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.

STRATEGIC INITIATIVE: Convene Black & Latinx Leaders and Share Their Health Equity Leadership Stories on Three Platforms
The Foundation’s Culture of Health Action framework states: “How we view and talk—as individuals, families, neighborhoods, and as a nation—shapes the conversation on health and guides the work of improving health and wellbeing for all.” But too often, people of color are not the narrators of their own health, education, and economic stories. Nor are they seen as leaders that can craft solutions to health inequities that exist in their communities. Instead, the government, institutions, and agencies identify community-based health disparities, craft initiatives, and determine who will lead them—often without community guidance. My initiative focuses on health equity, community narratives, and how black and Latinx leaders are creating a Culture of Health. Based on interviews with 10 local and national leaders of color, I will develop three platforms to share their leadership stories: 1) a Leadership roundtable on Zoom and Facebook, 2) a three-day seminar on authentic community engagement at Rush University, and 3) a book outline that shares these conversations on leadership, health equity challenges, and solutions with a broader audience. Partners include local and national leaders who will discuss health and the social/economic factors that impact it.

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.


Click here to watch Darlene’s Legacy Project video.