The past three months have undeniably and climatically exposed the fact that racism is alive and the very culprit that’s caused millions of people of color to be unwell.
After three months of isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic — which gripped our nation and claimed the lives of a disproportionate number of African Americans — the deaths of three African Americans who should still be alive and the associated “Black Lives Matter” protests served as a perverse coming-out party for America.
The murder by asphyxiation of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, the dehumanizing hunt and murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the tragic death of Breonna Taylor, weaponization of Amy Cooper’s white advantage launched as an assault against Christian Cooper as he birdwatched in Central Park, and countless others that are seen and unseen are legacies of “living while black,” an ever-present reality for African Americans rooted in the vestiges of slavery and perpetuated by structural and institutionalized racism.
Structural racism in housing, banking, education, economic mobility, the justice system, and health care are figurative vectors of an insidious social virus plaguing African Americans across our country, infecting and affecting far more than our current pandemic. These ills underlie the national COVID-19 mortality data, which tells us that the death rate for blacks is 2.4 times as high as the rate for whites, and 2.2 times as high as the rate for Asians and Latinos. We see similar health injustices in maternal mortality, infant mortality, prevalence of chronic conditions, and life expectancy.
Centuries of injustice have caused people of color to live in a perpetual public health crisis, possessing lived experience with racism as a primary social determinant of health. Hispanics and Latin Americans face isolation and barriers to health and well-being due to language barriers, lack of insurance coverage, and injurious political rhetoric and policies targeting their community. The rate of poverty among Native Americans is nearly double the national average for all people and 1.7 times higher for children, and the share of those living in poverty was 26 percent for Native Americans in 2016 compared to the total population of 14 percent. More recently, the well-being of thousands of immigrants is in jeopardy as they forgo necessary health and human services in fear of recent changes to the federal public charge rule that restricts immigrants from basic, publicly funded programs.
Our country has reached a tipping point. As evidenced by the demographic makeup of the protests in many major cities, we see white people willing to use their voice and their advantage to stand for justice. While the diversity of non-violent protesters is an encouraging sight, we must forge these vital advocacy efforts when there are no dead black men on our streets. We must leverage our platforms and daily spheres of influence spanning from ballot boxes to board rooms. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once noted, “In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Health Forward Foundation will center racial equity in our core competencies of leadership, advocacy, and resources. Practicing racial equity means that we will work to create the conditions in which one’s racial identity has absolutely no influence on their ability to thrive.
White people have an opportunity to use the advantage of their whiteness for justice. To hold themselves and other white people accountable for anti-racist behaviors, policies, and practices. In doing so, we bind ourselves together in solidarity in the fight for equity and justice.
It’s time for philanthropy to do our part to pursue philanthropic justice with urgency and relentless resolve. Like every facet of our society, racial bias – both personal and institutional, conscious and unconscious – creeps into all elements of philanthropic and grantmaking processes across funders. The inherent lack of trust in people of color or predisposition to the size and scale of white-led organizations leaves organizations led by people of color locked out from accessing capital to serve and improve their communities.
As we continue our work guided by the communities we serve, Health Forward Foundation will center racial equity in our core competencies of leadership, advocacy, and resources. Practicing racial equity means that we will work to create the conditions in which one’s racial identity has absolutely no influence on their ability to thrive. This aspiration requires Health Forward to be the change we wish to see by ensuring racial equity becomes our very ethos. Today, we stand with all who face racism, injustice, and inequity in our society. We commit to ensuring our culture, staff, governance, grantmaking, partnerships, advocacy initiatives, vendors, suppliers, and organizational policies, practices, and procedures actualize racial equity, inclusion, and belonging.
There’s no doubt there’s a journey ahead for our foundation. But as our name conveys, centering racial equity is indeed the direction necessary to move health forward.