Close the gap: Racial equity is fundamental to our health

There is so much in our hearts and minds following these tumultuous past few months and intense past few days. We are heartbroken and outraged by the latest acts of racism and violence, on top of an already devastating and ongoing global pandemic. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others were just the latest victims of racist systems that devalue and destroy the health, wellbeing and lives of people of color. At Wellville, we are determined to continue to work together with our Wellville communities to cultivate good health and wellbeing for all. That means recognizing and closing the gaps in equity that limit our nation’s ability to achieve this goal.

Recent events have further exacerbated and highlighted these gaps: The health and economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. This has been joined by widespread protests against (and met by further) ugly eruptions of power revealing deeply embedded racism. Both are short-term crises that have roots in long-term, systemic issues. Both are symptoms of entrenched inequities sickening our communities.

This is a moment to consider the causes of the consequences that are now on full display through incessant media coverage and anxious conversations at our kitchen tables. It’s time to call out what led to such health disparities and what will it take to improve outcomes for all. While the pandemic is showing us how much we depend on each other for our collective health and wellbeing, the protests underscore how important racial equity is to a healthy, well-functioning society. We are at our best only when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to live a long, healthy life and fully contribute to our common good.

None of us has all the answers. At Wellville, our spheres of influence are as advisors to five U.S. communities working to improve equitable health and wellbeing and as a national platform to share what works.

We recognize that general advice and theories aren’t helpful. What’s needed is concrete action, especially now. As our Advisory Board chairperson Karen Watson reminded us recently, “The onus of fixing the problem of racism, inequity and injustice is not on the victims; it is on the perpetrators.” One thing we can do is amplify stories of those taking effective action to dismantle systems of discrimination and injustice, both to inspire other communities to do the same and to influence national action.

Before the pandemic and protests, many in our Wellville communities were already working to address racism and other structural inequities that contribute to poor health. They are advocating for policy change, disaggregating data to uncover the roots of health disparities, making shared investments and coordinating initiatives that have long-term shared benefits for all.

Equity is not a separate activity; it is part of all our efforts – and fundamental to the work of people like Marquis Childers in Muskegon Heights, MI…organizations like the Mary Black Foundation in Spartanburg, SC…and collaboratives like Hope Rising in Lake County, CA.

We’ll continue to highlight their specific examples and progress here: Watch for our next blog post on North Hartford, CT. Meanwhile, many national organizations are also providing useful specifics on how to center health equity and racial equity in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

Final thought: Important as Wellville’s work is, it can feel insufficient at times like these. We need to continually challenge our own thinking and actions. Are we doing enough? How do implicit biases influence our work? What assumptions need to be blown away, and what habits do we need to break or form? Please share your feedback, ideas and offers: How can we make greater progress together?

We need our collective best to close the gaps; we need equity to achieve the best possible health and wellbeing of all Americans.

The Wellville National team
Christina, Esther, Jeff, Marvin, Marya and Rick