If you’re 30 years old and white in Durham County, chances are you’ll live to 83.
If you’re black, you won’t quite make it to 79, about four years less, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services statistics.
On Friday, community members gathered to launch Healthy Durham 20/20, aimed at bringing public and private sectors together to fight that gap and other health disparities.
Leaders such as Mayor William Bell and Dr. A. Eugene Washington, chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University, spoke at the 15th annual Durham Health Summit.
“Health is certainly something that touches all of us,” Bell said, comparing hospitals to churches and emphasizing the importance of outreach.
“I think the real great health institutions are the ones that not only open their doors as they do for paying customers and unpaying customers,” he said. “They are the ones that go out into the community, and find out what the health needs of the community are.”
Washington said health is more than health care and preventative care has become more important.
“More often than not, when you’re coming (to hospitals), you’re coming because you’re ill, and that’s not healthy” he said. “At that point, it’s often late.”
But helping people maintain healthy lifestyles is part of a bigger picture that includes jobs, safety and other factors, speakers said.
Even cities with minority leadership, however, can struggle with racial inequities.
After a white police officer shot a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, some blamed the problems erupting across the country on a lack of African-Americans in leadership positions, said keynote speaker Ronald Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University,.
“That was the dominance of that narrative, until you got to Baltimore,” he said. “We had Freddie Gray, of course. We had a black mayor; we had a black police chief; we had a black city council; yet, it happened.”
Gayle Harris, director of the Durham County Department of Public Health, gave a presentation on health disparities in Durham. More often than not, minority communities lack access to health care, she said, and that makes them more vulnerable.
“Ideally we want to level the playing field,” Harris said.
Healthy Durham 20/20 will try to do that, she and others agreed.
“It’s very important that we’re inclusive, that all communities are represented,” said Ivan Parra, lead organizer with Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN).
Friday’s event brought together business, government, education and religious leaders of Durham.
“This is launching a movement that hopes to really have leaders of all those different sectors with clear goals and targets,” Parra said. “And to start relating to one another and being accountable so that we can help improve things for the community.”
Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, led a session on business collaboration in the community.
“Ultimately, addressing the social factors that affect health, including safe and affordable housing, access to education and employment and access to healthy foods will take a collective effort,” he said.
State Rep. MaryAnn Black, D-Durham, said collaboration will lead to success.
“This really is about all of us, and all of Durham coming together to make sure we have a healthy community” she said.
Harris said the next steps will be to deliberate on the information gathered on Friday and figure out what the community needs.
“And then we have to work with the community and place things where people have great trust,” she said.
Parra said Friday’s conversations will lead to more conversations and that community members not yet part of the initiative are welcome to join.
“There’s still time to come to the table,” he said.
Ana Irizarry: 317-213-3553