Black History and Black Futures

Black man talking to small group

Black History Month is a time to celebrate influential leaders and impactful moments of the past. But celebrating Black history is not enough.

United Way continues to work toward a future where Black Americans have the same access to employment, education, health care, and housing as their white neighbors. 

As part of that work, below we highlight an important moment from Black history that aligns with our focus areas of health, education, and financial stability, outline a few current challenges faced by Black Americans, and explain what United Way is doing to help solve these problems.


Moment in History

July 9, 1893: Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful open-heart surgery at the black-owned, interracial hospital he founded in Chicago. Both Dr. Williams and his patient were Black. 

Current Challenges

Since Dr. Williams’ groundbreaking work, health outcomes for the Black population are still significantly worse than for whites.

  • Nearly 100,000 fewer Black Americans would die each year if the Black mortality rate was the same as it is for whites.
  • Black Illinoisans aged 18–49 are twice as likely to die of heart disease as whites of the same age bracket
  • A Black individual will live three fewer years on average than a white person with the same income.
  • Black Americans are nearly 4 times more likely to be hospitalized and 3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than whites.

United Way’s Work

United Way believes that an individual’s race, ZIP code, or income should never be a barrier to quality health. We work to address health inequity by:

  • Fighting for improved access to health care coverage
  • Making it easier for people to access substance abuse programs
  • Providing fresh and nutritious food to food pantries, mobile pantries and school-based food programs
  • Supporting the mental health needs of every person


Moment in History

April 23, 1951: 16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns leads a strike to protest segregation and poor conditions at her Virginia high school. Her leadership inspires local lawyers to sue the federal government, a case that eventually becomes part of the landmark Brown v. Board decision.

Current Challenges

The Supreme Court ruled school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. But segregation in public schools has only risen since 1996. This kind of structural racism along with institutional racism has hurt the educational outcomes of Blacks students.

  • The graduation rate for Black students (79%) is lower than the national average.
  • Schools with 90% or more students of color receive $733 less per student.
  • Only 57% of Black students have access to the full range of math and science courses needed for college-readiness
  • 23% of Black kindergartners demonstrated full kindergarten readiness, compared to 35% of white kindergartners.

United Way’s Work

United Way fights to shift the odds for students of color and those in low-income areas. Our work includes:

  • Recruiting volunteers to read with preschool and elementary students
  • Providing after-school programs and extracurricular activities and clubs
  • Supporting middle and high school students through graduation
  • Connecting students with volunteer mentors and tutors

Financial Stability

Moment in History

May 12, 1968: Thousands of Black women, led by Coretta Scott King, begin the first demonstrations in the Poor People’s Campaign. After building Resurrection City on the National Mall, they stayed in temporary shacks for over a month in a fight for jobs, unemployment insurance, and a higher minimum wage.

Current Challenges

Decades of segregation, discrimination, and low wages have impacted the financial stability of Black families in the U.S. Since 1992, the racial wealth gap has grown.

United Way’s Work

United Way battles chronic unemployment, homelessness, and low wages; issues that disproportionately affect people of color. United Way's COVID-19 relief fund has also focused on helping communities of color, who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Our ongoing work includes:

  • Providing free tax preparation services for middle- and low-income families
  • Offering financial education and coaching, especially to unbanked individuals
  • Training adults for careers in thriving industries, like health care
  • Providing job counseling and application assistance to the unemployed

You can be a part of this important work in Champaign County.  Give, advocate or volunteer to ensure that every single person, no matter their race, can thrive in our community.