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Black History and Black Futures

February 9th, 2021

While celebrating Black history, we also work to create a more equitable future.

Black History Month is a time to celebrate influential leaders and impactful moments of the past. In central Ohio, the achievements and contributions of Black Americans are significant. But celebrating Black history is not enough.

United Way of Central Ohio continues to work toward a future where Black residents have the same access to employment, education, health care and housing as their white neighbors. In fact, Key Club donors have contributed more than $20 million locally to support this work. Key Club was established in 1997 to engage and empower central Ohio Black leaders.

As part of that work, below we highlight an important moment in local Black history that aligns with our focus areas of basic needs and education, outline a few current challenges faced by our Black community, and explain what United Way is doing to help solve these problems.

Basic Needs
Moment in History – 1881: John T. Ward and his son William founded Ward Transfer Lines in Columbus 140 years ago. The company, later renamed E.E. Ward Moving & Storage, has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating black-owned business in the United States.

Current Challenges

In those 140 years since E.E. Ward was founded, too many Black families have faced segregation, discrimination and low wages, which have significantly impacted their financial stability. The racial wealth gap is higher today than it was at the start of the century.

  • According to a Financial Empowerment Roadmap released by the city of Columbus in 2020, 33% of Black households and 31% of Hispanic households have zero net wealth, compared to 17% of white households.
  • In Ohio, the gap in homeownership between white and Black householders has been widening steadily for over a decade, reaching 37 percentage points in 2018.
  • Black Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be hospitalized and 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

United Way’s Work
United Way believes that an individual’s race, ZIP code or income should never be a barrier. We work to address health and income inequity by:

  • Fighting for improved access to health care coverage
  • Making it easier for people to access substance abuse programs
  • Supporting food pantries
  • Providing free tax preparation services for middle- and low-income families

Moment in History – 1877: Everett J. Waring and Thomas G. Spencer were the first Black students to graduate from the Columbus High School. And seven years later, in 1884, James Poindexter became the first Black resident elected to the Columbus Board of Education.

Current Challenges
In 1979, the Columbus Public Schools were desegregated by court order. But segregation in public schools has only risen since 1996. This kind of structural racism along with institutional racism has hurt the educational outcomes of Blacks students.

  • The graduation rate for Black students is 79% nationwide, and less than 70% in Ohio.
  • Schools with 90% or more students of color receive $733 less per student.
  • Only 57% of Black students have access to the full range of math and science courses needed for college-readiness.
  • More than 70% of Black students were learning remotely in fall 2020, compared to 40% of white students.

United Way’s Work
United Way fights to shift the odds for students of color and those in low-income areas. Our work includes:

  • Recruiting volunteers to read with preschool and elementary students
  • Providing after-school programs and extracurricular activities and clubs
  • Supporting middle and high school students through graduation
  • Connecting students with volunteer mentors and tutors

You can be a part of this important work in central Ohio. Join us to help ensure that every single person, no matter their race, can thrive in our community:

Watch a recording of Learn United: Untold Stories with Jerry Saunders Sr. from Tuesday, Feb. 16
Register for Learn United: Beyond the Textbooks with Playon Patrick on Tuesday, Feb. 23
Learn more about Leaders United.
Learn more about Volunteer United.

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