As we celebrate and reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, one of his famous quotes comes to mind: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” If there’s one thing that has become abundantly clear during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that racism is a public health crisis. But we don’t need to look at the latest health quality studies to identify that people of color, particularly Black Americans, are placed at elevated risk for health complications and often die earlier than white Americans. Elected leaders, community leaders and public health leaders are finally confronting this unacceptable reality, which has been ongoing in this country for centuries.
The Biden-Harris administration has addressed the issue with a series of policies and programs designed to advance equity and opportunity for Black Americans. Recently, Governor Kathy Hochul signed a series of measures aimed at fighting discrimination and racism in New York, including classifying racism as a public health crisis. “For far too long, communities of color in New York have been held back by systemic racism and inequitable treatment,” Hochul said. “I am proud to sign legislation that addresses this crisis head-on, addressing racism, expanding equity, and improving access for all.”
As we have long known, addressing racism as a public health crisis isn’t just about access to medical care, treatments and medications; it’s about intersectionality: investing in communities, addressing food inadequacy, making sure that there is affordable housing for all, and confronting inequities in our educational system.
Obviously, we’re not able to snap our fingers and change 400 years of racism, but we must make a deeper investment into this essential work. We need to stay on top of our elected leaders to enact and enforce legislation that will help address racial inequities. We must continue to support, take action and advocate for these issues in our own everyday lives.
Let’s make 2022 a year where we all stand up against the tide of racism, challenging ourselves to find ways to manifest the personal choice of being on the conscious, justice-seeking side of history. Let’s honor Dr. King by carrying out his vision.