Burlington declares racism a public health emergency – Health News Today

Mark Hughes speaks Thursday at a press conference outside Burlington City Hall. Photo by Aidan Quigley/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — City officials and community leaders gathered Thursday to declare racism a public health crisis in the city of Burlington, with more than 30 organizations pledging to take action to fight racism in the community. 

Mayor Miro Weinberger made the announcement in front of City Hall Thursday morning, flanked by dozens of community leaders. 

“Coronavirus has laid bare for all to see a terrible, longstanding truth of American life,” Weinberger said. “As a result of deeply embedded structural racism, Black and brown Americans experience far worse health outcomes than their white contemporaries.” 

The city council voted late last month to reduce police staffing levels, create a community based cultural empowerment center and provide additional funding to the city’s Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging function, among other initiatives. 

Mark Hughes, executive director of Justice for All and a member of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, reflected on the centuries of racist violence and slavery in the country.

“This is our third attempt at trying to get something right as a nation,” he said. “We are trying to move from a place where folks’ backs are being ridden to a place where we can stand on the shoulders of those same people. There’s hope for the future.” 

Hughes thanked members and supporters of the Racial Justice Alliance for their work in pushing for change in the city, and encouraged the rest of the community to get on board with the alliance’s Operation Phoenix initiative. 

“There must be a radical redistribution of political and economic power in this nation and in this town,” Hughes said. 

The organizations that signed on to the declaration have committed to specific action aimed at eradicating racism within their organizations. 

VTDigger is underwritten by:

For example, the city will be creating a new Public Health Equity Manager position to work on the city’s racial health equity work, and the school district will review its curriculum to ensure it is culturally relevant and anti-racist. 

The University of Vermont Medical Center has committed to implement a Workforce Diversity Assessment aimed at increasing recruitment and retention of people of color to its staff and leadership, the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity will hire a Director of Racial Equity and the Howard Center will be creating a data dashboard system to identify health disparities and inform its work.   

Other organizations that signed on to the declaration include the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, Champlain College, Cathedral Square, Community Health Centers of Burlington, Champlain Housing Trust, Burton, among others. 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger speaks Thursday at a downtown press conference. Photo by Aidan Quigley/VTDigger

Weinberger said the commitments reflect…