Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city's Chicago Department of Public Health on Thursday declared racism a public health crisis, citing the 9.2-year life expectancy gap between Black and non-Black Chicagoans that has increased in the past 10 years.
"At almost every single point in our city's history, racism has taken a devastating toll on the health and wellbeing of our residents of color—especially those who are Black," Lightfoot said in a statement.
Also citing declining life expectancy rates within Chicago's Asian and Latino communities, Lightfoot said she is prepared to increase collaborations with city officials and community leaders "to address the racist policies that have wreaked havoc on our Black and Latinx communities."
The mayor specifically called on the city to improve anti-racist policies by "building capacity for anti-racist leadership," "reckoning with the impacts of racism," "advancing strategies to operationalize racial equity" and "empowering transformative community relationships."
As part of that strategy, CDPH said the department will allocate $9.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish what officials call Healthy Chicago Equity Zones, described as "six geographic areas covering the entire city that will be led by regional and community organizations" to "create community-based stakeholder coalitions to develop targeted strategies to improve community and individual wellness."
The following organizations will be attached to the zones:
- Far South: Phalanx Family Services
- Near South: Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation
- North/Central: Swedish Covenant Hospital
- Northwest: Northwest Side Housing Center
- Southwest: Southwest Organizing Project
- West: Rush University Medical Center (on behalf of West Side United)
"COVID-19 brought to the surface these inequities in our city and our society, but they’ve always been there, and they’ve always been a focus of the work we do at CDPH," said CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady in a statement. "This data brief highlights these inequities and is a charge for us to re-double our efforts to address these inequities."
With this announcement, the city of Chicago joins the American Public Health Association, which has declared racism a public health crisis in need of immediate attention.
"Public health indicators demonstrate very clearly what happens when we allow racism to persist. We lose people we love, jeopardize our livelihoods, and cut-short our promise for the future," said Candace Moore, City of Chicago’s chief equity officer. "When one community is allowed to suffer, we are harmed as an entire city. As Chicagoans, when we declare racism a public health crisis, we must put action behind our words. We must make a collective commitment to act toward building systems of inclusion that reflect on our past, reclaim our present, and reimagine our future."