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New coalition aims to eradicate systemic racism in Rochester area

Members of the Racism is a public health crisis coalition standing behind a person speaking at a podium
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The Racism is a Public Health Crisis Coalition spoke at Rochester City Hall on March 8, 2022.

Saying they’re ready to take the lead, a new group intends to end systemic racism in the Rochester region.

The Racism is a Public Health Crisis Coalition includes nine founding members from community agencies that primarily serve people of color.

“We're not going to any other meetings about racism, unless we're having a meeting,” Jerome Underwood with Action for a Better Community said Tuesday during a news conference at City Hall. “Now, that sounds kind of arrogant, but we want to invite people to our table. The Racism is a Public Health Crisis table. Because we think we have the most at stake. The people that we serve, or who are feeling it the most.”

The coalition plans to challenge the socioeconomic and health care crises that people of color frequently encounter.

"We can't make people love people,” Underwood said. “We have to demand that people act differently in terms of policy, practice."

Within the next year, the coalition hopes to open a birthing center for women of color, increase minority homeownership rates, and explore a commuter tax to “fund economic development in poor neighborhoods.”

Mayor Malik Evans said he supports the coalition.

“This will not just be idle talk and chatter,” Evans said. “These are life-and-death conversations that we are having. We need to combine and join forces in our resources to create change.”

The coalition grew out of a May 2020 pledge launched by the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group. According to the group’s Elder Hanif Abdul Wahid, more than 1,700 individuals, agencies, schools, businesses, colleges, universities, and medical centers signed the pledge.

Wahid said the coalition was formed to “measure and assess the results” of the pledge, and hold those who signed it accountable.

“They are all stalwarts, talented, committed and experienced in the history, challenge, and realities of racism,” Wahid said.

Underwood said it’s imperative that longtime racial disparities -- which were only magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic -- no longer prevail.

“There's serious suffering that's happening, and we're not going to allow the rubber band to snap back to March 17, 2020. We just can't,” he said.

In addition to Underwood and the Greater Rochester Black Agenda Group, the founding group members are:

  • Angelica Perez Delgado, Ibero American Action League. 
  • Melanie Funchess, Ubuntu Village Works LLC. 
  • Sherita Bullock, Healthy Baby Network. 
  • Dr. Myra Henry, YWCA Rochester & Monroe County. 
  • Dr. Seanelle Hawkins, Urban League of Rochester. 
  • Dr. Janice Harbin, Jordan Health Center. 
  • Wade Norwood, Common Ground Health.