBC President and state Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland). “When we build up black families, we are building up Ohio families.”

The OLBC is committed to protecting and restoring opportunity for all Ohioans. The OLBC's current legislative agenda seeks to address and close the inequality gaps in five key areas, including improving criminal justice reform, education, healthcare, economic justice, and voting rights in an effort to significantly strengthen our communities. 

African American families currently face several significant disparities in Ohio related to a median income gap at $32,163 compared to the $54,021 for the rest of the state. Additionally, there are alarming gaps in black maternal health and infant mortality rates, access to higher education, and home ownership.