This morning Selena Burks Rentschler went to the OH Statehouse to testify in favor of the resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis. Over 200 people submitted written statements for today’s hearing. She didn’t get the chance to read her statement. They were running behind and she was way way way down on the list. But next week she’s planning to attend the second hearing for this resolution and hopefully she’ll have the opportunity to read it then.
Written Testimony for Resolution: Racism as a Public Health Crisis and to ask for a working group to promote racial equity in Ohio.
Today, I come here to express my solidarity as a citizen with Sen. Hearcel Craig, Sen, Sandra Williams, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and other Legislators who support the passage of this historical resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis statewide.
I have been an Ohioan all of my life. I was born and raised in Cleveland, attended college and earned my BFA from Wright State University in Dayton, became a wife and mother in Cincinnati and I sit here today as a new resident of Columbus.
I am here to testify and bear witness to the racism I have experienced on an interpersonal, social, institutional and structural level which has directly impacted my physical, psychological and emotional health. Among those health impacts are physician diagnosed Hypertension, PTSD, Depression and Anxiety.
For those of you who doubt that racism is a public health crisis, hear me out. Racism is a plague that has followed me everywhere I go, in all stages of my life. I have been confronted with racism from educators, medical professionals, neighbors, and law enforcement. Constantly being told that my voice had no power, and that I had no place in any of these spaces, has been a major hazard to my health and the health of millions of Black Americans in this state and the US as a whole.
I know what it feels like to be treated with less respect than a dog by a White kindergarten teacher in a predominately white suburban school. At the age of 5, she treated me like a burden and bullied me into silence.
I know what it feels like to be a child and afraid to go outside and play because white neighbors are calling my sister and me animals and niggers and yelling at us to go back to Africa.
I know what it’s like to experience extreme poverty, homelessness and food insecurity. Because my mother didn’t have access to the mental health resources she needed to help her navigate her trauma, she self-medicated through drug abuse. My mother’s trauma became my trauma.
I know what it’s like to be a foster youth, trapped in an overstretched system that’s unable to give foster youth the tools they desperately need to establish a successful start to adulthood. If it wasn’t for my foster mother cultivating in me a love of education and showing me how to grow into womanhood, I would have been lost.
As a Black woman, the shadow of racism still follows me. I’ve had college professors declare that because I’m Black, I’m less intelligent and am incapable of writing at a university level. I’ve walked into breakrooms at places of employment and felt the unspoken threat that as a Black woman I needed to shrink who I am because I wasn’t welcomed there.
I’ve been harassed by local law enforcement because I’m a Black woman – pulled over without probable cause, ticketed in accidents I didn’t cause, followed by cruisers to the driveway of a home I own, without any explanation why.
I have endured White doctors refusing to take my health concerns seriously when I was pregnant with my daughter. I had to go through five doctors in five months and lose over 20 pounds to eventually be put on bed rest with home IVs before I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum. I have repeatedly had doctors dismiss my health concerns since. The sting of not being heard, of not having my pain taken seriously never fades.
Neither does the memory of my Mother’s final days. I was 23, it was right before Christmas, and I took my mother to the hospital because she was having complications caused by her Multiple Sclerosis. This was in Cleveland and I lived in Dayton, so my mother encouraged me to go back home after she was admitted. She was under the impression that she would receive some fluids and be discharged in a day or so. I left my contact information with the staff at the hospital, planning to return in a week.
When days passed and I hadn’t heard from my mom or the hospital, I returned to Cleveland sooner than planned. I walked into my mother’s hospital room and saw the awful shape she was in. Her legs and arms were covered with large blood clots and she was jaundiced. Not one doctor had thought to call me to tell me about my mother’s condition and by the time I had any chance to advocate for my mother’s health and treatment it was too late. She died two days later.
As a mother of a Black daughter I have already begun a lifelong conversation about how her brown skin and curly hair will have a direct impact on her life. To explain to her how an educated, accomplished Black woman can still, in the year 2020, be treated as a second-class citizen in this country. I can’t go for a jog without feeling anxious. My heart jumps when I see a police cruiser drive right behind me. I can’t even feel safe getting pizza from a local restaurant without feeling the threat of white supremacy. And some say, with a straight face, that racism isn’t a public health crisis? Would those of you who disagree ever trade places with me and live the life I have lived and still live?
So I implore you to ask yourselves what side of history do you want to be on when our children’s children look back and judge us? The whole country is watching this moment. Now is the time to take Black suffering seriously. To defund police departments who over police Black communities and invest those funds in mental health resources for children of color who are experiencing adult trauma. To combat glaring disparities in health outcomes for Black Americans. The list is expansive, the road is long and there’s a lot to do, but the first step is to acknowledge the pain and destruction that racism has caused to Black lives in Ohio. Take this first step and pass this resolution into law. It is the humane thing to do.
I’d like to thank the members of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus for introducing this resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis on a statewide level. And thank you to Rep. Stephanie Howse for posting information about this hearing on social media. It’s because of her post that I am here and able to share my support of this resolution. Thank you.
Selena Burks-Rentschler is an award-winning filmmaker, foster-youth advocate, professional public speaker, film accountant, and now, screenwriter. Her stories reflect her harrowing childhood in and out of foster care and feature strong, self-reliant and creative female characters. Continuing to defy the odds, Selena earned her M.F.A. in screenwriting from David Lynch Cinematic Arts graduate program at the Maharishi University of Management.