Taking a Stand Against Racism: From Declarations to Action

At Mollard Consulting, our team is committed to furthering our knowledge, developing our understanding, and taking action toward achieving racial equity and justice. Through this effort, we asked our friends at YWCA Columbus to share the work they are doing through Stand Against Racism, a campaign that provides ways for people to unite in the effort to eliminate racism.

Through this campaign, Jillian Olinger, Chief Mission Officer, and Lauren James, Program Manager, highlight why and how our community is taking action to address racism as a public health crisis. We look forward to moving from declaration to action as we come upon the year anniversary of Central Ohio declaring racism a public health crisis.

Thank you to Jillian, Lauren, and everyone on the YWCA Columbus team for your important work.

— Mollard Consulting  

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Systemic racism has impacted our country for over 400 years, and its abuses are not confined to the past. Racism has infected American society and disproportionately harmed the health and wellbeing of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. From a lack of healthcare access and disparate treatment to environmentally dangerous living conditions, decades of research and our history are clear on this point: racism itself is lethal.

Because racism impacts every area of life and is embedded in every institution, we must approach the eradication of racism through a public health lens. To that end, YWCAs across the country have successfully advocated for the declaration of racism as a public health crisis.

Both the City of Columbus and Franklin County have adopted resolutions declaring racism as a public health crisis, but words are not enough — we must now turn our attention to meaningful action. These resolutions are an opportunity to evaluate our societal structures, dismantle racial inequities, implement important changes for equity and justice, and — most importantly — create accountability for everyone.

As a network of affiliates, YWCAs take a stand against racism every day by raising awareness about the impact of institutional and systemic racism in our communities while building community among those who fight for racial justice. For the last fifteen years, affiliates across the country unify in a week-long campaign—Stand Against Racism—on an issue or a cause that inspires us and our community to unite our voices to educate, advocate, and promote racial justice. This year, we are moving from declarations to action by addressing racism as a public health crisis.  

Last May, the YWCA Columbus Leadership and Social Justice department used our platform to highlight the voices of our city leaders who took part in central Ohio’s declaration of racism as a public health crisis. Dr. Mysheika W. Roberts, MD, MPH, Columbus Public Health Commissioner, and Kyle Strickland, Senior Legal Analyst at OSU’s Kirwan Institute of the Study of Race and Ethnicity spoke with us about the impact of racism on public health. Here are four things we learned about why central Ohio declared racism a public health crisis:

1.    Race is not a biological component of health, but racism is.

The historic and ongoing oppression and inequity that people of color — especially Black and Indigenous people — experience have put them at higher risk of poor health outcomes, unfair treatment, unnecessary pain, and death in the health care system.

Historically oppressed communities experience disproportionately high rates of homelessness, incarceration, poor education, medical mistreatment, and discrimination due to a long legacy of systemic racism. These factors are known as social determinants of health, and their disproportionate impact on communities of color causes shorter life expectancy amongst Black and Brown people.

2.    Black and other marginalized neighborhoods often lack adequate access to healthcare.

Racist policies and laws like redlining — the racially motivated, exclusionary act of denying mortgage loans to individuals from Black and minority neighborhoods — forced Black and immigrant Americans into marginalized neighborhoods which lacked development, investment, access to transportation, and properly resourced schools. 

These neighborhoods often have increased health concerns due to environmental racism and yet lack adequate access to healthcare due to their physical proximity to medical centers and their lack of access to affordable transportation. Industrial pollution is more likely to exist in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, contributing to health risk factors such as cancer, asthma, and maternal and infant health risks, but these neighborhoods are often seen as sacrificial to the manufacturers and policymakers that allow industrial pollution to persist.

The legacy of redlining also accounts for the alarming and ever-increasing racial wealth gap, which can be largely attributed to the gap in homeownership rates. The discriminatory housing policies and practices that created impediments to building wealth for BIPOC communities also carved out unfair financial advantages — including the ability to afford health care — for white beneficiaries and their future descendants.

COVID-19 is yet another illumination of these structural and systemic inequalities. Reports have revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out along racial lines in the disproportionate hospitalizations and deaths (Black Americans are dying at twice the rate of whites) resulting from the virus, and now, the inequitable distribution of the vaccine. New research reveals the long-term disparate impact this virus will have; because of the pandemic, Americans generally will lose one year of life expectancy, while Black Americans will experience a 3-year decrease in life expectancy and Latinx Americans a 2.5-year decrease.

3.    Acknowledging that racism is a public health issue allows public officials to take action.

In February 2020, Mayor Ginther declared racism a public health crisis and asked Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts to come up with ways that the city can address the issue. Shortly thereafter, Franklin County Commissioners, Franklin County Public Health, Columbus Public Health, and Columbus City Council also declared racism a public health crisis. This declaration allowed public officials to allocate public funds to address racism and the public health issues that accompany it.

4.    Acknowledging racism as a public health crisis empowers people to take a stand against racism.

By acknowledging that racism impacts the health of BIPOC communities, we hope that public health solutions will center those who are directly impacted and are too often left out of policy decisions. Kyle Strickland of OSU’s Kirwan Institute of the Study of Race and Ethnicity encouraged community members to get involved in the fight for systemic change by taking an active role in democracy. Becoming an informed voter, providing testimony to your local elected officials, getting involved with town hall meetings in your community, and getting connected with organizations who are advocating for racial equity in our city are just a few of the ways we all can take a stand against racism.

To learn more about how racism impacts public health and how you can get involved in the fight for equity and justice, please visit the YWCA Columbus Stand Against Racism resource page.

Article by: Jillian Olinger, Chief Mission Officer, YWCA Columbus; and Lauren James, Program Manager, YWCA Columbus

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