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Racism declared a public health crisis in Grand Rapids

A Kent County study found more than half of Black and Latino residents say that racism heightens their stress levels, affecting them physically and emotionally.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The City of Grand Rapids approved a proposal that would look at racism in a new light. City commissioners decided to declare racism as a public health crisis. 

The resolution was proposed at a morning meeting earlier in September by the City's Director of Equity and Engagement Stacy Stout. It was approved on Tuesday night. 

"Racism is so deep and pervasive in all systems," Stout said.

"I think have this as a resolution actually elevates things," Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear said at the meeting. 

Second Ward Commissioner Joe Jones says the resolution is a good start for the commission in addressing racism.

"We have to call it out and we have to identify it for what it is," he says. 

A Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment last year found racial disparities in the healthcare system, with one in ten Black and Latino residents facing racial discrimination when seeking healthcare.

The statistic works in conjunction with the fact that Black residents are twice as likely to develop diabetes, 1.7 times as likely to develop high blood pressure and 1.5 times as likely to die of a heart attack, the study says.

"(Racism) has the capability to shorten your lifespan," Jones says. "Simply because of the lived experience and the stress attributed to it, all those things could lead to a life that's shortened or incomplete." 

More than half of Black and Latino residents say that discrimination heightens their stress levels, affecting them physically and emotionally, according to the study.

"I think it's an opportunity to provide a different lens when we're looking at issues," Jones says. 

Among other things, the resolution will support local efforts and movements and leverage resources to improve equity with the help of the Kent County Health Department.

"This resolution will not undo racism but it is a step in the right direction" Stout said.

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