How Maps Show The Need For Racial Equity In Chicago’s Road To COVID-19 Recovery

Maps of COVID-19 Recovery Project
Maps courtesy of The Mapping COVID-19 Recovery Project. Mary Hall/WBEZ
Maps of COVID-19 Recovery Project
Maps courtesy of The Mapping COVID-19 Recovery Project. Mary Hall/WBEZ

How Maps Show The Need For Racial Equity In Chicago’s Road To COVID-19 Recovery

Every map of Chicago displaying racial inequity is essentially the same — they show communities of color experiencing the most negative outcomes across a spectrum of quality-of-life indicators. That’s the message of a new community project that aims to guide future investment in the city, particularly as Black and Latino communities begin their recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Mapping COVID-19 Recovery Project is the collaborative effort of 25 major Chicago foundations, nonprofit organizations, and public and private groups, including the Field Foundation of Illinois, the MacArthur Foundation, the city’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The project links historic disinvestments in some Chicago neighborhoods with COVID-19’s impact on those communities, producing a series of maps that show past and present housing discrimination, school closures, heavy public investments in incarceration, lack of healthcare access and other factors that the groups say led to the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the city’s Black and Latino communities.

“We wanted to tell the real story about the actual causes of COVID and its impact,” said Angelique Power, president of the Field Foundation of Illinois, during a virtual presentation Thursday night. “The Mapping Project is about trying to recognize history so that we can rectify history and not repeat it.”

For Black and Latino residents in Chicago, the maps are not a mystery, said Maria Pesqueira, president of the Healthy Communities Foundation. The maps present information that “is and has been widely known — and experienced — by those very communities for decades,” Pesqueira said. “[These maps] give us the ability to see how the social determinants of health are in play, how intersecting issues of race, ethnicity, community health and economic wellbeing impact each other and how COVID-19 has deepened the inequities.”

The maps’ areas of focus include parts of Chicago neighborhoods on the West and South sides — such as Auburn Gresham, Austin, Brighton Park, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humboldt Park, New City, North Lawndale, Roseland, South Chicago, South Lawndale, South Shore and West Englewood — and portions of suburban Cook County municipalities like Cicero, Harvey, Markham, Maywood and Robbins.

During the presentation, Power, Pesqueira and others also talked about the inequitable distribution of pandemic relief, including the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans. They discussed how the Mapping Project can guide the public and private sectors, as well as the philanthropic world, to center equity in the city’s recovery. Among other findings, the groups revealed that in the year prior to the pandemic, foundations were funding more downtown Chicago organizations than organizations in communities of color on the city’s South and West sides.

“The pandemic underscored what many of us already knew — that historic disinvestment has dire consequences for health, wealth and opportunity,” said Luis Guitierrez, CEO of Latinos Progresando, a Little Village-based community advocacy organization. “We’ll need deep, multi-sector collaboration to build a renewed future, and this tool will be so important for nonprofits as they design programming and pursue funding, and for the private and public sectors as they determine where resources will be invested.”

Power adapted the idea for the collaborative project from the Field Foundation’s use of heat maps in its funding structure to illustrate geographic divestment of resources and funding gaps in Black and Latino communities with the goal of shifting resources to BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) organizations.

Power said, in order to ensure an equitable future, the public and private sectors need to commit to long-term funding and policies aimed at empowering communities of color and organizations led by people of color.

“Personally I think that companies have more impact on policy than Congress right now,” Power said. “If we see even a fraction of these companies, who put out these racial-equity statements, really make them real — not through grant dollars or volunteerism or language but who’s sitting in the C-suite, who is on your corporate board, actually looking at how you pay your employees — now we’re talking about racial equity.”