A new podcast from Ideastream Public Media explores the lives of Black women in Cleveland, a city where their outcomes for income, health and education rank lowest among major U.S. cities.
That was the finding of an analysis released in 2020 by Bloomberg CityLab. It found Cleveland came in last for educational outcomes for Black women and next to last for health and economic success. Other Midwestern cities were also near the bottom of the list, including Detroit, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
The study came to the attention of Marlene Harris-Taylor, Ideastream’s director of engaged journalism, as she and her colleagues sought ideas for a podcast the station could produce as part of “Connecting the Dots between Race and Health.” The initiative examines the relationship between racism and poor health outcomes in Northeast Ohio and the role local institutions play in reducing such disparities.
Harris-Taylor also encountered “Project Noir,” a report that further explored the challenges faced by Black women in the city. “A light bulb went off,” Harris-Taylor said. The Connecting the Dots team contacted Enlightened Solutions, the nonprofit that created “Project Noir,” and began developing the concept for the podcast.
The result is Living for We, an 11-episode podcast hosted by Harris-Taylor that launched Wednesday. The first episode features Black women describing their experiences with medical and workplace racism in Cleveland. They do not mince words.
An attorney describes how a court staffer prevented her from entering a courtroom: “Court staff were like, ‘No, you have to be an attorney to come back here.’ And I’m just like, ‘Great. I got on a suit. I got on a briefcase. I got this big file in my hand. You want me to pull out my Supreme Court card? Defendants don’t come in here looking like this.’”
Another Black woman shared an experience with a racist boss. “He really hated me,” she said. “I ended up finding out that he would refer to me as ‘n—–r girl.’”
Yet the show’s producers are also careful to share examples of Black women who succeed despite the obstacles that they face. “The most consistent source of joy when we’re talking to the guests is women expanding on how their close friendships with other Black women or professional relationships have improved their life so much and make them feel loved and guided in life,” said Hannah Leach, senior producer for Living for We.
Centering Black women
As Ideastream developed the show, it worked with a community engagement specialist to host “listen and learn” sessions with two groups of Black women in Cleveland. The groups discussed the Citylab study and gave feedback on what they thought the podcast should cover.
Their suggestions included advice about mental health, which became a part of the podcast. The show features a segment with Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor of psychology at Kent State University, who provides tips on how Black women can manage stress.
Living for We also explores issues related to policing and gun violence. Multiple episodes feature Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014. In addition, listeners hear from Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a Case Western Reserve University professor and interim monitor of the Cleveland Police Monitoring Team.
“We do have as a part of the podcast discussion this idea of safety and violence and how Black women are navigating that space with their families and children,” Harris-Taylor said. “There’s a lot of gun violence in communities of color nationally, and that’s true in Cleveland as well. So Black women in Cleveland have also had to deal with this question of the police keeping their families safe and the police culture — the same question we’re grappling with nationally today.”
To produce the show, Ideastream connected with Evergreen Podcasts, a Cleveland-based independent podcasting company. Its podcasts include From First Lady to Jackie O, about the late First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis; West Wing Reports, a weekly political podcast; and Cleveland and Beyond with Andy and Jarid, which covers news and sports. Leach, the senior producer for Living for We, holds the same position with Evergreen.
Working with Evergreen opened the team’s eyes to the process of podcast production, marketing and distribution, said Mark Rosenberger, Ideastream’s CCO. The company also explained the podcast distribution ecosystem and promotional and marketing strategies distinct to podcasting, which hopefully will attract listeners and drive deeper engagement with the work, he said.
“We thought, wow, what a luxury to be able to work with them, because they get to focus on this as their business,” Rosenberger said. “That’s what they do. … It was that sort of singular focus that really attracted us, and the opportunity to be able to learn.”
Ideastream is marketing the show to both local and national audiences. It has enlisted Francheska Medina, co-host of the podcast Insecuritea: The Insecure Aftershow, to promote the Living for We on her platforms and to ask people from Cleveland or who have family from the city to share their experiences with the show in voicemails. Producers tapped Medina because of her sizable audience among Black millennial women, Leach said.
Local impact, national importance
Living for We will also be advertised on podcasts with substantial Black listenership through the Loud Speakers Network and on other platforms that reach Black audiences, Leach said. Meanwhile, Ideastream will promote the show across its own platforms, including through a trailer produced for TV and on The Sound of Ideas, Ideastream’s daily radio talk show.
Harris-Taylor said Ideastream wants to be attentive to both local and national audiences for the show “because we are a local public media station. So we want to make sure we’re serving that community. But at the same time, we feel like the themes of this podcast will resonate with Black women no matter where they are in the country.”
Support for producing the show came from an $800,000 grant to Ideastream for reporting on health care, provided by the Dr. Donald J. Goodman and Ruth Weber Goodman Philanthropic Fund of The Cleveland Foundation. The station used $80,000 from the grant to produce, market and distribute Living for We.
Ideastream is already planning a second season of the show. Rosenberger said he hopes individual, nonprofit and corporate donors will continue to support reporting that explores the intersection between race and poor health outcomes. With Living for We, he said, he hopes listeners will better understand the issues Black women face and begin to make progress toward improving their lives.
“It’s one thing to read a study that was released back in 2020 and digest the statistics,” Rosenberger said. “But it’s a whole other thing to listen to Black women and how they wrestle with the realities of the data that’s expressed in the survey and hopefully through that have a better understanding of what’s going on … here in Cleveland, and how can we make it a better environment for Black women, in particular, to grow and to thrive and to get healthy and stay that way.”