Columbus' CelebrateOne initiative has a simple goal: help more kids reach their first birthday. Now, some barbershops, beauty and nail salons are helping the city spread the word about infant mortality.
“I came encounter with one of the representatives and found out about how many kids were dying here in the city in the black community,” Seals says. “And owning a barbershop, I felt like I had a way of getting that information out to people. The kids are our future, you know?”
Three babies die every week in Franklin County, according to city data, and African-American babies die at twice the rate of white babies. Ohio’s infant-mortality rate decreased in recent years, but it’s still one of the highest in the nation.
And for Seals, those statistics are personal.
“We had a daughter and she was born premature, her lungs wasn’t fully developed and she passed,” he says. “That’s one case of infant mortality, with the child not reaching one, which is the biggest issue here.”
The CelebrateOne initiative began in 2014 to prevent deaths like hers. The program identified premature births, sleep-related deaths, and lack of access to health care as some of the most significant factors in Columbus’s high infant mortality rate.
Now, CelebrateOne provides training to businesses like Seals' to start a dialogue.
“It makes it a little easier to talk about it because we experienced it,” he says. “It doesn’t really hurt me to be able to talk about it, it’s really for me to help others to be able to be comfortable in talking and share their experience.”
The city identified high-priority neighborhoods where infant mortality rates are the highest due to factors like unemployment, food access, crime and low health coverage. Neighborhoods like Franklinton, the Hilltop, Linden, and the South Side are all being targeted to reduce rates.
Seals thinks his barbershop is the perfect place to start the conversation in the South Side. He says it’s always been a safe space to address community issues.
“Back in the day, when I was growing up, Mr. Johnson and them knew everything about the community, you could go there and talk,” he says. “We’re basically like psychologists, you know? Tell us your problems, we’ll help you out.”
He considers the barbershop a pillar of the community, and looks forward to giving out information while giving out haircuts.