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Thoughts on Equity

Black History Month: Redlining and Health

February 10, 2022

Thoughts on Equity is a blog series presented by the Kansas Health Foundation to feature written, video and audio content from multiple KHF contributors. Through this blog, KHF will discuss issues of equity, systemic racism, health disparities and how Kansans have the opportunity to shape a more equitable and inclusive future.

Thoughts on Equity: Black History Month – Redlining and Health

The Kansas Health Foundation joins many organizations and businesses in lifting-up Black History Month throughout February. This important annual celebration helps all of us remember and recognize the important achievements and contributions of Black Americans throughout history and across our communities and nation.

In 1915, Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland started their research to chronicle the contributions of Black individuals. The first celebration of Black Americans was in 1926, celebrated the second week in February, coinciding with the birthdays of the abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. It evolved to a month-long celebration in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement and became an official presidential proclamation in 1976.

This year’s theme is “Black health and wellness.” It is particularly fitting for us at the Kansas Health Foundation, as we recognize both the contributions of Black medical professionals and those working in communities with prevention and outreach efforts to improve health outcomes. It is also important to recognize that there are other factors that greatly impact health and life expectancy in our Black communities. Many “systems,” including the healthcare system, education, housing, criminal justice and foster care, disproportionately affect Black communities. We see the disparities in Kansas data, including lower life expectancies in zip codes with higher Black populations, less access to health care and healthy food, higher rates of arrests and incarceration and disinvestment in Black neighborhoods.

The practice of redlining in housing policies played a significant role in all of this – and yes, even in Kansas. In the 1930s, mortgage lending practices included grading neighborhoods based on risk. Neighborhoods with Black, Hispanic and Jewish populations were deemed undesirable. Many people don’t know that Wichita was identified as the third-most redlined city in the nation, with nearly 64 percent of neighborhoods identified as hazardous. These areas in Wichita that were redlined (deemed hazardous) in the 1930s are unfortunately the same areas that are struggling today, with low life expectancies, poor health outcomes, poverty and significant disinvestment.

In addition to Wichita, there are other communities that have, and continue to suffer from, redlining practices in Kansas, including Topeka, Wyandotte County and even Johnson County. Leaders in these counties have identified redlined areas and created broad community partnerships for change:

  • Wyandotte County (Kansas City, Kansas) community leaders have come together to create a “H.E.A.T. (Health Equity Action Transformation) Report,” targeting redlined areas to restore homes and create solutions for improving health outcomes and quality of life.
  • Our KHF team had the opportunity recently to meet with Topeka leaders (including staff from the Topeka Community Foundation, City of Topeka, Topeka Public Schools and Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library) who are addressing the lingering problems in their neighborhoods related to redlining. This month, the United Way of Greater Topeka is hosting weekly Facebook presentations about redlining and their work today. I encourage you to join their United Way Wednesday Specials (or watch the recordings when you have time).
  • The Johnson County Museum in northeast Kansas recently launched an exhibit called “Redlined,” along with special events and activities in collaboration with other community organizations.

This month, KHF will be highlighting partners and organizations bringing greater awareness to Black History Month and advancing racial and health equity. As we continue with our strategic planning process, one of our priorities is to continue to listen, learn and invest in historically redlined Black communities in Kansas.

We look forward to the time when we can celebrate Black history throughout the year, instead of just one month, as it truly becomes a shared American history. Together, we can change history!

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