For many of us working in public health and health equity, COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color—while disheartening—is not surprising. These inequities have existed for a long time.
At the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), we look to ensure that all children and our families have access to high quality health care. Health equity is foundational to everything WKKF supports. It is a critical link to our efforts in early childhood education and economic development, as well as in racial equity and leadership. Until we have a solid core of public resources available to promote and advance health equity, it will remain a focus for the Kellogg Foundation.
We have learned over the course of last year that unstable systems cannot survive a crisis. When our health system is unstable, our other systems become unstable. It is the work of our organization to pull our health systems together to advance outcomes for children and families.
We must learn and understand our collective history as a culture to get to the root cause of the racial disparities. Health inequities have been happening for the entire existence of our society. We must fully understand what has been done, what has been tried, what has succeeded and how some of the disparities that we face are so embedded in our systems—that it will take a concerted effort to unravel.
Yet, we have strong community and public policy leaders. This is the time, this is the moment and these are the people. We all need to work together to address the root cause for these disparities and actively work to change them.
Racism is a public health issue. We don’t always talk about it in that context, but when you think about the outcomes that communities are experiencing and why they’re experiencing them, racism is part of that root cause.
As philanthropic leaders, we have an opportunity to actively dismantle these systems and bring voice to those who don’t always have a seat at the table, to amplify and leverage resources that are available. And most important, to hold people accountable to make the change that we want to see in our lifetime, to start something new for future generations.
Communities lead when we recognize that the inherent value of their culture, language and experiences are fundamental to helping dismantle racial and health disparities. When we dismantle false and harmful paradigms to support communities, together we secure better health outcomes for everyone. For all children to thrive, the cultural strengths communities bring to the table cannot be ignored.
Carla Thompson Payton is WKKF’s vice president for program strategy.