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Kirwan Institute renews pledge to help vulnerable Columbus youth

Graphic by J.L. Lacar | Managing Editor for Design

The University District houses Ohio State and its students, but it also houses children who might never set foot on campus. Unbeknownst to some, the kids so close to the university live in a high-risk neighborhood that brings with it challenges so overwhelming that a college education is nearly unattainable, and making it to the age of 18 is where some of the resident’s dreams stop, said Kyle Strickland, a senior legal analyst at Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

According to data recently released by the Kirwan Institute’s Renewing Our Call to Action,” its promise to help Columbus youth in areas of high vulnerability, these kids — mostly children of color — will likely experience stressors that include low household incomes, short life expectancies and incidences of violent crimes.

The report found that 45 percent of Columbus youth — 132,900 of 290,100 — between 0 and 24 years old, live in neighborhoods that experience high or very high vulnerability, meaning they experience stressors that impact their health, safety and education every day.

The stressors affect outcomes like high school graduation, household income, life expectancy and incidences of violent crime. And, according to the report, 55 percent of vulnerable children in Columbus neighborhoods are youth of color.

The third-grade reading proficiency rate in very high vulnerability neighborhoods is 21 percent, compared to 68 percent in very low vulnerability neighborhoods, according to the report.

As for high-school graduation rates, the graduation rate in very high vulnerability neighborhoods is 73 percent, compared to 94 percent in very low vulnerability neighborhoods.

The contrast in living conditions between white and black households is not something new, said Strickland, and it’s not something to be blamed on any parent, family or neighborhood in particular. It is racial segregation — historic, systemic and modern.

In fact, the segregation is so prominent that a data map of Columbus included in the report almost completely contradicts the saying “It’s not always black-and-white.” Because, when it comes to the east and west sides of the city, it essentially is.

The map shows the predominant race found from census data and used colors to demonstrate the dominant race in each area of Columbus, red for black youth and blue for white youth.

Credit: Courtesy Kirwan Institute

The east side is predominantly composed of black youths aged 0-24 — shaded mostly red — and has the most areas of high and very high vulnerability. While the west side does have areas of vulnerability, such as the Hilltop, the majority of its areas consist of neighborhoods with moderate to very low levels of vulnerability, and the majority of that side of Columbus is colored blue, representing a mostly white youth population.

“This [segregation] is not unintentional. This did not happen overnight. This did not happen coincidentally,” said Strickland, who is running for Ohio Senate in 2018. “This is actually the result of very historic policies of racial discrimination and segregation that still permeate all throughout our society so you see that polices of redlining and all sorts of other policy actually end up happening.”

According to the report, the difference in, say, living in the Hilltop compared to living in Upper Arlington can be as crucial as eight more years of life: In very high vulnerability neighborhoods, the average life expectancy is 72 years old. In contrast, the life expectancy in very low vulnerability neighborhoods is 80 years old.

Vulnerability levels contrast from neighborhood to neighborhood, but areas such as Linden, Milo-Grogan, Hilltop, King-Lincoln Bronzeville, Innis Garden Village and Millbrook have the greatest concentration of high vulnerability tracts.

Per the report, there is a 52 percent difference in the youth poverty rates of very low and very high vulnerability neighborhoods.

“You had neighborhoods where you could have poverty rates in a very high vulnerability neighborhood and an average of a 60 percent poverty rate in Hilltop compared to 8 percent in areas like Clintonville and that is a drastic change — mere miles apart,” Strickland said.

This [segregation] is not unintentional. This did not happen overnight. This did not happen coincidentally. —Kyle Strickland, senior legal analyst, Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute

As a result, entire communities like Millbrook — and those living in the neighborhood — are cut off from opportunities like quality education and safe housing, he said.

“This is a stark divide between races,” Strickland said.

The divide is being recognized by the Kirwan Institute and City of Columbus initiatives, such as My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama-era national initiative that encouraged communities and cities to provide structure and support for vulnerable youth, particularly boys of color between the ages of 9 and 15. It set forth the creation of various chapters including in Columbus.

The Kirwan Institute originally got involved with My Brother’s Keeper in 2015 after the city of Columbus asked it to join the national effort in supporting and uplifting young men of color. Due to recent societal issues and events such as the Charlottesville Unite the Right white supremacist rally, it was commissioned in 2017 by Columbus to conduct further research, thus renewing the call to action.

“We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road on some of these [racial] issues,” said Strickland. “We’ve got to dive in and help because these are literally kids and young boys, as well as young girls and women that are facing these issues.”

The high and very high vulnerability areas are priority areas in which the two will invest the most time and resources in, the report details.

The report’s data will be sent to city officials and legislators in the hope that the city will help acquire assets necessary to help at-risk children and families, Strickland said.

“We wanted to get a sense of the local landscape and look at what vulnerability looks like on a neighborhood level, and figure out ways in which we could potentially help empower organizations and community stakeholders to basically measure progress and actually set goals and utilize data to set the goals,” he said.

The report was very important, Strickland said, because it can show how the vulnerability of neighborhoods can affect things like education and life expectancy.

Using Census statistics, the institute analyzed youth vulnerability, demographics and local services to further note the disparities children and families of color experience within their neighborhoods in Columbus.

He stressed that it’s not just the children who are vulnerable, it’s entire families and neighborhoods.

Kyle Strickland is the senior legal analyst at Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Credit: Courtesy Kyle Strickland

“Oftentimes, these families are put in situations which they’re trying to do everything they can to get by and provide, but we, as a society, are not doing enough to make sure people have the opportunities to succeed,” Strickland said.  

To combat these statistics, My Brother’s Keeper vows to “build a diverse teacher pipeline to match the child demographic pipeline, promote emotional and cultural intelligence in the classroom and in service provision, provide dedicated ambassadors or mentors to help children and families navigate unfamiliar systems, and create a dedicated space where affordable resources are available to children and their families,” according to the report.

In addition, Columbus City Council will provide $100,000 for a grant program involving My Brother’s Keeper, which will help groups working with young people in Columbus.

To put the racial divide into perspective, 10 percent of white children from kindergarten to 12th grade live in neighborhoods with very high vulnerability, according to the report; 20 percent of black children in the same age range live in the same type of neighborhoods.

Additionally, youth of color are 18 percent more likely to live in a neighborhood experiencing high or very high vulnerability; white youth are 62 percent more likely to live in an area of low or very low vulnerability.

To be clear, it’s not the racial makeup of the neighborhoods that are stressors for children. It’s the lack of resources — educational, monetarial, support — in the areas they live.

But the racism and biases prominent today can push people living in the high-risk neighborhoods from feeling comfortable enough to look for and navigate social services for help, Strickland said.

“They find that perhaps they might be discriminated against by a particular provider,” he said.  “There’s all these other aspects that play a role and part here. So we’ve got to be able to unfold all of these messy, ugly issues that we’re afraid to talk about.”

While the report details hardships that many in high vulnerability neighborhoods experience, Strickland said that with a push from many members in the community, ranging from public servants to average citizens, youths of color “can focus on ‘What are my dreams five, 10, 15 years from now?’”

“And it’s things like that we take for granted,” he said, referring to residents who live in areas of low vulnerability. “We’ve got to step up and do more.”

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