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“Living for We” Podcast Amplifies Lived Experiences of Black Women in Cleveland

“Living for We” Podcast Amplifies Lived Experiences of Black Women in Cleveland

When Marlene Harris-Taylor heard that Cleveland was one of the worst cities in the country for Black women, she wanted to do more than just let people know what the data said.

Harris-Taylor, the director of engaged journalism for Ideastream Public Media, Ohio’s largest independent, publicly supported media organization, said she knew there was more to the numbers and rankings that put Cleveland at the bottom of the list when it came to Black women – there were lived experiences.

And to illustrate not just what those experiences are, but how to address them and overcome them, Harris-Taylor partnered with the research and advocacy firm Enlightened Solutions to create a podcast that would do just that. The result was the podcast series “Living for We,” which was quickly highlighted on the “New & Noteworthy” list on Apple’s podcasts app.

Living for We” is part of Ideastream Public Media’s “Connecting the Dots between Race and Health” project. That series examines the intersection between racism and health, as well as what role institutions and organizations in northeast Ohio can play in reducing inequities.

“Our health team is in a unique position in that we have a grant that funds our work covering health and medical news in Cleveland,” Harris-Taylor said. “We cover what people would consider traditional health news ... but we also have a special project every couple of years. Right now, our special project is focused on health disparities in our community.”

One of the goals of the series was to create a new podcast. Working with Evergreen Podcasts, a fast-growing podcast network, she and her partners came up with the concept for “Living for We.” Harris-Taylor now serves as host and executive producer of the podcast series.

The podcast was inspired by a 2020 study from cityLAB of Pittsburgh that ranked cities across the country for their outcomes in health, education, and income for Black women.

The study found that Cleveland ranked lowest in the country for education, and next to last for economic success and health. Soon after, Enlightened Solutions created “Project Noir,” a report that dove deeper into the challenges Black women in Cleveland faced.

“What happened was after that report was that two local researchers ... decided to do their own local study,” she said. “They decided they wanted to talk to Black women in Cleveland and find out: does this study meet their lived experience?”

Chinenye Nkemere, co-founder and director of strategy at Enlightened Solutions, and Bethany Studenic, co-founder and managing director for Enlightened Solutions, wanted to go beyond just looking at the data. “After we saw that study, we saw a lot of discussions, but not a lot of movement on how to fix the problem,” Nkemere said.

They asked hundreds of Black women in Cleveland to fill out a survey and give feedback about their experiences. The “Project Noir” survey highlighted the behaviors, barriers and bottlenecks that were contributing to the poor outcomes for Black women in the city.

“What we really wanted to do was to bring light to the story behind the statistics,” Studenic said. “We really wanted people to understand that these behaviors and bottlenecks are really damaging (to Black women) on a personal mental health level, emotional level, and economic level. And we wanted people to understand that on a national platform.”

The results are striking: 65 percent of the survey’s respondents were excluded from meetings that were relevant to their jobs; 77 percent were subjected to comments about their hair, face or dress not being professional or appropriate; many said when visiting healthcare professionals, their symptoms, complaints or concerns were ignored; and many more said when they asked for career guidance in school, they were steered toward gender-encoded and racialized professions that paid less.

“What we find is that it is a network of predictable behaviors. Policy doesn’t walk into a room and discriminate – it’s people,” Nkemere said.

“Living for We” addresses those biases.

The podcast consists of 11 episodes released every other week. The first episode, Harris-Taylor said, introduces the cityLAB study and Cleveland’s rankings; as well as information and illumination from Project Noir. The second features Samaria Rice, the mother of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was killed by a Cleveland police officer, and Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a law professor charged with overseeing Cleveland’s police reform in the wake of Tamir’s death, and the cultural expectations that Black women face to “show grace” even in times of unimaginable stress.

Both episodes aim to help Black women learn how to deal with the barriers and roadblocks they face, Harris-Taylor said.

“In our focus groups, what we heard from Black women was that they didn't just want to hear about the problems, they want some real tangible actions they can take,” she said. They enlisted the help of a local psychologist, Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor at Kent State University. “In addition to hearing the stories of Black women grappling with situations, there's also a segment in most episodes where Dr. Neal-Barnett talks about what she's hearing women say and what women can do in their lives.”

Other episodes will focus on Black women’s lived experiences at work, at school and at the doctor’s office, Harris-Taylor said.

The group has also partnered with Francheska Medina as the show’s creative director and producer. Medina, known as Hey Fran Hey, is a social media influencer, podcast producer and host on The Loud Speakers Network’s The Friend Zone and HBO’s InsecuriTEA: The Insecure Aftershow.

Medina brings to the show her considerable experience and following, Harris-Taylor said. “She knows how to create content for Black women. When she posts something about it on Instagram, the response is crazy.”

As of mid-April, the podcast series has more than 46,000 downloads. Already, Harris-Taylor said, there are ideas about what will happen with the second season.

For now, the group would like to see the podcast not only change living conditions for Cleveland’s Black women, but to make Cleveland a blueprint for how to create change across the country.

Opening up the dialogue and sharing Black women’s experiences on the podcast, they said, is a good start.

Listen to Episode 1 of the series below, on the Ideastream website, or on your favorite podcast app.

Episode 4 features an interview with Cleveland's own Ramona Robinson.

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