Racism is public health crisis in Chicago, Lightfoot declares

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday declared racism a public health crisis in the city.

The mayor made her announcement in North Lawndale, near the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had lived when he and his family moved to Chicago in 1966.

She was joined there by Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health and other city and community leaders.

“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 news release issued by her office before the North Lawndale news conference.

“Without formally acknowledging this detrimental impact, we will never be able to move forward as a city and fully provide our communities with the resources they need to live happy and healthy lives.”

In that news release, the mayor also highlighted life expectancy gap between Black and non-Black Chicagoans — 9.2 years, a difference which has increased in the past 10 years.

The American Public Health Association already has declared racism a public health crisis that needs immediate attention. Other institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, American Association of Pediatrics, and American College of Emergency Physicians also have recognized racism as an urgent threat to public health.

“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,” Candace Moore, Chicago’s chief equity officer, was quoted as saying in the news release.

“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.”

The city health department also announced it is allocating $9.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the CDC to set up “Healthy Chicago Equity Zones” to “develop targeted strategies to improve community and individual wellness.”

The groups leading that effort will be:

• 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)

Check back for details on this developing story.

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