Health Forward Foundation has long advocated that to create health in our communities, we must look upstream to the social factors that are impeding health, and how these barriers show up inequitably. The only way to achieve better health for all people is to strive for more just and equitable communities, beginning with race equity.
Amid a global pandemic, it is clear that a legacy of structural racism is the greatest determinant of differential health outcomes across our region. Our neighborhoods are deeply and historically segregated by race. In Kansas City, life span varies from one ZIP code to another by as much as 15 years. The health injustices we’re seeing in COVID-19 mortality among people of color parallel long-known health disparities in infant mortality, maternal mortality, and diabetes.
As a philanthropic partner in health in our region, we know that we can only achieve equity by acknowledging the institutions and structures that reinforce racial inequity. A few weeks ago, Qiana Thomason, Health Forward President/CEO, shared with our partners a new path forward to address health equity through economic inclusion.
We know that race equity is central to health equity. Approaching our work through a racial equity lens requires a great deal of discovery. It’s an individualistic and organizational journey of self-reflection and exploration.
In addition to an ad-hoc equity committee of the board that launched this year, our leadership team resourced my new role as the culture and inclusion officer to oversee our organizational journey.
What steps are we taking?
Our current focus is to attend to our internal culture to develop core competencies for advancing race equity by building on our strengths. With the help of experts, our aim is to build a foundation of trust, accountability, and intentionality in our day-to-day operations in order to sustain progress.
And we’ve made progress. In addition to an ad-hoc equity committee of the board that launched this year, our leadership team resourced my new role as the culture and inclusion officer to oversee our organizational journey. We’ve also created an internal culture and inclusion advisory group that represents a cross-section of associates.
Over the past few months, Health Forward associates have completed an individual assessment called the Intercultural Development Inventory. We’ve participated in a two-day Racial Equity Institute workshop to better understand the history of institutional and structural racism. We are currently undergoing a diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment of all our policies and practices, in addition to development of an equity-centric communications framework.
All of these experiences are helping Health Forward build the foundation we need to fully integrate race equity practices into our culture, and model what we expect of our partners.
Equity work is messy. It’s disruptive. It surfaces tensions, frustrations, and resentment. But by centering race equity and justice into our ethos, it will result in deeper and more authentic relationships with our community, partners, and ultimately our impact and outcomes.
We can’t ask our partners to stretch in ways that we are not willing to experience ourselves. Our equity journey will be ongoing, and we look forward to sharing updates on our progress and learning with and from you, our partners. We know it will change us, both personally and as an organization. But more than anything, we know it will strengthen our work together in pursuit of a thriving region that provides everyone the opportunity for better health.