Jennifer Roller is the president of the Raymond John Wean Foundation. Headquartered in Warren, Ohio, the Raymond John Wean Foundation’s mission is to advance community-building in Warren and Youngstown, Ohio, through grantmaking, capacity building, convening, and partnerships. One of the foundation’s strategic goals is to increase the economic opportunity and mobility of residents in both cities. Jennifer Roller has been with the foundation since 2007 and became its president in 2014.
In our conversation, Roller discusses some of the issues surrounding race that communities in the Mahoning Valley face. While the African American community makes up 8 percent of Trumbull County’s population, 66 percent of the population in urbanized Warren, Trumbull County’s seat, is African American. Similarly, African Americans make up 43 percent of urbanized Youngstown, while its county, Mahoning, is 16 percent African American. These two urbanized areas experienced unemployment and poverty more acutely than the rest of the Valley. In Youngstown, for example, unemployment for African Americans is three times higher than it is for white workers. Furthermore, the poverty rate in Youngstown is 36 percent, more than two times higher than that of the county as a whole.
In the summer of 2020, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police, both Warren and Youngstown joined thousands of other municipalities around the country in declaring racism a public health crisis. Both communities hope that these events serve as catalysts to address a history of systematic racism and inequality in the region. —Quilian Riano, In the Mahoning Valley chief editor