The past months of service as an AmeriCorps National Health Corps member have been challenging, transformative, mournful, and galvanizing. Shortly after beginning to tele-serve from home in my role as Patient Navigator with the Illinois Eye Institute Princeton Clinic, my service drastically shifted. Direct patient interaction with energetic youth gave way to afternoons combing over datasets for our clinical research projects. With the aid of technology and digital communication tools, our team at IEI Princeton was able to submit a virtual research presentation for The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting, discussing the connections of corneal topography interpretation to current corneal ectasia indices in keratoconus.
Simultaneously, as the days of our collective COVID-19 quarantine progressed, more epidemiological data became available to the public. Utilizing my training in public health and equity from NHC, I was able to critically analyze these data. Unfortunately, an alarming trend began to emerge in the racial demographics of the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 and related deaths from the disease. According to the most recent data released from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) as of this writing, Black residents in Chicago account for 1,011 (44.6%) of the city’s 2,285 deaths, despite making up just 30% of the city’s population. What does this mean? Frankly, our public health and medical care systems, in practice, have failed the Black community in Chicago throughout this pandemic.
Throughout my studies, as well as my AmeriCorps service year, I have learned about and encountered countless social determinants of health. In a Washington Post article published in early April, CDPH Commissioner Dr. Arwardy indicated that the higher rate of chronic disease among Black and African American Chicagoans underpins these higher COVID-19 mortality rates. From a public health perspective, the basis of this increased rate of pre-existing chronic disease and subsequent disproportionate mortality from COVID-19 is the decades of inequitable access to health care and opportunity compared to white people further. In short, the systemic and structural racism within our society allowed for this to happen.
Then, while grappling with these figures and the impact of COVID-19 on the families I serve in Fuller Park, IEI Princeton, and Greater Chicago, the world watched in absolute anguish and grief as the multiple senseless murders of Black people by the police continued to traumatize our country and the Black community. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in addition to Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Michelle Cusseaux, Laquan Mcdonald, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, George Mann, Matthew Ajibade, Frank Smart, Natasha Mckenna, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Mya Hall, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, William Chapman II, Alexia Christian, Brendon Glenn, Victor Manuel Larosa, Jonathan Sanders, Freddie Blue, Joseph Mann, Salvado Ellswood, Sandra Bland, Albert Joseph Davis, Darrius Stewart, Billy Ray Davis, Samuel DuBose, Michael Sabbie, Brian Keith Day, Christian Taylor, Tyre King, Troy Robinson, Asshams Pharoah Manley, Felix Kumi, Keith Harrison Mcleod, Junior Prosper, Lamontez Jones, Paterson Brown, Dominic Hutchinson, Anthony Ashford, Alonzo Smith, Tyree Crawford, India Kager, La’Vante Biggs, Michael Lee Marshall, Jamar Clark, Richard Perkins, Nathaniel Harris Pickett, Benni Lee Tignor, Miguel Espinal, Michael Noel, Kevin Matthews, Bettie Jones, Quintonio Legrier, Keith Childress Jr., Janet Wilson, Randy Nelson, Antronie Scott, Wendell Celestine, David Joseph, Calin Roquemore, Dyzhawn Perkins, Christopher Davis, Marco Loud, Peter Gaines, Torrey Robinson, Darius Robinson, Kevin Hicks, Mary Truxillo, Demarcus Semer, Willie Tillman, Terrill Thomas, Sylville Smith, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Paul O’Neal, Alteria Woods, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Ronell Foster, Stephon Clark, Antwon Rose II, Botham Jean, Pamela Turner, Freddie Gray, Dominique Clayton, Atatiana Jefferson, Christopher Whitfield, Christopher McCorvey, Eric Reason, Michael Lorenzo Dean, and countless others underscore the unequivocal necessity for overarching, societal change — not just written statements or empty commitments — but concrete action that is grounded in justice, reparation, amplifying Black voices, and dismantling the harmful systems that led us to this point. Crucially, it is not incumbent on people who are oppressed to deconstruct the institutions that create injustice.
Reflecting on my service year with the National Health Corps as a whole, if this experience has taught me any one lesson more, it is the robust power of community, resilience, and perseverance. Right now more than ever, amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic and strengthened Black Lives Matter movement, these values, along with active listening, humility, empathy, and learning, will be the starting point for the difficult work ahead for a more just world. It is imperative that we collaborate to forge an anti-racist future, expand services to address the social determinants of health, and reshape our society for good.
For more resources on Chicago’s Black Lives Matter Movement, to learn more about anti-racism and activism, and/or to get involved, a non-exhaustive list: (**indicates compilation of resources)
- Black Lives Matter Chicago: blacklivesmatterchicago.com, @BLMChi
- Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc.: blacklivesmatter.com, @Blklivesmatter
- The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL): m4bl.org, @Mvmnt4BlkLives
- My Block, My Hood, My City: formyblock.org, @mbmhmc
- Assata’s Daughters: assatasdaughters.org
- Good Kids Mad City: @GKMC2018 on Facebook/Twitter
- Brave Space Alliance: the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ+ Center located on the South Side of Chicago: bravespacealliance.org, @BSAllianceChi
**List of anti-racism educational multimedia and readings: bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES
**Ways to help right now: blacklivesmatters.carrd.co
I owe all of my education and understanding of these topics and these resources due to the teachings, experiences, and labor of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), Women of Color, and LGBTQ+ folks.
Image Credit: https://blacklivesmatter.com/social-media-graphics/
Chicago Department of Public Health, “CHICAGO COVID-19 UPDATE,” CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE CENTER, 08-Jun-2020. [Online]. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/covid-19/home/latest-data.html.
M. Flynn, “'Those numbers take your breath away': Covid-19 is hitting Chicago's black neighborhoods much harder than others, officials say,” The Washington Post, 07-Apr-2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/07/chicago-racial-disparit....
S. M. Meraji, G. Demby, K. G. Bates, L. Donnella, S. Drummond, K. Devarajan, J. Kung, N. Escobar, I. Rosario, and D. Lugo, “A Decade Of Watching Black People Die,” CODE SWITCH, 31-May-2020. NPR. [Online]. Available: https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-peop....
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Zach Schreckenberger.
Zach is a Patient Navigator at the Illinois Eye Institute at Princeton Vision Clinic.