City building

The Athens city building. File art by Sydney Dawes.

The City of Athens recently declared racism as a public health crisis.

Athens City Council met in a special session on June 22 to discuss ordinances and resolutions.

Councilmember Sarah Grace proposed the resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis during a committee meeting before last week’s regular meeting of Athens City Council.

Grace noted she proposed this resolution mirrors a statewide trend, as many other cities and counties have declared racism a public health crisis. Montgomery County and Dayton, for example, passed similar resolutions this week. Columbus also passed this kind of resolution, and Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill on the state level (Senate Concurrent Resolution 14), Grace said.

Grace’s proposal included information about the relationship between health and race. She cited the American Health Association, which stated that racism contributes to health inequities in both social and material aspects.

She also highlighted data from the Ohio Department of Health, which stated that infant and maternal mortality rates among Black women and babies is 2.5 times higher than that of white women and babies.

In addition, Black Ohioans have higher rates of mortality in terms of the coronavirus (COVID-19), heart disease, cancer and more. Overall, Black Ohioans have a life expectancy that is 4 years less than that of white Ohioans, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

In addition, the American Public Health Association has pointed to law enforcement violence as a public health issue, and an issue that disproportionately impacts marginalized groups, Grace explained during the council meeting.

This resolution (Resolution 10-20) calls for multiple actions from the City of Athens. First, it requests that Mayor Steve Patterson create a work group to promote racial equity community engagement, as well as to build partnerships with organizations that “have a history of fighting racism,” Grace said.

The resolution also requests that elected officials receive racial equity training. In addition, the resolution commits city officials to reviewing the Athens City Code “under a lens of racial equity.”

Grace also noted that the resolution will focus on conducting human resource actions under the same lens of racial equity, having impacts on internal policies and practices like hiring, promotion and funding.

Mayor Patterson voiced approval of the resolution and suggested that the working group he creates be made up of members from existing committees and councils, as well as some other individuals.

He pointed to the Police Advisory Council, Affordable Housing and Community Relations committees as groups that could be used for the working group.

The resolution received a second motion for adoption by Councilmember Chris Fahl. All other members voted in approval of the resolution.

Athens City Council will be on recess for the month of July.

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