Common Ground Health, the African American and Latino health coalitions and the Healthi Kids Coalition stand with Black residents and other partners in acknowledging that racism is a public health crisis. We are heartbroken by recent examples of police brutality and high COVID-19 deaths among Black residents in our community and nationally. As staff and coalition members, we know that these tragic events are not unrelated or accidental.

Over the past two decades, Common Ground Health research has shown that social inequity—in housing, education, employment, incarceration and opportunity—has been killing Black residents in Rochester and the Finger Lakes at a rate that is unconscionable.

Compared to Whites in our region, Blacks have a 72% higher premature mortality rate.[1] And this tragic disparity cannot be attributed solely to the corrosive effects of poverty. Even at the highest socioeconomic levels, Blacks in our region experience a 49% higher premature mortality rate than Whites.[2]

For COVID-19, underlying social inequities in Monroe County have led to death rates for Blacks that are nearly three times higher than for Whites.[3] African Americans also are more than five times more likely to be hospitalized because of the illness.[4] 

In the midst of this pandemic, most of the world longs to return to normal. As staff and coalition members, we understand that for Black Americans, normal is the last thing needed. Normal is the knee of racism on the necks of our Black neighbors. It is the knee that relegates most Black children in this community to segregated schools overwhelmed by economic distress. The knee that traps Black families in poverty and prevents them from building intergenerational wealth. The knee that criminalizes Black adults and children, hanging a perverse cloud of terror over interactions with the very people who are charged with protecting their safety.

This is a historic moment for change. We are experiencing a confluence of crises strong enough to provide the clarity and motivation to enact anti-racist policies and practices. As the multi-racial, multi-generational protesters are showing and as the statements of solidarity from dozens of community organizations reinforces, we are all in this together.

Words are hollow unless followed by action. We endorse the declaration by the Rochester Black Agenda Group that Racism is a Public Health Crisis and encourage others to share your endorsement with the Black Agenda. We point proudly to our work plan in which the issues of race and racism are central and which is focused on a vision of achieving health equity by not only addressing the clinical factors that undermine wellness, but also the social inequities that are killing too many of our neighbors. In the coming months, we look forward to releasing extensive reports on African American and Latino health in our region and stand committed to developing collaborative initiatives that support anti-racist policies and practices across our community.


[1] NYS Vital Statistics for Finger Lakes region. 2014-2016

[2] NYS Vital Statistics for Finger Lakes region. 2010-2016

[3] Monroe County Department of Health, as of June 1, 2020

[4] Monroe County Department of Health, as of June 1, 2020