Darlene Oliver Hightower

Darlene Oliver Hightower
Location: Chicago, Illinois Cohort Start Year: 2019 Project Topics: Built Environment/Housing/Planning, Community/Civic Engagement, Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Economic Stability, Education, Health Care Access, Public, Population and Community Health, Racial Justice Populations Served: African-American/Black, At-Risk/Vulnerable Populations, Children and Families, Hispanic/Latino/Latinx, Low-Income Communities, Urban Communities
Vice President, Community Health Equity
Rush University Medical Center

Darlene works on the west side of Chicago at a large academic medical center that has been in the same location for over 180 years. Residents in the surrounding neighborhoods have life expectancies far below those of wealthier communities. Some are as low as 68 years of age. Darlene’s primary work is to partner with institutions, residents, community-based organizations, and others to help improve health outcomes so that EVERYONE has an opportunity to thrive. This work requires a focus on equity, community leadership, and an acknowledgment of structural racism as a root cause of health disparities.

One of the goals of Darlene’s work is to help people in health institutions (researchers, medical staff, etc.) understand and appreciate the value of community-centered work. Institutions often have great ideas on how to improve health but lack meaningful relationships with communities so that those ideas are grounded in real world experience. For Darlene, a Culture of Health puts community residents and individuals at the center of the work with agency to share their own stories of equity and optimum health.


Darlene’s purpose in life is to serve and lift up communities. She’s done this as a civil rights lawyer, a nonprofit leader, health care executive, author, mother, and futurist. Her personal, core values are justice, excellence, and making a difference. These values guide her personal and professional life. A key component of this is to not only be a thinker in the work, but a doer.



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