Akron Beacon Journal racism as a public health crisis: Behind the story of one of our HHS grant recipients

In June 2019, The Center for Community Solutions announced the winners of our inaugural Health and Human Services Journalism grant. All applicants submitted story proposals, and a panel of judges selected five winners. Below, grant winner Betty Lin-Fisher wrote about her reporting process and why she eventually decided to cov er racism as a public health crisis. You can read stories partially made possible by our grant here

By: Betty Lin-Fisher
Akron Beacon Journal

 

On Nov. 9, the Akron Beacon Journal devoted five pages to my Health Disparities project, which shared real-life examples of people in the Akron community who had experienced the now-familiar term, “Racism as a public health crisis.”

I set out to try to help readers understand what it meant to say that racism was a public health crisis.

I spent a lot of time reaching out to sources I don’t normally get the opportunity to talk to — the grassroots health care workers and counselors who are in the community.

Finding real people to talk about two sensitive subjects — their own health and how they were affected by racism — wasn’t easy. I spent a lot of time reaching out to sources I don’t normally get the opportunity to talk to — the grassroots health care workers and counselors who are in the community. I asked for their assistance in helping me find people who would be willing to speak to me about their experiences.

Many were enthusiastic about my project. Many unfortunately weren’t able to get people they knew or worked with to talk to me.

But a few did – and their stories while just the tip of the iceberg – were still very personal and illustrative of what’s happening in our communities and nationwide.

The project I published on Nov. 9 was not the original one for which I had received my initial health-care reporting grant from The Center for Community Solutions. Pre-COVID19, I had wanted to research consumer pricing after a consolidation of a health system to see whether consumers and insurers were paying more or less. I quickly found out that much of the data I was seeking was proprietary information that the insurance companies weren’t willing to share.

I had a lead with one potential insurer — and then COVID-19 hit.

As the main medical reporter for the Beacon Journal, after I came out of the initial COVID-19 haze of covering the pandemic’s first wave in the spring, I asked Community Solutions if I could re-submit a different proposal. In the summer, our nation was grappling with racial tensions after George Floyd’s death.

Within two weeks, we received 18 proposals for award applications and donations totaling another $6,125 from readers for a grand total of $9,125

I wanted to take the $3,000 money that came with my grant and Pay it Forward by highlighting some stories about health disparities and then seeking applications for grass-roots local organizations that were trying to be part of the solution.

Community Solutions readily agreed.

My project was set to run in the paper on Sunday, Nov. 8.

But on Saturday, Nov. 7, the presidential election was called for Joe Biden. We knew that would need to be the front page for Sunday, but we had a timeline for a judges’ panel I had put together in order to get applications to evaluate and choose winners before the end of the year. We couldn’t wait another week. We ran the package on a Monday.

That same day, I received my first offer from a reader asking if he could donate more money to be awarded as part of this project. Later in the day, a woman who wanted to remain anonymous offered to double the $3,000 pot.

The project had just grown another purpose, which was a wonderful problem to have.

By the end of the week, I was trying to coordinate how to collect this money from potential donors. I wrote another column telling people they could donate and we’d soon get them information.

Within two weeks, we received 18 proposals for award applications and donations totaling another $6,125 from readers for a grand total of $9,125.

My judges have deliberated on the first round of proposals and chosen their top three to award my initial $3,000 grant money in three, $1,000 awards.

I will be writing about those projects this month and then opening up the application process again for a second round. Those not selected this time will be invited to re-apply and we will be seeking more proposals. Perhaps we’ll get more donations from others who see that as a way to help.

The problem of racism as a public health crisis is not something that will be fixed in one story or even a series of stories. I am pleased to be just a small part in continuing to keep this in front of readers and being part of the solution — with the help of the initial grant from Community Solutions and generous readers who donated more to the award pot to keep this going.