On July 20, the town of Longmeadow declared racism to be a public health crisis. The Black Lives Matter movement was recently spurred with the death of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020, and other black Americans in the following months, provoking many local governments to declare racism to be such a crisis. The Longmeadow town government has taken the first steps in creating an Anti-Racism Coalition.
“We weren’t quite sure of how to tackle it, and it just so happens that [LHS alum] Michael Baick reached out,” says Mr. Marc Strange, Vice-Chair of the Longmeadow Select Board. “[We have] collaborated on a draft resolution, and we sent it to the rest of the select board for their consideration and to the town manager and that’s how it got started.” Strange claims that “there is overwhelming evidence by respected medical and health institutions that racism has an empirical, identifiable, observable, negative impact on health.” Baick was able to help, as he worked on a draft resolution in Chicopee, MA. He gave the resolution, which was inspired by Representative Ayanna Pressley and the MA Black/Latino Caucus in the State Legislature, to Longmeadow’s Select Board. This group, consisting of nine members, is the newest addition to the town government. It was formed on October 5th.
As for the actual functions of the group, Chair of the Longmeadow Select Board Tom Lachuisa explains, “We have two kinds of pain in this world: unavoidable pain, and then there’s avoidable pain. When we look at racial injustice and racism, there’s a lot of pain that can be avoided. The coalition will look at the extent of racism in our community, and then see what recommendations they have. I think the best thing that could come out of this is new policies [for the town], and then policies that could improve the state.” Most of these policies will be in regard to more affordable housing in Longmeadow. He goes on, “We’d have to have some housing at an affordable rate. So if we were able to move in that direction, that would open the door for those people with more moderate incomes to live in our town. I hope that will be part of this outcome.”
Three years ago, in 2017, Milwaukee county, Wisconsin, was the first municipality to declare that racism was a public health crisis. In the following years more and more states and small communities declared that racism was a public health issue or crisis. Milwaukee was deemed one of the most segregated cities in the country, and made the controversial announcement in hopes that it would spur more organizations and governments to commit to fighting racism. This movement gained further momentum when in 2018 a research group from Ohio State University discovered that “racial disparities in health tend to be more pronounced at the upper ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. [The cause is] acute and chronic discrimination.” Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, says “the first part of trying to solve a problem is to identify that it exists.” This is the challenge many governments and communities face when approaching this issue.