The past several months have illuminated the harsh realities of anti-Black racism in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate African American communities throughout the nation. The recent murders of Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among many others, have prompted calls for leaders to declare racism a public health crisis.
The African American Leadership & Policy Institute (AALPI) seeks collaborations with University of Illinois researchers, policy advocates, and community engagement professionals to respond to these racial justice issues. Below, Sequane Lawrence, Executive Director of AALPI, and Lou Turner, a Clinical Assistant Professor with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Urban & Regional Planning who is also a member of AALPI, share more about the organization’s response to recent work in these areas and how Illinois researchers can get involved.
The African American Leadership & Policy Institute –
Scaling Up to Meet the Challenge of COVID-19 in Chicago’s African American Communities
The African American Leadership & Policy Institute (AALPI) is a Black, Chicago-based, think tank engaged in policy research and leadership advocacy of policies that affect the urgent needs of the Black community. In response to the disparate effects of COVID-19 in Black communities, AALPI has initialized a new Health & Wellness domain to scale up its policy ecosystem in the areas of Black health and wellness. With the Institute’s COVID-19 initiative, we are 1) reaching out to medical and public health researchers to (a) increase our knowledge of the COVID pandemic, its disparate impacts on sectors of the Black community, and (b) advocate for significant policy changes; and 2) recruiting public health researchers, policy advocates, and community engagement professionals.
In return, AALPI offers researchers a community stakeholder platform to engage advocates and activists in Chicago’s Black communities, and, importantly, connections to public officials and decision-makers who are now tasked with bringing about sweeping policy changes to the systems of structural racism that have disadvantaged the African American community for generations.
Several University of Illinois researchers are already working with AALPI to study health disparities. One of those researchers is civil and environmental engineering professor Vishal Verma, who studies ambient particulate matter and their emission sources, which are most responsible for inducing the adverse health effects in humans. Through AALPI, Prof. Verma connected with TCA Health, Inc., a healthcare clinic located next to the Altgeld Gardens public housing project on the far South Side of Chicago. More than two dozen landfills and massive waste sites surround Altgeld Gardens. Hazel M. Johnson, considered the mother of the Environmental Justice movement and founder of People for Community Recovery, an environmental justice organization located in Altgeld Garden, dubbed the area, the toxic doughnut. Dr. Verma and AALPI member Lou Turner are also in search of potential collaborators and funding to underwrite their work on this project.
As AALPI scales its work around health disparities in African American communities, we invite University of Illinois researchers to engage with us in the following ways:
- Present work in virtual public forums with community stakeholders and legislators.
- Facilitate community forums and policy recommendations for Black public officials.
- Populate the Health & Wellness domain on our website with real-time information and research, as well as resources, relating to COVID-19 and the Black community.
- Review the extensive COVID-19 research received by the Institute for placement on its website and in its research clearinghouse.
- Help set research directions and priorities as part of the AALPI Working Group on Health & Wellness.
- Collaborate with AALPI and its partners in developing cutting-edge research to support policy changes that will concretely improve Black lives.
The Institute’s Health & Wellness agenda, for which we are looking for research and policy partners, includes developing community-based research strategies (action research) to:
- Determine the impact of COVID-19 on Black communities in Chicago.
- Continue to collect information on COVID-19 and the social determinants of health that make the virus such a devastating challenge for the Black community.
- Expose the structural barriers to accessing data on the ethnic breakdown of COVID-19 transmissions and fatalities.
Dedicated to a policy research agenda of deconstructing systems of structural racism, AALPI was formed in 2015 to reimagine and construct systems of policy change rooted in the self-determination of African American communities to bend the policy curve toward real, measurable racial equity. The Black Lives Matter uprising of the last three weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, following a series of anti-Black acts of police violence, was in some ways anticipated by AALPI’s Theory of Change. Like the Black Lives Matter Movement, AALPI argues that human-centered social policy is indispensable to a stronger and equitable society. The Institute’s unapologetically Black racial equity theory of change can drive real and permanent community-based change.