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As we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we also recognize the work ahead

Racism is a public health crisis. In 2020, our Board of Health passed a resolution declaring it so. We incorporated that mandate into the Health Department’s strategic vision. Racial justice is now one of our strategic initiatives.

That same year, our Director Emeritus, Dr. Anthony Chen wrote about the “uncomfortable but necessary work to dismantle the institutions and systems that perpetuate racism, violence, poverty, and injustice.”

His words still ring true. Racism continues to affect so many in our community and beyond, and we continue to work toward racial equity and justice every day.    

Today, we take time to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His life and work remind us that all people—no matter their skin color or cultural heritage—deserve fair opportunities for jobs, housing, education and health.

Working toward racial justice and health equity.

Racism hurts everyone. Dr. King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

In our work, that means everyone should have a fair opportunity to achieve good health, but not everyone in Pierce County does. For example, American Indian/Alaska Native and Black babies in Pierce County are more likely to die during their first year compared to white babies. Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander residents have the highest rates of cancer, heart disease and unintentional injury deaths compared to all other races in Pierce County. 

We commit to racial equity and justice and look for policy solutions that improve health and well-being for all. We partner with communities to create the conditions all of us need to have the best health possible.

Good health won’t be a reality for all residents unless we address racism as a root cause of poor physical and mental health for Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We must commit to justice, healing and action—today and every day.

Our work within.

We don’t just do this work in our community; we are working diligently to transform our own Department into an anti-racist organization as well. We also know we have much work to do.

Some of the work we’ve done this year includes:

  • Contracted with an outside consultant to evaluate our systems, policies, and procedures for ways we continue to uphold white-centered or racist approaches.
  • Provided training on microaggressions to supervisors.
  • Hosted multiple listening sessions for our staff to talk about their concerns.
  • Created and hired a new position on our management team, Director of Justice, Equity, and Diversity Initiatives, to help us continue to incorporate a racial justice and health equity lens in all we do.
  • Continued working to improve the social, economic, and environmental conditions of poor health.

These steps are just the beginning of our actions. You’ll see us continue to do this work through 2024 and beyond.

Together we can address racism and all obstacles to good health for all Pierce County residents.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.