The Next 400: For Black Americans, there are links between life expectancy, poverty, and race

The Next 400
The Next 400
Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 6:48 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -19 News takes a closer look to see if a legacy of racial discrimination in housing still affects aspects of contemporary life.

The four-part series will speak to experts who have spent years examining how the government’s policies in the early 1900s contributed to segregation.

This week we look at how health and housing discrimination are linked.

Harris Drummonds had lived in his home on Noble Road in East Cleveland for more than 4 decades and says that when Arco Recycling facility was placed in his neighborhood, all of their health and wellness declined.

“You don’t know the suffering that we go through over here,” he said.

For nearly 3 years, residents on Noble Road watched as piles at the dump grew bigger and bigger, extending more than five football fields and towering higher than their homes.

In 2017, the site caught fire, burning for days.

“In our beds, we smell the smoke and the burning. We can’t sleep. It’s awfully sad that something like this would happen in the city,” said Drummonds.

After multiple court hearings and lawsuits, the site was shut down in 2018, and workers hauled the last remains of the dump away. But many felt it was too late.

“What do it take? It take for a bunch of people to get sick and die? What do it takes?” said Drummonds.

The Ohio EPA monitored the site, and investigators maintain they never found any evidence of a toxic site despite the fire, smoke, smells, and noise.

OEPA told East Cleveland residents the Arco Recycling site was harmless to their health. The massive cleanup cost Ohio taxpayers a hefty $9 million.

But those living there say they paid a dear price larger than that price tag.

“There’s no way you can look at 40 stories of trash, 40 stories of debris, and claim that it is a safe level of toxic,” said one resident.

Yvonka M. Hall, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, says what happened in East Cleveland would never happen in a predominately white community.

She says this is a sad reality for many communities with predominately Black residents. It’s a history rooted in systematic racism.

“This is not what the great melting pot was supposed to offer for us; it’s something you know the housing conditions that we see today are not new,” said Hall. “But what has happened is because of the greater highlight around the issues of social, economic conditions of for communities. We have now realized that housing is the impact of redlining,” she said.

How is it that a person born in the Buckeye neighborhood in Cleveland can expect to have a shorter life span than a person born 8 miles away in Lyndhurst?

19 News uncovered several data sets showing a difference in life expectancy based on zip code. All throughout the state of Ohio, people living in poor areas are likely to live a shorter life than those who live in wealthier areas.

The numbers show that for Black people, there’s a 12-year difference between the city of Cleveland and suburb Lyndhurst.

There’s also a 23-year difference between Cleveland and Shaker Heights, 2 neighborhoods that border each other.

“All of the racism has come full circle in the United States for African-Americans and all of those things that disproportionately impact us,” said Hall. “Whether I’m a six-figure African American or four figures. My quality of life has diminished just because I’m Black. So that tells me that there is a problem. We have a great problem,” she said.

“You have communities that are disproportionately impacted by health issues already,” Hall said. “And so where you live is more about the building that you live in is about every single thing that impacts that structure be we look at housing, and we say, this is the building. You know, this is how we live. Now, this is where you live, but how you live is impacted by all of the things that impact,” she said.

She believes the policy is one way to level the playing field.

“So when we talk about our health departments all saying you know that racism is a public health crisis, Well you know what? jacked-up policies is a public health crisis. So unless you’re willing to address the policies that disproportionately impact communities of color unless you’re willing to go to toe and make sure that policies have teeth and allow people to live, people are going to continue to die,” she said.

Throughout the state of Ohio, if you live in a poor area, you are likely to live a shorter life than those who live in wealthier areas.

“I just want to cry about it because I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t feel safe or at peace in my own home. This disturbs my happiness,” said Charney Smith.

But why are some neighborhoods in Cleveland so much healthier than others?

A study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health shows us there are links between life expectancy, poverty, and race.

“We know if you go throughout Cleveland, they are places where there are no grocery stores where there are no fresh fruits and vegetables, were access to whether it’s health facilities in terms of like gyms and things of that nature, or parks are not there to be able to help with your physical health,” Dr. Tyfanni Dent, licensed psychologist.

“And then you add into that the emotional stress of things that we’re holding in about over-policing that we’re holding in about recognizing that I can go to this other area, and I’m like, Wow, so this is what the world is supposed to look like,” said Dr. Dent.

Many Black Americans have been battling forms of housing discrimination for generations, and it has affected everything from where they live to where they go to school to how they generate income, build community, and physical and mental health.

“We’re wondering why communities of color are suffering more because those not natural but systemic disparities that happen when we convene communities of color together, and then we continue to marginalize their existence,” said Dr. Dent. “There’s a lack of recognition of the need to address those build resiliency and resistance all at the same time for what’s happening in the community. And so it’s left to fester.” she said.

Dr. says not all neighborhoods were created equal for Black people to live healthy lives. She says it’s beyond time to make resources accessible to all.

“Right now, when COVID came, one of the things that we noticed was they said, Well, you can’t be with people, but you can be outside, go for walks, you can’t go to your gym, but you can go for a walk. And those places weren’t necessarily available within our communities. And so I think that those need to be prioritized, because it also helps in your emotional wellness. When you’re physically well, you’re emotionally well,” she said.

The Next 400 is a weekly series exploring issues of systemic racism and social injustice in Northeast Ohio. You can watch past reports here.

Copyright 2021 WOIO. All rights reserved.