Last month, we wrote about our outrage that there is so little outrage over the lack of political will to address two problems that plague area children: asthma and lead poisoning. This month, we remain outraged because our government leaders are not.
As reporter Matthew Tripodi writes on page 45, only two politicians, Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado (D-Chicago) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) plan to take action in the wake of our joint investigation with The Chicago Reporter.
Last month, our investigation showed Chicago is the national epicenter for asthma and that more children are poisoned by lead in Chicago than anywhere else in the United States. Yet, health departments in Chicago, Cook County and the six collar counties, while knowing about the problems for years, are doing virtually nothing about asthma and do not have near enough money to clean up lead and prevent children from being poisoned.
This month, we asked political leaders if anything will change now that the problem has been so clearly outlined. Were they, we asked, as outraged as we are? The answers, sadly, are no, even from the governor and Chicago’s mayor.
They offered platitudes and told us about what they’ve already done. Even the efforts of Maldonado and Davis, while a step in the right direction, are minimal. Maldonado plans to introduce a resolution that would require the county to fund a system to track asthma cases by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geography and age. It’s a great idea. In fact, it’s a step the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all health departments take to better understand and combat this preventable disease.
Davis’ idea is also good, a campaign to educate African Americans about asthma and lead through churches, schools and community groups. In addition, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) tells Tripodi that he may introduce an ordinance to get the county to spend its lead abatement money faster.
It’s a start. But it’s not enough. Asthma and lead poisoning are devastating, but they don’t have to be. Lead poisoning is preventable; asthma is manageable. With education, proper treatment and government commitment, no child need suffer from either illness.
State and local politicians admit they haven’t committed to solving these problems because constituents haven’t demanded it.
It’s no coincidence that the children most affected by asthma and lead live in poor, minority communities and their parents tend to be less politically active than their middle class counterparts.
Still, this problem affects us all. When a low income child is hospitalized suffering from an asthma attack that could have been prevented, our tax dollars pay for the care. When a lead-poisoned child needs special education services, our public education system provides it.
The bottom line here isn’t just about money. As parents, we have a moral responsibility to care for all children. If leaders need a nudge from constituents to act, then give them one. Call your representatives. Tell them you’re outraged, too.
Irving B. Harris understood that adage about needing a village to raise a child. But he also understood the village needs strong leaders. So he volunteered to lead and to use his business skills, intellect and fortune to enrich the lives of children everywhere.
Harris died on Sept. 25 at age 94. His passing is a loss to Chicago and to all children who need the support of a village to succeed.
Harris was a businessman who made millions from the sale of his first company, the Toni Home Permanent Co., and then made billions from the sale of his next, the Pittway Corp. He also was a philanthropist who used much of that money to help children. Harris understood that children’s chances for success in school and in life are determined well before they enter kindergarten. So he founded programs aimed at helping children ages birth to 3, including the Ounce of Prevention, which works at reducing the number of teen pregnancies, and the Chicago-based Erikson Institute for Advanced Study in Child Development, a premier early childhood education program.
Chicagoans will most likely remember Harris when walking into the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance on Randolph Street. The Harrises donated $39 million to help build it. It is pure Harris: It will be used by small dance companies that previously had to struggle to find the performance space they needed.
But we will remember Harris for the way he used his money and his power for children—to help them get the services they need to grow and succeed. Thank you, sir. We will miss you.
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