Racism, a public health crisis: Learning from others who have passed similar resolutions

Up to 80 cities, counties and states have deemed racism a health issue

In August, the City of San Antonio passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. Though the declaration doesn’t make any immediate changes, it recognizes the the issue at hand and commits to advocating for racial justice.

San Antonio joined upwards of 80 other cities, counties and states which have made similar declarations, according to the American Public Health Association.

To understand why racism was deemed a public health crisis, as well as what the next steps are for San Antonio, it’s important to look back at how this movement began.

Following a state summit on health equity, the Wisconsin Public Health Association became the first organization to officially pass a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in 2018.

“We felt it was really important to acknowledge that racism is a determinant of health and racism is really contributing to differences in health all the way from low birth weight babies to chronic health conditions to early death and mortality,” said Robin Lankton, President-Elect of the WPHA.

Lankton says part of the association’s resolution was a commitment to action.

“It’s one thing to release a statement, but words aren’t enough,” says Lankton.

In order to move forward with an action plan, the WPHA recognized the importance of first taking a step back.

“One thing that’s been really important is to look at data and break it down by race and ethnicity so that we can even identify where are their differences and health outcomes, where their differences and experiences and then use that to drive the action planning,” says Lankton.

Similar steps have been taken in Milwaukee County, one of the first to follow the lead of the WPHA by not only making its own declaration, but taking immediate action.

“We had thousands of our employees begin reaching racial equity training here at the county,” says David Crowly, Milwaukee County’s Executive.

He adds, “Our mission here at Milwaukee County literally, literally is by achieving racial equity, Milwaukee is the healthiest county in the nation.”

However, the road ahead is long. According to Crowley, Milwaukee County ranks 71 out of the 72 healthiest counties in Wisconsin.

In order to reach its goal, Crowley says the county needed to make changes across the board, starting with the budget. County leaders created what they call a racial budget equity tool.

“Each department has to use this tool to make sure that we are putting our money where our mouth is to where we’re not making cuts, we’re making fat investments.”

One of those investments included putting $10 million CARES Act dollars toward eviction prevention.

It’s something Crowley says “has helped out more people of color than anybody, particularly women of color with children.”

Evictions as a result of housing inequity, being one of the many issues the coronavirus pandemic has shed new light on.

“You know, it was extremely important to have people of color at the table because at the beginning there it was called ‘safer at home’ and ‘feel safer at home’ but for whom? Because I think about when I was growing up, it wasn’t safe for me to be at home,” says Crowley.

Of course, the pandemic is not the only recent event impacting the health of people of color.

Crowley adds, “because of what happened with George Floyd, what we’ve been seeing here now with Jacob Blake, more and more communities now want to have the conversation about how do we really tackle this.”

Since making their declarations, both Lankton and Crowley agree, community engagement is critical to solving this crisis.

“You have to talk to your residents. You have to talk to the people that live in your community and find out from them what’s going on, how are they being impacted, and you need to trust the people who are most impacted by racism to identify the solutions,” says Lankton.

While the City of San Antonio has yet to put forth an action plan, city leaders may find it useful to take a closer look at what other cities and have done before and build upon what actions have worked for those communities.

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