CLEVELAND — Yvonka Hall’s life changed forever when she was 6 years old. That’s when her father killed her mother.
Her mom, Yvonne, was 24 at the time.
“She was murdered in a domestic violence incident," she said. "My parents had been divorced for a year. But, my father broke down the door to our house and stabbed my mother to death in front of myself and my younger brothers. And so that’s what leads me to where I am now.”
Where she is now is leading her nonprofit, the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition.
Since 2011, the social justice organization has worked to empower, educate and advocate for health equity in underserved areas.
Hall said it’s the first organization in Ohio dedicated exclusively to addressing disparities in the black community.
It’s become her life’s mission to help improve Cleveland through this work.
“Seriously, as a young child (says), 'what do I want to do to help change the lives of Black women and girls?'" Hall said.
So, when Hall learned about the 2020 Bloomberg report that ranked her hometown last in the nation for Black women overall and last in educational outcomes and second last in Black women’s health outcomes, she wasn’t surprised.
“We knew it," Hall said. "Remember, that’s one of the reasons why the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition started.”
At the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, Hall is focused on several issues: Education, housing, lead poisoning, health care, employment, food insecurity, maternal and infant mortality and domestic violence are some of her key priorities.
“These are multi-faceted pieces. Like, we can’t just talk about African American women and put it in a silo. We have to talk about all of the social determinants of health. All of the things that impact African American women before they’re born until the time they die," Hall said.
Over the years, she received numerous awards and accolades for her work as a community leader and activist.
“I remember talking to a young man who said he wanted to be a millionaire, and I told him, 'well, sometimes, you know, being a millionaire means you change a million lives' and so for me, that’s my million-dollar status," she said.
As a mother and grandmother who was raised by her grandparents, Hall’s passion for giving back to future generations is personal.
“For me and my son and family, this is part of that longevity. Like we’re here to help make a difference," Hall said.
She’s lived in the Lee-Miles neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side for 48 years to help make that difference.
Hall said she is encouraged by city council’s move to create a new Commission on Black Women and Girls in response to the Bloomberg report.
The legislation is new and Hall hopes the commission will develop clear goals and policy changes.
The advisory board will include the mayor or his designee, one council member and 12 others who represent the faith, business and university community as well as a social worker and college students.
Hall told Spectrum News she hopes to be asked to be part of it.
“We know what our past was. We know what our present is and now we have a chance to shape the future, and I think that’s what this commission could do," Hall said.
The 2020 Bloomberg report is the catalyst that inspired Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb to prioritize improving the quality of life for Black women and girls in the city.
His administration brought the issue to city council members Stephanie Howse and Deborah Gray, who are now leading the charge to create the commission.
“We are welcoming. We are at the phase now where it hasn't been solidified. If there are community members who believe the commission makeup should look differently, you know, so I've gotten some calls and they’re like, 'why aren't they being compensated?' So, these are the types of the feedback that I think is really important to hear from community members," said Councilwoman Howse, who represents Ward 7.
Although it’s in its early stages, Councilwoman Howse said the goal is for the legislation to be passed by September.