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AN INCLUSIVE TABLE | How 10 miles can be worlds apart

There are vastly different experiences faced by Youngstown’s inner-city residents compared to residents in surrounding townships. We are disconnected by misconceptions, lack of understanding, perspective and socioeconomic status. 
Eartha Hopkins Column
Eartha Hopkins

On Aug. 18, Youngstown residents were heartbroken and stunned after the death of 10-year-old Persayus Davis-May. The shooting took the lives of May, one other adult victim, and wounded three adults. 

Unfortunately, one month prior, we lost the bright future of 17-year-old Reshaud Biggs who was taken from us all too soon by gun violence on July 19. 

The rate of violence continues to loom over the city. Feelings were further incited when a Youngstown City School District teacher, who in her attempt to show her grief, wrote a comment on Facebook regarding Davis-May that was perceived as culturally insensitive.

“The baby was not my brightest, but she was our caregiver and protector. She struggled with all academics, but could count money like it was her job.”

Her comment reminded me of a conversation at work between myself and a Boardman resident a few years back who casually informed me, “No one lives in Youngstown. We just work there.”

As a life-long native of the city, her informal assertion indicated a similar lack of understanding and respect for the city in which she works. However, the juxtaposition of the influx of one-way traffic driving north on Glenwood at seven in the morning compared to the somber silence nearly 30 minutes later from the actual residents of the city reflects the truth in her comments.

How are gun violence, children’s deaths and culturally insensitive and inappropriate comments connected? Great question.

They are all illustrations of the vastly different experiences faced by Youngstown’s inner-city residents compared to residents in surrounding townships. The distance between Youngstown and Boardman, Poland, Austintown or Canfield is less than 10 miles. Yet it can seem as though we are worlds apart. We are disconnected by misconceptions, lack of understanding, perspective and socioeconomic status. 

These 10 miles curtail the opportunity for community-building and perpetuates an invisible line that ever-so-gently — though certainly not subtly — leaves Youngstown’s children unprotected. 

For context, according to Census data, Mahoning County has an estimated total population of 227,617. Within this area, the demographic makeup of Youngstown is 42 percent Black and 49.1 percent white, 90.2 percent White in Boardman, 91.4 percent White in Austintown, 89.1 percent White in Poland, and 92.1 percent White in Canfield. 

Additionally, more than half of Youngstown children live in poverty with a staggering 56.9 percent rate.

Considering the intersection of race and class, we would be remiss to ignore a much deeper and bias system at play. The blatant socioeconomic segregation in Mahoning County is inherent even among our youngest and most innocent.

If poverty is any indication of violence, then Youngstown’s youth are the most at risk. According to reports by ArcGIS.com, United States residents living below the federal poverty rate are two times more likely to experience violence.

This violence is oftentimes underpinned by a lack of resources, jobs and access to information. 

What these statistics don’t show, however, is how this poverty manifests across education, healthcare and overall quality of life. Together, these disparities create a perfect storm for traumatic incidents like the fatal shooting of a 10-year-old.

From the moment of conception, Youngstown children’s lives are at stake. They must contend with the reality of obstacles that inhibit their “ineligible right” to a pursuit of happiness.

Infant mortality rates are disproportionate for Black children, according to the Youngstown Health Commissioner. A collection of reasons undergird this, such as poverty, access to transportation and institutional cultural insensitivity. For children who do survive their first year, they have certainly beaten the odds but will face many more roadblocks that impede their survival. 

When it comes to gun violence, reports indicate that there have been about 100 Youngstown shootings in 2021, and we still have four months to go. Black male youth are particularly facing an epidemic of disproportionate violence. 

While the recent efforts of local pastors, government officials and community members on the streets calling for change are appreciated, we must also supplement these efforts with compassionate humanity and bold honesty.  

My hope is that the recent American Rescue Plan funding is distributed to address the underlying factors that led to the death of an entrepreneurially savvy 10-year-old and the limitless potential of 17-year-old Biggs who was entering his senior year in high school. In order to close the gap between the county and the city, funding programs, and initiatives that develop and test prevention strategies are necessary.  

With this new comprehensive approach,  it will take everyone’s participation to improve the conditions in Youngstown neighborhoods that rob our Valley of such promising futures. This terrible and unfortunate incident reminds us of the fragility of life. If we can comprehend the gravity of such a loss, then we must also ensure young lives are protected and valued systematically. 

Eartha Hopkins is a Youngstown native and an alumna of The Ohio State University. Born with a penchant for storytelling, the business owner and journalist offers a distinct voice with the goal to inspire her generation to live authentically. Be sure to catch her two cents on her website TheLiteraryHouse.com and Instagram @eartha__hopkins.

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