PROJECT NOIR: The Lived Experiences of Black Women in CLE

In early 2020, right before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and racial unrest became a national conversation, Brentin Mock of Bloomberg City Lab publicized a ranking of American cities based on livability metrics for Black Women. ​Cleveland ranked dead last. 

As a black woman who has lived in Cleveland her entire life (minus 4 years in Pittsburgh for college) this hit me hard! I promote Cleveland all day and all night long as a great place to live for everyone. This City Lab article made me reflect on the reality of my experiences over the years. I can honestly say I’ve faced my share of challenges in Cleveland, however-  I have also found a tribe of black women who have overcome some of the same obstacles and have excelled right here in Cleveland. Those women have inspired me to keep going in-spite of the barriers we face as black women. I think that’s what makes this ranking appalling for the black women in Cleveland who are dedicated to creating a more equitable city. At the same time, it is also troubling for a region which is still attempting to gain economic and social equality in the 21st Century.

To change this, I partnered with Enlightened Solutions to present a research project focused on gaining insight and tangible knowledge from the experiences of Black Women in Cleveland. Enlightened Solutions created and dispersed a survey focused on understanding the lived experiences of Black Women in Cleveland resulting in their Final Report — Project Noir. The report is the culmination of interviews, data analysis and research into the lived healthcare, workplace and education experiences of Black Women in Northeast Ohio. We designed this project to center the voices of Black Women.  Cleveland has the opportunity to go from the bottom to the top. If we can change course now, we could solve problems facing not only our region but the country as a whole.

Key Statistics from Project Noir

  • Workplaces
    76% of Project Noir participants have been paid less than coworkers in a similar position
    77% of Project Noir respondents were subjected to inappropriate comments about their features including hair/face/etc.
  • Healthcare
    41% of respondents have been told their health issues are not real or made up.
    34% of our participants have been refused medication for pain or pain management.
  • Education
    56% were steered into lower-paying professions rather than urged to pursue their passion.
    26% of participants felt their grades did not fairly represent the quality of their work.

Tips for Black Women navigating systems that have continually marginalized them

Strategies for enduring Toxic Workplaces

Remaining at your current job – There is an option to stay and maintain where you are. If your stress levels are manageable, many people elect to not rock the boat.
Pros: Predictable, steady income, people/situations you know, familiar work
Cons: Encourages organizations to not change, stressful situations rarely improve, poor management issues are rarely resolved, so present stressors are likely to stay.
Important Points: If you do stay in a stressful situation, try to prioritize your mental health, get therapeutic support, and family support. Try to find and work with allies in your organization, and work to set boundaries wherever possible.

Go Solo – The fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America is Black Women. If you have ideas that aren’t heard, skills or products you’d like to sell, or other revolutionary thoughts, opening your own business, nonprofit, or other organization is an option.
Pros: self-sufficiency, skill-sharing, opportunities to employ/support others.
Cons: Some ideas/industries won’t work, unreliable at first, starting can take time
Important Points: We are happy to talk through ideas with you and help you connect to programs, services, and people, that help Black Women-owned startups. Email us at


Strategies for enduring Toxic Healthcare Systems

Document Beforehand – Many Black Women suggested getting as clear as possible about your symptoms or complaints before heading to the doctor’s office. Many brought written notes, with simple bullet points, while others kept dates and logs about issues.

Bring Trusted People – Many women brought trusted family or friends with them to appointments to help with the whole process. Some women shared that they specifically brought their husband, as they felt they were not being heard on their own. This tactic can be very helpful as healthcare marginalization can be unpredictable and difficult to manage in the moment.

Use Complaints and Legal Systems – If you have experienced poor healthcare, or been hurt by poor healthcare, there are options available. Many healthcare systems have complaints processes, and while these can be effective, they are rarely a full solution. You can look to patient satisfaction departments, appointed ombudsman, and patient rights documentation to learn more about a specific system. In addition, there are legal resources available, depending on the severity or the injury, context, and surrounding circumstances. These situations are best evaluated by finding a personal injury attorney to discuss your options with.

Strategies for enduring Toxic Educational Institutes

Ignore Unhelpful ‘Advice’ – Many Black Women had the experience of being steered away from their preferred educational path. When expressing an interest in healthcare, for example, guidance counselors tend to recommend lower-paying paths like STNA. Be sure to take guidance towards lower-paying and lower-prestige careers with a grain of salt.

Advocate for Yourself – Continue to speak up where you feel comfortable, and where it is important for you. You don’t need to fight every battle, but be sure to hold people accountable when your future is at stake. Ask questions about grades, insist on rubrics, ask about opportunities. and insist on being included.

Document – Be sure to document teacher and professor expectations and communications. When problems arise, it can be helpful to have notes, lecture recordings, or written materials to refer back to.


For more information on this report please visit: 

  • Project Noir website:
  • Social Media Handles: @WorkEnlightened (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium and LinkedIn)
  • Hashtags: #ProjectNoirCLE #WorkEnlightened
  • Podcast: Search “Project Noir by Enlightened Solutions” – To listen to the anonymous re-recordings of Project Noir participants in podcast form.
  • Spotify, Google or Apple Podcasts.


*This post is a sponsored post in partnership with Work Enlightened Solutions 

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