Mayor&Rsquo;S Office

Our community declaration of racism as a public health emergency

July 17, 2020


This week, I gathered with the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and more than 30 Chittenden County organizations to declare racism a public health emergency, announce immediate actions to address it, and commit to ongoing joint action to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism in Chittenden County.

One of the reasons for this community declaration is that the coronavirus has laid bare a terrible and longstanding truth: as a result of deeply embedded, structural racism, Black and brown Americans experience far worse health outcomes than their white neighbors do. In this pandemic, Black and brown Americans are getting infected with the virus at three times the rate of whites, and with adjustments for age, are dying at even more disparate rates. While Vermont has much lower infection rates than other states, the same race-based disparities exist here too: though Black residents comprise just over 1 percent of Vermont’s population, as of July 8, they account for approximately 10 percent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases in Vermont.

Why is this? Black and brown Americans are more exposed to the coronavirus for a broad array of reasons that are driven by systemic racism – where they live, the work that they do, the shortcomings in the health care they receive, and more. To start to truly change this, we need to address all of the social determinants of individual and public heath – health care, and also housing, education, economic opportunity, and more. In this week’s declaration, actions, and commitment to ongoing action, we assembled a coalition of many of the most impactful employers, service providers, housing institutions, schools, and other key partners. This is the kind of coalition that we will need to make lasting change.

I am deeply and personally committed to making progress on racial justice here in Burlington. With the declaration and new actions that we announced this week, we start a new collective effort to tackle the massive challenge of eradicating system racism and the profound health disparities that it creates in a new way. I am grateful to Mark Hughes, coordinator of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, for pushing and collaborating with me in this work, and to Tyeastia Green, the City’s new director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging, for her partnership in it.

I am also grateful to all of the more than 30 committed organizations of all types that signed on to the declaration this week. The door remains open to any Burlington-area organization that would like to join this fight and be a part of the critical work ahead of us.

I invite you to learn more about this declaration – including the immediate actions of the City and all 30-plus participating organizations – on the City website:

Talk to you soon,