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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we check in on our work to address racism as a public health crisis.

Racism is all around us. We see it every day. Structural racism is rooted in power and affects where people live and which opportunities come their way. On a personal level, microaggressions attack people in their daily lives.

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

How racism affects health.

Good health in a person or community is a policy decision. In 2020, our Board of Health unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. We incorporated that mandate into our strategic vision, and racial equity and justice is now one of our strategic initiatives.

We organized a team to support countywide efforts to tackle racism and unfairness where we live, learn, work, worship, and play.

While we strive to be an anti-racist organization, we also know we have much work to do. 

We’ve had complaints in our own Department about inequities in representation between those in leadership and our staff. Understanding that those exist here and in all areas of society is the only way we can address systemic racism, and in turn, the public health issues it creates.

Working toward health equity. 

Racism affects 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

Not everyone in Pierce County does. Black, Indigenous and People of Color have a lower life expectancy. They experience poorer birth outcomes and higher rates of diabetes and other diseases.

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.

Action begins with a commitment to the uncomfortable but necessary work to dismantle racism.

Time to act!

That’s what we are doing at the Health Department. Some of our recent actions include:

  • Working with a contractor to conduct an internal assessment of our structure and policies.
  • Listening sessions facilitated by an outside mediator for staff members to share their experiences directly with our Director of Health, Dr. Anthony L-T Chen.
  • Implementing the Health in All Policies approach to make sure health equity outcomes are considered in all our policy decisions. We are working to hire a Racial Equity and Justice Policy Coordinator to perform outreach and engagement to advance racial equity and justice policies. 
  • Building on the community engagement work we started during the COVID-19 pandemic by bringing that approach to all areas of public health.

These steps are just the beginning of our actions. You’ll see us continue to do this work through 2023 and beyond. 

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.