Making Black History — Now and in the Future

By Briana Oldham, Cleveland Foundation Equity Communications and Engagement Fellow

“Systemic racism exists and it’s important to say out loud. It affects every area of life, every system we operate within and every single individual. We can only begin to repair the effects of systemic racism if we consistently acknowledge that it exists.” 

Courtenay BartonProgram Director for Arts and Culture and Racial Equity Initiatives at the Cleveland Foundation, reflected on the ugly reality of structural racism in our society as she led an informational webinar discussing the Cleveland Black Futures Fund on Jan. 28, 2021. Though it can be a difficult discussion to have, the reality is systemic racism is prevalent and can be seen all around us. Barton opened the webinar in an intentional and thought-provoking way. After creating space to acknowledge the original people from this land, Barton went on to talk about how much racism affects every area of life. 

Barton shared slides of both a redlining map from the 1940s and a recently published map of the life expectancy in Cleveland. There was a clear overlap in the maps that she stated is evidence that the decisions from decades, if not centuries ago, are ones we’re still dealing with to this very day. Depicting graphics that closely resemble each other was just the beginning. 

Barton then introduced overwhelming COVID-19 statistics that indicated that Black lives were affected at a disproportionate rate compared to those of other races. Barton broke down the figures explaining that in Cleveland, at least 70% of total COVID-19 cases where race is known affect Black people. This stark percentage paints a picture of how the pandemic has devastated the Black community. She continued to say that though Black Ohioans only compose 14% of the state’s population, they account for 27% of COVID-19 hospitalizations. As Barton shared and reflected on this information, she declared that this is the context into which they are launching the Cleveland Black Futures Fund. 

The remainder of the webinar focused largely on answering questions from participants. The full webinar, including the question and answer portion, can be found here. One of the most important of these questions was centered around what the fund hopes to accomplish. The purpose of the fund is to support the organizational infrastructure and capacity of Black-led organizations. It aims to strengthenlong-term, the systems that help Black businesses, creators and nonprofits survive and thrive.  

When I previously wrote about the Cleveland Black Futures Fund, I talked about how hopeful I was for a brighter tomorrow. I gushed over my excitement about the commitment to invest in Black goals and projects. The anticipation since then has only grown. There are so many examples of Black excellence, and the Cleveland Black Futures Fund is a great way to showcase them and bridge the gap between what could be and what truly is. Interested in learning more or applying? Visit