COLUMBUS (WCMH) — It’s been six months since Gov. Mike DeWine formed a task force aimed at reducing infant mortality rates, specifically Black babies. 

An Ohio Department of Health report said Black infants are nearly three times more likely to die before their first birthdays compared to white infants. 

The first step in this process is talking to Black mothers and their experiences. Task force members shared Tuesday what they learned after a month of listening sessions across the state. 

“We were able to schedule over 30 local listening sessions across the state last month, and this month, we’ve been running those listening session with families, men and women,” said Jamie Carmichael, a member of the Eliminating Racial Disparities in Infant Mortality Task Force.

The task force was put together in December with the goal of creating a roadmap for 2030 where the infant mortality rate is the same for all babies.  

An ODH report said the death rate for Black infants is 14 per every 1,000 births, three times more than the death rate among white infants.

The meeting Tuesday was to discuss what was learned from the listening sessions. 

“Dig and ask questions like who’s benefitting from the current system, how is the data being presented, why is it being presented this way, who’s benefiting from the solution?” said task force member Jonathan Webb when talking about investigating root causes.  

Members of the team were tasked with examining the statements. How do people in the community feel? 

“There’s a theme of isolation and not being accepted and not belonging,” said task force member Chezre Willoughby. “There was one quote where a young lady talked about how her neighbors hate her or they were in a dangerous neighborhood, so they didn’t feel safe, but if they moved to a safer neighborhood, they didn’t feel accepted by those neighbors, either.”

The team broke into small groups to examine quotes from the listening session.  

Task force member Ryan Everett presented what his group found as well.

“Some presented that individuals and structures don’t care about them, a sense that society has sympathy for white women but not often Black women,” he said. “A lack of feeling safe in communities was a big one.” 

Task force members said it’s key for them to bring that information back to the community as well as ideas they hope to present to the governor. 

“That’s an important part of this process so we’re not just going into a community listening to people and then leaving and never coming back and telling them what came about,” Carmichael said.  

Those listening session are still happening now and after they wrap up, the task force will hold its last meeting in August and finalize its recommendations to the state. 

For more information on upcoming meetings, click here