Good (Man)ners: Cradle Cincinnati’s Ryan Adcock
Good (Man)ners is devoted to male-identifying dudes who share our belief that when you uplift women, you uplift everyone. Read on to hear from Cincinnatians who take allyship to heart.
Ryan Adcock is on the frontlines of a tough fight to make Cincinnati a better place for women and infants. As the executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, his job revolves around listening to women and families to help reduce infant mortality in the tristate area. He has a community of strong women that he leans on and fights side by side with every day. I had the pleasure of meeting Ryan at Crossroads Church in Oakley to dig deeper into his work with Cradle Cincinnati and learn about the amazing women who have an influence on him.
Who is Ryan and how did you get here today?
I have a bit of a strange resume. I was a full-time musician for six years. I toured around the country singing songs with an acoustic guitar. I then made the rather strange leap into local politics working for the previous mayor of Cincinnati, Mark Mallory, for another six years. I left that job at the end of our term to go start Cradle Cincinnati. I’ve had three very even-sized, very different careers.
What made you get out of the music industry?
It’s a good question. I still do it and I have kept a foot in it my whole life. I still love it. I think part of the answer is that I was looking for a little more routine in my life. I was traveling 200 days a year and just couldn’t develop the kinds of community that I was really longing for. It’s hard to find community when you are not in any one place for very long. But I also felt, in a lot of ways, that six years was enough.
Tell me a little about Cradle Cincinnati.
Cradle Cincinnati is a network of several dozen organizations here in Cincinnati – including every maternity hospital system, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and lots of social service agencies that work with moms and families themselves – that work with one goal in mind, which is to lower our region’s rather high infant mortality rate.
Can you shed a little light as to why that rate is so high?
So, if you take a step back to 2011, Hamilton County had the second highest infant mortality rate in the whole country, which is really surprising to folks that live here. Thankfully, we have started to progress in the right direction. We have had a 15 percent decline in infant mortality over the past five years. We are no longer in the bottom 10 of the country, but we are still in the worst 10 percent of all the counties in the country. So still a long, long way to go.
What is the focus for Cradle Cincinnati going forward?
We just finished a strategic plan, so it’s a good time for that question. We are doing a couple of new, exciting, hard things. We’re doing our best, in the small way that we can, to address racism and the impact that it plays on this issue. African American families are twice as likely to lose their children, and that really doesn’t improve much when you eliminate socioeconomic status from the equation. A black mom with a college degree is more likely to lose her child than a white mom who never graduated from high school.
That starts to force us to ask questions about race and how it plays in this. So, we are launching a series of interventions around bias, specifically around prenatal care settings. A lot of families tell us that – not that it is anyone’s intention – they don’t feel that they are treated equally in prenatal care settings. They feel like there is a lot of baggage when you show up and you are young, black, and pregnant, and that means something in our society. We want to come against those judgements and what it means.
The good news is that we don’t have to do it on our own.
That would certainly be enough to keep us busy this year, but we are tackling a couple other big things, as well. One is that we are getting increasingly involved in the policy space. We are doing a lot of advocacy work in the state government. We have a new state administration that prioritizes infant mortality, so we are trying to give them the best advice about what we think will work. We are trying to get a handle on the policy landscape and what that means for this issue. A kind of big, new thing we are doing is what we call our Play Space to Work. We have four teams that we are standing up in four different parts of Hamilton County where there are really high infant mortality rates. We are modeling this work after work we did in Avondale three or four years ago that was tremendously successful in cutting the infant mortality rate in Avondale in half, and eliminating extreme preterm birth in that community. We’re trying to take that success and what we did for 200 women and do it for about 2,000 women. The good news is that we don’t have to do it on our own; we have lots of partners in this work and people who are passionate about seeing change in this area.
How does Cradle make diversity a priority in the organization?
I fully recognize that I am a bit of a weird face for this issue. When I started this organization, I was a white guy and I didn’t have kids. So, to take on an issue that is primarily affecting African American women with kids, I am a bit of a strange spokesperson for it some days. I think that for me to be trusted with this work, to be allowed to do this job, I have to be better at listening than anything else. I am incredibly intentional. I fail at it plenty of times, but I am incredibly intentional on seeking out families that are closer to this issue and African American women who can speak truth to me and develop the relationships with them. We offer long form, deep dive interviews with every family that has experienced this loss. Certainly, they are in a place with grief where they don’t say yes to this, but lots of families do. They tell us that not only does race matter, but racism matters.
I fully recognize that I am a bit of a weird face for this issue.
Listening to the professionals around me, which starts with my own staff… We are very deliberate about hiring an incredibly brilliant and talented group of African American women to work on this issue. They are not afraid to tell me when I am wrong, and I really appreciate that about them. I feel they can speak truth to me and I can lean into them. There are very large components of this work where I am simply not qualified to lead it. Therefore, I need to fully hand over the reins to members of my team that may be in a better position to lead it.
What does Cradle mean to you personally?
I don’t come to this work because I’ve had a personal experience with loss. Several people involved with the organization are involved for that reason, and I am extremely grateful for them. I come at it from how my previous job was with the City of Cincinnati, and I spent all day thinking about how this could be a better city and how we can get there. That’s essentially still my job. I think what is more motivating to me is the concept that we might make a better ecosystem for African American women in Cincinnati.
What moment in your career thus far has had the biggest impact on you?
I am tremendously proud of the organization, and the thing that immediately comes to mind is that I get to go to work with these amazing people every day – many of them being women. I get to go to work with brilliant women every day who make me smarter, make me better, and I get to be a part of seeing this come to fruition, which is tremendously rewarding.
I am motivated by what is in front of me in my personal life. I was raised by a microbiologist who happens to be female, which is kind of rare. My mom was taught as a young girl that she basically had the options to be a teacher, a nurse, or a homemaker. For whatever reason, she knew that she was made for something different. She had this amazing, 20-year-plus career with the Environmental Protection Agency and with Homeland Security, where she was doing the work of scientific discovery. Then at some point along the way, she passed me off to my scientifically minded wife. My wife, Kelly, works in evaluation for a health foundation here in Cincinnati. The sweet spot in life that I’m in right now is that I get to spend most of my time around those two women and my 19-month-old son. Those are my three favorite people.
What woman has influenced you the most?
I think that is almost certainly my mom. So, um, I get a chance to talk about my dad a lot because, in part, he died very young, and people tend to be interested when someone dies very young. I was in my mid 20s when my dad died, and you aren’t fully grown yet in your 20s, so the parenting that was left to do pretty much relied on one individual, which was my mom. Throughout that period, she became my best friend and travel companion and somebody who helped me think through career decisions and life decisions. She is brilliant and one of the smartest people that I know. She is also incredibly compassionate, incredibly kind, and incredibly generous. I just remember it being hardwired into me that you must be good to other people.
With the work that you do, I am sure it can be pretty taxing at times. What do you do to recharge yourself?
It is, at times, incredibly emotional work. There’s just about nothing sadder than a child dying, and that’s the work we do every day. There are days when it is challenging and days when it feels more real. So how do I recharge? Actually, this place, Crossroads, is part of that. I have been a member for about 11 years. A lot of my community is here. I had a police officer once tell me that one of the main reasons he goes to church is because he needs to be in rooms where there are large amounts of good people, and that recharges him. That happens for me here.
I still do make music, and that’s very recharging for me.
The first thing that came to mind was my little kiddo. I have a 19-month-old named Leo. I spend a lot of time around him. He doesn’t care what went on at work that day. He is just interested in marching around the room with a spatula in his hand with me. That allows me to be very much in the moment.
What would you like the readers to take away from this interview? What would you like them to know about you?
I think what I am passionate about is connecting the dots from wanting fewer babies dying in our community to issues of equality, so we need to be a city that invests in healthier women because that is where healthy babies come from. The idea that we as a community have an opportunity to think about women’s health in newer ways and make new investments is very exciting to me and my partners.