Lifting the black community

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus draws a large crowd Monday night.

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus draws a large crowd Monday night.

LaShonda Wright, principal, Wright Finance Group, makes her winning 60-second pitch Monday night at the African American Business Development Program kickoff event.

LaShonda Wright, principal, Wright Finance Group, makes her winning 60-second pitch Monday night at the African American Business Development Program kickoff event.


By Mark Curnutte
Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio

AVONDALE — Two apparently unrelated events scheduled at the same time — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at the League’s office on Reading Road — did indeed have a common goal: lifting Cincinnati’s black community.

The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus held its second of five state-wide events on its 2015 Action Tour. Caucus President State Rep. Alicia Reece, 33rd District, listed the group’s accomplishments against a backdrop of second-class citizenship for blacks in Ohio.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the League’s Board Room, Class 12 of the League’s African American Business Development Program held its Pitch Contest, in which small business owners gave a 60-second pitch for their product or services. Two winners, April Clark of Apro Accounting & Tax Services and LaShonda Wright of Wright Finance Group, received full tuition scholarships of $1,250. The program is billed as a “boot camp targeted toward businesses in the first stage.”

Started in 2008, the program has graduated and helped to grow 65 African-American owned companies. The 10 member businesses of Class 12 will run from December through June 2016.

Downstairs, in the League’s Community Room, an audience estimated at 150 people heard Reece open the two-hour Black Caucus meeting by detailing the statistical odds stacked against African-Americans in Ohio:

— The unemployment rate for blacks in Ohio is more than 15 percent, compared to the overall state rate of 4.3 percent (4 percent in Hamilton County).

— Across the state, 33.6 percent of African-Americans are living below poverty levels, $28,410 for a 5-person household.

— Ohio’s infant morality rate for African-Americans (13.57 for every 1,000 live births) was third highest of the 39 states where a rate could be calculated, with only Wisconsin (at 14 per 1,000) and Kansas (14.8) faring worse.

Reece also referenced the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio’s recent study, The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities, as evidence of the race-based disparities that face African-Americans in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. The data-driven report reveals that 75 percent of African-American children under 6 in Cincinnati are living in poverty, that life expectancy for black men in Cincinnati (63.8 years) is 10 years less than the average for white men, and that the home ownership rate for African-Americans in 15-county Greater Cincinnati is 33.1 percent compared to 74.5 percent for whites.

“This book highlighted how nothing has changed in 20 years,” she said. “There has been no progress in 20 years. Let’s take this report and put it into action. What are we going to do about it?”

Joined by six other members of the Black Legislative Caucus — only 15 of the General Assembly’s 132 members are African-American — Reece then listed the accomplishments of the caucus in recent years.

— $2.7 million for summer youth job programs across the state;

— $800,000 in Ohio Department of Transportation workforce development grants, including $300,000 for the Greater Cincinnati Urban League’s highly successful Construction Connections program;

— $228.5 million in minority business contracts;

— $330,000 for assistance to black-owned businesses in Hamilton County through funding of the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce;

— $3.5 million in state funding for Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, a state-sponsored school, that allows it to leverage an additional $10 million in federal funding;

— $2 million toward reducing infant mortality across the state;

— $25,000 for the Center for Closing the Health Gap, Avondale, recognized nationally as a leader in publicizing the disparities in black health and black health outcomes;

— The appointment of an African-American to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPATA);

— A reentry job fair attended by 500 returning citizens coming back to the community from Ohio prisons; and

— Election day investigations, including in Hamilton County.

Reece, State Rep. Christie Bryant Kuhns, 32nd District, and State Sen. Cecil Thomas, District 9, presented reports on current legislative action undertaken by the caucus. It includes criminal justice reform to reduce Ohio’s prison population, which consists of 45 percent African-American inmates in a state in which the general population is 12.5 percent black. Thomas said African-American legislators are in communication with University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono about the increasingly tense relationship between the university and black students.

Kuhns detailed efforts to reinstate provisions of federal civil rights laws in the state’s fair housing statutes and to reform state law that protects uninsured drivers.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank came up during the question-and-answer period, when an audience member suggested the state pull its money from financial institutions that are known to have discriminatory lending practices. Within the past few months Fifth Third had to pay $18 million to black and Hispanic borrowers who had to pay higher rates for auto loans even though their credit ratings were good.

Other Black Caucus members in attendance were Rep. Herschel Craig, 26th District; Rep. Emilia Sykes, 34th District; Rep. Stephanie Howse, 11th District; and Rep. Kevin Boyce, 25th District.

These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.