Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors a man who envisioned a country that was nothing like the one in which he lived. He saw a future where the “riches of freedom and the security of justice” were available to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity.
This year, Health Forward is reflecting on Dr. King’s vision in light of the recent insurrection at the United States Capitol – a deadly assault on our democracy. We are acutely feeling the “fierce urgency of the moment” described in his I Have a Dream speech, a message delivered to an estimated 250,000 peaceful protestors.
Dr. King is remembered as a civil rights icon, a beacon of hope for racial justice in America. But in recent years, increasing attention has been drawn to how many remembrances gloss over the work he committed to in his final years – economic equality.
It’s important to remember that, at the time of his assassination, most Americans viewed Dr. King’s ideas unfavorably. His calls for an economic bill of rights were considered controversial, if not radical. He uncomfortably challenged the bootstrap myth – the false narrative that hard work alone will allow a person to attain economic prosperity. He believed that there would never be genuine racial equality in the United States until there was economic justice.
It is with economic justice in mind that Health Forward announced a new organizational direction – one committed to achieving health equity through a more inclusive economy. We reaffirmed our belief in Dr. King’s vision of a greater democracy where all have equal access to power, money, and resources.
Fifty-three years after Dr. King’s death, income inequality and systemic racism continue to be primary social influencers of health for people of color.
It is with economic justice in mind that Health Forward announced a new commitment to achieving health equity through a more inclusive economy.
In the United States, we experience some of the largest income-based health disparities in the world. People living with low incomes face greater barriers to accessing essential health care. Often, workers earning a low wage do not receive health benefits from their employers. In addition, poor health has a compounding effect that can lead to limited ability to work, reduced income, and ultimately shorter lives.
In Kansas City, our neighborhoods – and access to economic opportunities – remain segregated by race. Life span varies from one ZIP code to another by as much as 15 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated health injustices long experienced by people of color.
With all of this in mind, Health Forward is honoring Dr. King’s full legacy by committing to anti-racism and economic inclusion. We’re assessing and refining our purpose to center racial equity in everything we do. We are refocusing our work to dismantle the structural and systemic barriers that plague communities in our service area, both urban and rural.
The work before us will not be easy. But it will result in more meaningful connections with our partners and a thriving region where health is achievable for all.
We are refocusing our work to dismantle the structural and systemic barriers that exist in our rural and urban communities.
This is what you can expect from us as we go about this work:
- We will bring you with us on our equity journey.
- We will be more intentional about community listening.
- We will listen with humility and thoughtfully consider all input.
- We will foster inclusivity and share information, resources, and staff expertise.
- We will create opportunities for you to increase your capacity and further engage in equity-centered health improvement efforts.
- We will continue to build relationships with new partners and learn from the experiences of those closest to systemic issues.
- We will ensure our strategies reflect community priorities and address the root causes of health injustice.
- We will continue to work with – not for – communities that are experiencing health injustices.
- We will continue to amplify and elevate the voices and power of the people we serve.
Dr. King knew his vision for the country would never be achieved without action. Our vision for the Kansas City region requires the same. But we can’t do it alone. Health Forward is part of a movement that envisions a healthier future for everyone. Join us.