Mayor Lori Lightfoot declares racism a public health crisis in Chicago

ByJessica D'Onofrio, Will Jones, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team via WLS logo
Friday, June 18, 2021
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Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared racism a public health crisis in Chicago Thursday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot formally declared racism to be a public health crisis in Chicago Thursday.

Mayor Lightfoot made the announcement at the MLK Exhibit Center in North Lawndale. She's calling on all Chicagoans to work together to address racial inequities that have resulted from systemic racism.

"We can no longer allow racism -- our residents -- to rob the residents of the opportunity to live and lead full, healthy and happy lives and we are working closely with the Chicago Department of Public Health and community organizations to address these inequities once and for all," Mayor Lightfoot said.

The mayor and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said the city needs to build on its work to improve anti-racist policies that address the root causes of inequity.

Lightfoot called for improving anti-racism policies by:

-Building capacity for anti-racist leadership,

-Reckoning with the impacts of racism,

-Advancing strategies to operationalize racial equity,

-Empowering transformative community relationships.

CDPH announced that it will be using $9.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create six Healthy Chicago Equity Zones covering the whole city.

The city is partnering with six community organizations as part of the Healthy Equity Zones-

-Far South: Phalanx Family Services

-Near South: Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation

-North/Central: Swedish Hospital

-Northwest: Northwest Side Housing Center

-Southwest: Southwest Organizing Project

-West: Rush University Medical Center (on behalf of West Side United)

Those organizations are charged with creating community-based coalitions to develop strategies to improve wellness.

"As we continue to recover from the pandemic, these coalitions will also lead hyperlocal strategies to confront the risk factors: health care and social services access, food access, housing conditions, community safety, and the physical and built neighborhood environments," said CDI+PH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

The announcement comes after CDPH released a study earlier this week on the health of Black Chicagoans. The report revealed a growing life expectancy gap between Black and non-Black residents, more than nine years. City dad also shows life expectancy is falling for Latinx and Asian residents.

RELATED: Black Chicagoans have shorter life expectancy, Chicago Dept. of Public Health report finds

"It is so frustrating to see patients come to me and you know the system has failed them in so many different ways," said Dr. Melissa Simon, NU Feinberg School of Medicine.

The report listed the factors of the gap as chronic diseases, homicides, infant mortality, HIV, flu and other infections and opioid overdoses.

Simon directs the Center of Health Equity Transformation at Northwestern, and said it's important to acknowledge racism in health outcomes.

"It is very helpful when our leaders declare that we are going to address root causes and, in this case, the real root cause of health disparities and health inequities is racism," she said.

Lightfoot said the city plans to continue to tackle anti-racist policies with a focus on things like transforming systems and adopting racial equity tools and strategies.

To view the report, click The State of Health for Blacks in Chicago.