Mickey Dean has been concerned about the health of his community long before his arrival in Kansas City, Missouri, 50 years ago.
“If you had asked me 50 years ago, what would things look like 50 years from now, I would have predicted that we’d be in better shape than we are now,” Dean said.
Kansas City mirrors many cities. Redlining nearly a century ago essentially split it into a Black side and a white side.
Federal highway construction ran through largely Black neighborhoods and forced many from their homes.
“You’ll see a lot of abandoned schools,” Dean said. “You’ll see poor infrastructure. The number of houses that are just not in good condition.”
In areas like Kansas City, solutions require big ideas.
“The great thing about health equity or inequity is really that they are solvable,” said Dr. Naiomi Jamal, the chief health officer at Swope Health.
Swope was among the 15 health care entities to pledge to address their city’s health care history.
“For instance,” said Dr. Jamal, “in our pediatric department, we also have WIC on site as well,” referring to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a U.S. government-funded program that provides food and other services to low-income pregnant women and nutritional at-risk children up to age five. “We don’t want our parents to then be leaving the health center and trying to find WIC services elsewhere,” Jamal added.
The message is that solving centuries-long issues of inequity starts up top.
“You cannot have a legitimate conversation if reparations are not on the agenda,” Dean said.
Dean is the founder of the Kansas City Reparations Coalition. He’s also a member of the Kansas City mayor’s Commission on Reparations, which was approved by the city council this past winter. “When you hear the word ‘reparations’, of course, the first thing that comes to people’s mind is a check,” Dean said. “It’s much, much more than just a check. We think that reparatory justice can take many different forms, and we will be exploring all of them.”
The commission features a subcommittee dedicated to health, hoping to bring down barriers that have often set communities back.
Potential paths to solutions may take time, but Dean is optimistic.
“We are lightyears away from where we were five years ago, 10 years ago,” Dean said. “They may be small cracks, but they are cracks. And that’s what gives us hope.”