Systemic racism a public health crisis in Chicago, Lightfoot says

Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared racism a public health crisis in Chicago, pointing to systematic racism as a leading factor in life expectancy discrepancies across the city.

The mayor was joined by Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, and city leaders in North Lawndale on the West Side on Thursday where she made the announcement.

Lightfoot highlighted a data briefing released earlier this week which shows that the life-expectancy gap between Black Chicagoans is 9.2 years less than non-Black residents.


"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 news release.

"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. That's why I am declaring racism as a public health crisis and looking forward to doubling down on both ongoing and new collaborations with City officials and community leaders to address the racist policies that have wreaked havoc on our Black and Latinx communities."

Lightfoot said the city would be implementing a "will to act" initiative that will focus on addressing the impacts of historical policies like Jim Crow restrictions, redlining, and "other forms of financial and housing segregation and discrimination."

CDPH says it's allocating nearly $10 million in COVID-19 relief funds from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish Healthy Chicago Equity Zones covering the entire city.


The six equity zones will be led be regional and community organizations to help improve community and individual wellness, according to Lightfoot's office

The six geographic zones and their lead organizations include:

  • 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)

"The launch of the Healthy Chicago Equity Zones is an extension of the racial and health equity work implemented by community leaders, public health entities, city government, and health institutions," said Ayesha Jaco, executive director of West Side United, a community-based initiative for Chicago’s western neighborhoods.

Five factors contribute to the near decade-long differences in life expectancy, including chronic diseases, homicide, infant mortality, opioid overdose, and health concerns such as HIV, flu, and other infections – like the coronavirus.

"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," Arwady said. "This data brief highlights these inequities and is a charge for us to re-double our efforts to address these inequities." 

Lightfoot called the data a "stark reminder of the legacy of unacceptable inequities" that continue to affect Black Chicagoans.