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The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Declares:
“Racism is a Public Health Crisis”
As a part of their on-going equity efforts, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners has passed a resolution declaring that Racism is a Public Health Crisis. The resolution was proposed at their July 1 virtual meeting, which ran much later than normal due to the Board’s once-a-month summer schedule. The Board was determined to pass this important resolution and as the hour creeped dangerously close to midnight, the resolution passed by unanimous vote.
Most notably, the Board’s resolution moves beyond just a declaration. It includes several action-steps aimed at ridding the county and County government operations of well-documented racial inequities. The resolution calls for increased transparency and accountability, additional community input during the budgeting process, continued work with the Sheriff’s office on reforms and additional resources to be allocated to the Public Health Department and Racial Equity Office.
The resolution was passed in concert with a declarative resolution from the county’s Public Health board. The resolution’s sponsors, Commissioners Felica Brabec, Ricky Jefferson and Katie Scott, worked with the Public Health board, the Public Health Officer Jimena Loveluck and her team to craft documents that complement one another, reaffirming the county’s commitment to reducing racial disparities. In addition to outlining several action steps, the resolution calls on other municipalities and organizations, including school districts, to pass similar resolutions acknowledging the wide-reaching, negative impact of racism and making a commitment to eradicate it. Commissioner Felicia Brabec, PsyD, MSW, who also sits on the Board of Health for Washtenaw County and co-author of the resolution says,
“Naming racism and truly working together are vital steps, but we must commit to doing more. We must show our commitment at every level, put resources behind our intentions and work collectively to see meaningful and lasting change. This resolution is an opportunity, not only for us to make a value statement, but to be very intentional in the action items that we included. It’s an opportunity for us, as an organization to do better and do more for our community. It’s very important for us to acknowledge that we have done some good things, but we don’t get a pass. We have to continue to push ourselves and each other to do more.”
Alize Asberry Payne is the county’s Racial Equity Officer. Her office will guide much of the equity work outlined in the Board’s resolution. She shares that,
"The brave and critical declaration unanimously taken by Washtenaw County’s Board of Commissioners acknowledging racism as a public health crisis speaks directly to the values of our Community. This action will help shape the policy, strategy, and resource allocations of Washtenaw County government for generations to come.”
“Racism is a public health crisis in Washtenaw County.”, says Board Chair, Jason Morgan, “Many of our residents have long known that racism is a public health crisis, as they’ve seen and experienced the disproportionate impacts of racism on neighborhoods in our community. This is specifically a public health crisis because racism touches all of the social determinants of health- from people’s access to healthcare and their health outcomes, educational opportunities to the kinds of food they have access to. One of the starkest indicators of this crisis is the 10-year life expectancy gap between African-American and white residents in Washtenaw County –– 17 years between Latino and white residents. I appreciate the hard work of Commissioners Brabec, Jefferson and Scott leading us in bringing this resolution forward.”
Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, co-sponsor of the resolution and vice chair of the Board recalls growing up as a resident of Ypsilanti. He sees the resolution as an extension of the human rights work of Dr. King and others, saying,
“…we watched the Civil Rights Movement and all of the harassment and brutality released on Black and White people walking closely together… that’s when I was awakened to a reality of racism in America. As I moved into seventh grade, I saw the divide between Black and White children in the cafeteria and I was awakened to racial segregation in Ypsilanti. By the time I became an adult I was introduced to racial profiling and I understood that as a Black person there were certain places I could go, certain events I couldn’t attend in Washtenaw County."
Jefferson believes that this action by the Board is in line with the national and local community calls for accountability, reform and collaboration. He continued,
“…In the past few months, I have seen a generation of all races stand together to demand justice in all areas of society for Black people. Because the collective consciousness of those who care about the well-being of a civilized nation can no longer tolerate knowing that Black bodies are being killed in the streets unarmed. This resolution is the result of violence, yet it has a goal of tapping into this collective conscious for the purpose of teaching each of us how to treat each other, with dignity, respect, honor and love. I’m grateful to work alongside my colleagues to lift-up the commonality of our humanity, during the now declared crisis of racism, knowing the ultimate objective is for the prosperity of us all. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ ~MLK Jr.”
Commissioner Katie Scott adds,
"Public health is not just about vaccines and water quality-- It’s about how we can create sustainable change to improve the lives of many. Racism has had and continues to have a verifiable impact on the social determinants of health here in Washtenaw County. It’s time for Washtenaw County to grapple with our equity issues, and this resolution is just the starting point. As chair of Ways & Means, I am keenly aware that our budget reflects our priorities and morals. Going forward, I intend to keep the premises of this resolution at the forefront of our decision making."