When I was in college, a friend and I were the co-organizers for a celebration to welcome our new college President. Me, my friend and the incoming President were White, and most of the coordinating committee were also White. The prior President was Black, and there was disappointment among some students that the new President was also not Black and hadn’t been overly supportive of racial and equity issues.. I thought I was relatively close to friends in the Black Student Union (BSU), as I had marched with them against Apartheid and other issues. But, on the day of the celebration, at the beginning of the event, about 20 BSU members entered the room with picket signs and loudly noted their disappointment with the new President. I was shocked and appalled, and felt betrayed by my “friends.” Years later, i came to understand that I had the advantage to host this celebration, and did not consider the needs of Black and other students. This event gave the BSU a space to have themselves heard, and they made the news the next day- not the positive story I had anticipated.
A friend is Bahamian, her husband Black. They live on acreage and her husband was by the road repairing their gate with their teenage daughter. A police car stopped and asked him why he was in the neighborhood and made him prove that was his address. The daughter was horrified and scared to death for her father. Both parents are professionals in the community.
My son’s father passed away due to complications from COVID….he was exposed (on his job at the water utilities department) while working in very close quarters with a contractor who had tested positive for the disease. There is no hospital in the rural county where he lives, but he was transported by ambulance to the closest facility about 30 minutes away with obvious signs of apoxia, O2 levels well below the 94% that most acknowledge as a threshold for concern. He spent about 6 hours in the ER before he was moved into a room…on a regular floor (where the nurse to patient ratio is much lower). He was ultimately moved to ICU, intubated, and…there is actually no “and,” there’s a “BUT.” But, he died.
My son’s dad fought, my son fought for him….finally getting eyes on his case after a personal friend of his called the CEO of one of the largest health systems in the country. That gentleman reached out to the CEO of the hospital where his dad was a patient. Several specialists were consulted. All of this after 8p on August 25th. They all said they wish they’d consulted on the case sooner…it was too late. We know that because he passed away the next morning on August 26th.
The storming of the Capitol Building is a story of the deep inequities, of racism and white supremacy. For some, this is blatant and obvious. For others, there is no comprehension of these connections. Is it based on the eye of the beholder? A group of white professionals were talking about being done with perfunctory diversity trainings and workshops. They were saying we (the US) need something stronger. Not driven by HR departments or 2-hours mandated in a school district setting. The entire framing of our systems needs to change in order to make real progress. I agree. Until people are pushed out of their comfort zones personally and accept a degree of personal reflection on these matters, our work will be surface level and meaningful, community and societal level change, won’t be realized.
I have sat on a few county wide conversations, some of them are focused on equity specifically and the idea of community led processes, but by no means is truly that. What has been really frustrating is to hear people prescribe solutions to the community. For example, the Barbershop talks are becoming a best practice, and organizations/system leaders want to force their messaging onto communities through this venue, rather than working with them to co-design what the barbershop would want. Additionally, yoga is promoted as such a huge mental health benefit to our community, everyone is talking about the benefits of it, but does our community feel comfortable in the current yoga spaces? Are they prescribing this solution without asking if the community wants it.
I would like to share an example that involves children to note that inequity often begins early on.
Many families in our own communities struggle everyday with virtual school, because they lack access to reliable internet connections, computer equipment, technical skills, adequate space or privacy in the home or simply having someone available to guide them through it. Other families do not have these limitations, and therefore their children are more likely to succeed. In some instances, children who are struggling may unfairly be labeled as difficult, disinterested or lazy. The playing field is simply not level.
At such a young age, these children are already experiencing the harsh reality of inequity.
In trying to combat the opioid epidemic in 2017, I was confronted by a black friend who expressed his anger at the way the healthcare system, legal system, and local governments were now rallying to this cause, which he attributed to the impact on the white community. He was right. This was and is a glaring example of inequity. I considered all the partners involved in the effort to combat the epidemic, and I realized that almost none were black or Latino. Our previous attempts to combat substance use disorders and addictions had been largely punitive and enforced along racial lines. These biases and practices continue today in how we treat addiction and its community effects.