Although they may have different capacities, two new initiatives—one across multiple cities and one centered in Rochester—take aim at the issue of structural racism in various fields including economics, public health and education.
The newest program is the expansion of Rochester into the Closing the Gaps Network, an initiative by financial and foundational collaborative Living Cities intended to eliminate racial disparities in income and wealth.
The network, which began in October 2020, gives participants access to cross-city learning opportunities and technical assistance providers, facilitators, resources, and connections to other networks of practitioners working to create equitable impact. Previous actionable initiatives for the network have included inclusive procurement, guaranteed income payments and sales taxes that support inclusive economic development.
“The equitable strategies that the Closing the Gaps Network will implement have been shown to create billions of dollars in economic activity for city and regional economies,” says Joe Scantlebury, Living Cities president and CEO. “By applying a racial equity analysis to how their city operates across private, philanthropic and public sectors, the Closing the Gaps members will provide tangible benefits for residents of color while also improving economic opportunities for all.”
The network includes 20 other cities besides Rochester, stretching from New Haven, Conn., to Sacramento, Calif. Rochester is the first city in New York to be added to the network.
Rochester has its share of racial inequalities. For example, during the census, the State of New York Mortgage Agency identifies areas of “chronic economic distress” that may have poor housing stock conditions or require a high need for owner-financing.The latest data from SONYMA shows the target areas in Rochester tend to have a high percentage of people of color.
In its next phase, members of the network will design equitable strategies to support the closing of income and wealth gaps in their cities. This will include establishing interventions that support the increase of homeownership rates among people of color, as well as entrepreneurship rates.
On the flip side, a different program also aimed at structural racism, sees its roots in the city itself.
The same day–March 8– that the city announced its membership in the network, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans joined with the Black Agenda Group to remind the community to sign the “Racism is a Public Health Crisis” pledge and to introduce the Implementation Tool, an online form that prompts organizations to adopt anti-racist policies.
The “Racism is a Public Health Crisis” campaign began in May 2020 by the Black Agenda Group to take the issue of racial health disparities from a conversation to a push for action. History shows that people of color face unfair disadvantages in many aspects of life, access to adequate health care.
“For too long, historical exclusive systems of access for some and not for others have plagued our city and country with the results of poverty, violence, bad health and poor quality education,” says Hanif Abdul-Wahid of the Black Agenda Group. “It has left too many Black, Brown and underserved communities to suffer and struggle. Now is the time to work on eradicating exclusive systems to more inclusive systems.”
This issue of public health for people of color is even more present since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The latest data from the state Department of Health reveals that Black people are suffering deaths from the disease at much greater rates than other racial categories. While the average for all of Monroe County was just over 100 deaths per 100,000 people, Black people were more than double that figure at 248 deaths per 100,000.
“The issue of racial health disparities has been a conversation for too long,” Evans says. “How can we create safe, stable neighborhoods if 40 percent of our population is underserved and unable to rely on a health system created to keep them healthy? We can’t.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer.
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