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Juneteenth is now a national holiday and a time to reflect on racism as a public health crisis.

June 19 is Juneteenth, a time of celebration and reflection.

This oldest national commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S. just became a federal holiday. In May, Gov. Inslee signed a bill into law to observe Juneteenth as a state holiday starting next year.

This commemoration recognizes the painful past and long march to freedom for Black Americans. While slavery ended more than 150 years ago, racism continues. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Racism as a public health crisis.

Racism is among the social, economic, and environmental factors that influences our health.

Not everyone in Pierce County has the opportunity to reach their full health potential. Black, Indigenous and other marginalized communities: 

  • Have a lower life expectancy. 
  • Experience poorer birth outcomes
  • Have higher rates of diabetes and other diseases. 

Everyone should have a fair opportunity to achieve good health.

Last June, Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health voted unanimously to declare racism a public health crisis. This declaration set the stage for us to take a public health approach to address racism that includes:

  • Elevate the influence of racism on factors that produce health like education, housing, income, and access to healthcare.
  • Develop long-term policy, systems, and environmental change.
  • Create the conditions we all need to have the best health possible.

Our Racism and Resilience Action Response Team (RRART) leads this effort. The team formed during last year’s national awakening to racial justice issues. We began to tackle the complex issues of racism and inequitable institutions, structures, and systems where we live, learn, work, worship, and play. That work continues to this day within our agency and with community partners. You can learn more about what we’ve accomplished to help bring about justice and healing.

What can you do?

We can’t do this work alone. We look to partner across sectors and with all our racial, ethnic, and other communities to honor their voices and harness their strength.

Racism affects health. Good health in a person or community is a policy decision. We already work with partner agencies to develop a Health in All Policies (HiAP) approach to improve health outcomes. HiAP is a systematic approach that incorporates the health effects of social, economic, and environmental factors into decision-making across sectors and policy areas.

Are you an agency or municipal leader who’s interested in HiAP? Email to learn more.

Recognition of Juneteenth and the existence of racism won’t fix the complex problems in our communities. Our country and our institutions have begun a journey that will take time to complete. But together we can work toward an anti-racist future.

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