Local non-profit recognizing racism as a public health crisis

Updated: Mar 9

Alliance House, with help from other members of the Knoxville community, is working on a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis to present to the city council.

The resolution’s main goal is to drive the city to action, according to Alliance House Community Coalition executive director De’Ossie Dingus, who cited that, if the resolution passes, Knoxville will commit full attention to “improving the quality of life and health of the Black and minority residents of Knoxville.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that centuries of racism has had a pervasive impact “affecting where one lives, learns, works, worships and plays and creating inequities in access to a range of social and economic benefits—such as housing, education, wealth, and employment.”

As such, this resolution would provide a pathway forward for the city to recognize the work that needs to be done and to begin bridging gaps and solving problems caused by allowing these issues to fester unaddressed for so long.

Tennessee is certainly not exempt from the effects of racism. Knoxville already has a higher rate of poverty than the state and national averages, but the poverty rate is drastically higher for Black residents. For instance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 41.6 percent of the Black residents in Knoxville are living below the poverty line, compared to the national average of 25.2 percent. Black Tennesseans also make up 20 percent of total deaths due to COVID-19, despite only making up 17 percent of the population.

The resolution lists several reasons that it is necessary for Knoxville to declare racism as a public health crisis. Examples include the poverty rate, the COVID death rate, violent episodes in Knoxville’s history, such as the 1919 race riots, and more recent events, such as an “urban renewal project which devastated an area of thriving black-owned businesses.”

“...One of the things this resolution does is shine a light on some of the symptoms of a wider racial discrimination illness,” said Jon Shefner, professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and longtime activist. He edited the resolution written by De’Ossie Dingus, board chair, executive director, and founder of the Alliance House Community Coalition. “But I think there’s going to have to be a wider and more comprehensive effort (by city council) to address centuries of discrimination.”

This resolution is not a new idea, either. As of January 2022, more than 200 municipalities have declared racism to be a public health crisis. Knoxville would certainly not be the first if this resolution passes, and it could be a step towards supporting its Black community.

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