The city’s Commission On Black Girls is putting forward a list of recommendations to improve the quality of life for African American girls and women in Columbus.
The commission was formed two years ago to study factors impacting success and happiness outcomes for Black girls and women, ages 11-22.
Columbus City Council member Priscilla Tyson says the commission came away with an overaching recommendation: “Based upon all the information we have received, we now want the Commission On Black Girls to be a permanent entity."
Becoming permanent would help the commission implement 18 other recommendations and three strategies outlined in the report, Tyson says. The first strategy is to "create an environment that is free of racism," allowing Black girls to increase their self-esteem.
“Believing that she can see all she can be, and that we can see all she can be,” Tyson says. “The second strategy really focuses on looking at holistic and systemic approaches to address and disrupt any cycles of education, health, economic and societal inequities that adversely impact our girls.”
Among the inequities mentioned by a report is prevalence of homelessness, poverty and incarceration in the families of Columbus' Black girls.
The lack of mental health support for Black girls and other minorities is another central problem. The report found many Black girls reported feeling "depressed or anxious some or most of the time," but few felt comfortable talking to a professional.
"In 2012, 90% of the behavioral health professionals were non-Hispanic white, whereas ethnic minorities represented 30% of the U.S. population," the report reads.
The report also urges those dministering discipline to opt for restorative justice practices over traditional measures. In a survey of Black girls in Columbus, the commission found that at least 40% of respondents had experienced suspension of some type in school, and 9% had been expelled.
"Promote models that move away from exclusionary discipline to strategies that create restorative justice environments," the report reads. "Support school personnel in understanding how to provide behavioral modification support and transform schools into centers of safety and healing."
Finally, the report issues a number of recommendations for enhancing quality of life: funding support services for teen mothers and fathers and affordable child care, increasing LGBTQ programs, supporting housing and prevention programs for homeless youth, developing mentorship and leadership programs, and addressing disparities in criminal and juvenile justice systems.
The commission started working last July with 25 members, who administered focus groups, surveys and hosted monthly learning sessions to get a better idea of Black girls’ experiences in Columbus.
Tyson says there are a range of issues that disproportionately affect Black women, from the wage gap to infant and maternal mortality to poverty rates.
The commission surveyed 422 girls. They found that of those ages 11-15, 46% said they were bullied in school, 57% struggled with depression or anxiety, and 47% lived with a single mother.
Of the girls ages 16-22, 72% struggled with depression and anxiety, 23% had experienced homeless, and 18% had children of their own.
Tyson will petition the city to continue the commission’s work.
"Our hope would be to look at policy changes and then look at a number of partners," Tyson says. "So the people that are working on this commission a lot of them are strategic partners to help move this work forward."