Agreeing that systemic racism is a social determinant of health with profound negative impacts on the health of Bloomington residents, the Bloomington City Council has deemed racism a public health crisis.

During its Jan. 25 meeting, the council unanimously approved the resolution, which outlines several steps the city will take in an effort to advance racial equity and improve public health.

The topic was introduced to the council last August. The city’s staff asked councilmembers to think about racism as “a threat to the health and wellbeing of the members of our black, indigenous and people of color communities,” said Diann Kirby, the city’s community services director.

The impact of systemic racism on public health was apparent last year, as COVID-19 cases and deaths disproportionately affected the city’s minority populations, Kirby explained.

The council’s resolution outlines several steps the city will take to improve public health for all Bloomington residents, such as engaging the community in a review of the city’s Racial Equity Business Plan, which was adopted by the council in October and will guide the city’s racial equity work.

The city will also engage and partner with local and regional organizations that are addressing racism as a public health issue, an activity that is already underway. The city’s staff has met with Bloomington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Jenna Mitchler for discussions regarding the school district’s Safe and Supportive Schools plan, adopted by the Bloomington Board of Education last June. The plan is intended to address racial inequities and foster school environments that promote respect for and curiosity about all cultures.

The resolution includes the addition of a racial equity section in the city’s legislative policy, and the city will work with an external consultant in implementing the steps identified in the resolution. Funding for the city’s initiatives was identified by City Manager Jamie Verbrugge last month. It includes $40,000 for hiring a consultant and initiating community engagement, according to Faith Jackson, the city’s racial equity coordinator.

When a person’s life expectancy varies upon where he or she lives, and that correlates with where communities of color reside, the public health crisis declaration is “a huge first step in calling the problem what it is,” Councilmember Patrick Martin said.

The resolution acknowledges the truth, Councilmember Nathan Coulter said. Racism results in massive inequality and health outcomes, and it’s important to acknowledge that, he added.

Recent COVID-19 data presented to the council illustrated how the city’s minority residents are disproportionately affected. Black residents comprise 13% of Bloomington’s COVID-19 cases, but account for 9% of the city’s residents. Hispanic residents comprise 19% of Bloomington’s COVID-19 cases, but also account for 9% of the city’s residents. White, non-Hispanic residents comprise 57% of Bloomington’s COVID-19 cases, but account for 77% of the city’s residents.

Bloomington birth data shows how the city’s population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. In 2019, 48% of Bloomington births were to non-white mothers, and the percent of non-white residents is increasing. According to census figures, minority populations comprised 13.1% of the city’s population in 2000. The non-white population comprised 22.8% of residents in 2010, and it was projected to be 27.2% by 2018. Results of the 2020 census have yet to be released.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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