AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | Systemic racism: What my grandmother knew that I didn’t

In partnership with digital publication Mahoning Matters, The Literary House is elevating the conversation and amplifying discourse around race, diversity and inclusion in the Mahoning Valley. Follow us weekly as we boldly tackle issues head on about the greater community. 

I am named after my late grandmother — an outspoken woman who shared stories growing up Black in York, Ala. during the 1940s. 

Her chilling tales of the whispers of lynchings and discrimination serve as a guiding principle on how I move in this world as a Black woman.  

As a young person, I arrogantly ignored her cautionary advice regarding my conduct. To prepare me she would often say, “Never be late to work and always remember to be on your best behavior.”  

After graduating from The Ohio State University to return home to Youngstown, I was excited to embark on my new journey as a young journalist, however, I began to see my grandmother’s insight take shape in the way I was being interpreted and treated throughout my career.  

For a deeper understanding, imagine preparing for a costume party only to walk in and immediately realizing it's a formal event. With onlookers staring and seemingly judging you, your blood begins to rush to your face full of embarrassment. Now picture that happening daily for eight hours. Unfortunately, what you have just experienced in a few short seconds is what I and many Black people endure regularly. 

While overt racism, such as public lynching and Jim Crow segregation would appear to have vanished, its systematic vestiges remain. The Valley’s most vulnerable residents — who historically have experienced gerrymandering, housing discrimination and a lack of access to living-wage jobs — have a dire need for immediate institutional change.  

Unfortunately, after the tragic eight-minute murder of  George Floyd Jr., companies and organizations recognized what so many Black people already knew — that systematic racism could have deadly consequences. I’m optimistic that in response several local organizations, foundations and companies have increased resources inducing awareness and education on race, diversity and inclusion initiatives.

On the other hand, I remain vigilant at the long-term systemic changes that will be employed to dismantle a discriminatory and insufficient system.  

For organizations and companies looking to expand their diversity efforts genuinely, research shows that racial and gender diversity produces successful business outcomes. Increasing resolutions through mentoring, networking, strategic partnerships and building authentic relationships is the first step but requires bold leadership approaches to dismantle the systemic racism my grandmother understood so intimately. 

Here are solutions that I feel need to be made to build a more equitable Mahoning Valley.   

Embracing a New Train of Thought  

Creating enriching race, diversity and inclusion efforts for Mahoning County is similar to developing any relationship. Opening honest and safe lines of communication where both parties can authentically discuss boundaries and concerns.  

Checking Biases   

No group of people is a monolith, and it is our differences that strengthen us. Taking the time to learn about the history of racism and the non-white experiences can help organizations and companies become more empathetic and genuine during engagements. It can also highlight potential blind spots to ensure policy change with long-lasting results. 

Moving forward 

When it comes to racial dynamics in our community, as my grandmother pointed out, actions speak louder than words. Opening pipelines to exclusive networking circles, mentoring and actively listening to disadvantaged groups in our Valley can steer actionable policies, practices and processes to uproot prejudice and discrimination can create an inclusive environment where everyone feels connected. 

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