This report, just released after the election of President Obama, speaks to the continued progress of our nation towards opening the doors of opportunity to all. Ohio’s African American community has seen tremendous achievement in recent decades. Political development, educational and business success, as well as the emergence of a strong Black middle and upper class of Ohio’s Black community, highlight a few of these accomplishments. Consider 1970: only 1,400 Black elected officials (local, state and federal) existed in the entire nation. By 2001, Ohio alone had more than 300 local, state and federal Black elected officials. By 2009, four of the six largest cities in the State had African American mayors. In 1970, only 10% of Ohio’s Black population had attended college, and only 3.9% of Black Ohioans had attended college for four years. By 1990, 14% of Black Ohioans earned a college degree; by 2007, this figure increased to 21%.2 High school graduation rates for Ohio’s Black students increased from 62% in 1995 to 71% in 2006.3 Between 1992 and 2002, the number of Black owned businesses in Ohio increased by 57% and sales for Black owned businesses increased by 61% (in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars).
Despite these tremendous achievements, pockets of isolated communities still face significant impediments in their attempts to access opportunity and advancement. For Ohio’s Black community, many urban, inner-city communities of color are highly marginalized. Residents in these communities face extreme barriers to opportunity, from failing schools and limited economic options, to unhealthy environments, disinvestment and unstable housing. Our analysis across the State of Ohio found nearly 3 out of 4 Black Ohioans were living in the State’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods (what we term “low opportunity neighborhoods”), compared to 1 in 2 Latinos and 1 in 4 Asians and Whites. Families living in these communities face daunting odds. Individuals who transcend these barriers must make tremendous efforts to escape cycles of poverty and marginalization, in addition to having to overcome lingering interpersonal racial biases. Unfortunately, these barriers prove insurmountable for too many, trapping many Black Ohioans in poverty and limiting the future for too many of our Black families and children. These structural and institutional barriers to opportunity must be removed if we hope for Ohio’s Black community to continue to flourish, succeed and contribute to Ohio’s future and vitality. Therefore, despite diminished interpersonal racial bias and the removal of legal tools of segregation, our nation and Ohio have still not entered a “post-racial” period as many hopeful commentators have speculated. African Americans (among other communities of color and poor whites) continue to face a number of systemic institutional and structural challenges which continue to marginalize entire communities. While we should celebrate the Civil Rights victories of the past and achievements for Ohio’s Black citizens at present, we must also not forget about the many who still continue facing tremendous barriers to opportunity