MANSFIELD -- A 21-member steering committee has been selected by the Richland County Task Force on Racism.
Amy Hiner and Renda Cline, task force co-chairs, announced the committee members on Friday, a group they said is committed to battling issues surrounding systemic racism in the county.
The steering committee will help select and guide the work of seven working groups seeking racial equity in the areas of business, criminal justice, education, health care, housing, employment and mental health.
The steering committee will meet monthly. Hiner and Cline said they hope to have the workgroups formed and meeting by January.
"The steering committee met for the first time last Saturday and it went really well," Hiner said.
Cline said the initial meeting was done online and lasted about three hours.
"We wanted to make sure everyone is on the same page. It takes a commitment and understanding that when you are dealing with racism, it's a subject that is naturally sensitive. We just want to make sure everyone is doing the right thing for the right reasons during a time when we we have individuals who don't believe (systemic racism) even exists," she said.
"It's encouraging to know there are so many people who actually see the changes that need to be made and are willing to step in and advocate and be voices for those who don't have a voice.
"These leaders who are coming in are continuing the fight that started many years ago and are willing to do what it takes to make Richland County a better place," Cline said.
Members of the steering committee are:
Business -- Jodie Perry, president and CEO of the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development; Deanna West-Torrence, founder and executive director of the North End Community Improvement Collaborative.
Criminal justice -- Anna Durtschi, retired corrections nurse; and Dave Koepke, North Central State College criminal justice program coordinator.
Education -- Dr. Donna Hight, professor at the Ohio State University-Mansfield; and a member still to be determined representing primary education.
Employment -- Steve Cobb, owner of Garbage Guys Who Care; Crystal Davis-Weese, NECIC recruitment coordinator; and Carol Payton, who retired from the Mansfield Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program.
Healthcare -- Vinson Yates, president of OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital; and Margaret Lin, OhioHealth educator.
Housing -- Chris Hiner, division president of Park National Bank; and Alan Mitchell, social entrepreneur, currently working as a regional technician with the Philadelphia Regional Census Center on the U.S. Census.
Mental Health -- Buffi Stillwell-Williams, owner of New Day Life Center; and Dave Krenrick, therapist for Providers for Healthy Living.
At-large members -- Dr. Elizabeth Castle, historian, documentary filmmaker and activist; Brigitte Coles, community liaison and co-founder of WE ACT; and Tracy Graziani, marketing specialist.
Dr. Phil Mazzocco, a psychology professor at OSU-Mansfield who has done extensive work in racial disparities, will be the project's evaluator.
Hiner said the task force looked at other cities that have done this kind of work. Mansfield City Council last month rejected by a 5-4 vote a resolution that would have declared racism as a public health crisis, though Richland Public Health has agreed to participate.
After council's vote, Castle vowed the task force's efforts would continue.
"This was an opportunity for the elected leadership to SHOW leadership," Castle said after the vote. "It was a gift that was sadly rejected and exposes what it exposes. Now the people of this city have the chance to make the change we all know we need.
"Join us, but we are not asking anymore," said Castle, a Mansfield native who earned her Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University and has devoted her career to social activism.
Hiner said forming the steering committee has been a good learning process.
"We have been thoughtful about who we are getting involved. We want to make sure it's diverse and has expertise in all seven fields."
"Anyone who wants to be involved and is passionate can get involved," Hiner said.
The co-chairs said the plan is to develop solutions over the next five years.
In January, the NECIC released a comprehensive study, The Richland County State of the African-American Report, detailing racial inequalities.
Among other Richland County indicators found in the report:
-- Black households are more than twice as likely as White households to receive food stamps.
-- Black households are almost three times as White households to fall below federal poverty levels.
-- White median annual income is $16,000 higher than it is for Blacks.
-- Unemployment rates for Black men and women far exceed jobless rates for Whites.
-- More than two-thirds of local Black men were "out of the labor force."
-- Black students made up 29 percent of the Mansfield City Schools, but were far more likely to face disciplinary issues.
-- Higher education is a significant concern with report showing almost 18 percent of White residents earning a bachelor's degree, compared to 7 percent of Black residents.
"We really want people to know this is a work in progress. Things are fluid," Hiner said. "We do have goals. We have a vision. The data developed by the workgroups will drive our decision making.
"This is a learning period. We are asking the community for grace. We know this is hard work and requires courage. We are so appreciative of the people who stepped outside their comfort zones to be champions on our steering committee and take on this important work."