By Stephanye R. Clarke
- Environmental hazards
- High crime
- Limited transportation
- Food insecurity
- Broken health service system
- Chronic under- or unemployment
- Emaciated educational system
- Substandard housing
How are all these related? I’m fairly certain the items above are on no one’s wish list.
These items, however, are often at the heart of communities referred to as “underserved” or “marginalized.” These “items” are some of the Social Determinants of Health of communities. They are conditions in which people live, work, play, and pray. Communities, especially inner cities, densely populated and often overwhelmingly by people of color, are living in fear. This fear is manifested in stress, which leads to worse mental and physical health. Communities that are starving for resources and opportunities are likely full of stress, void of hope and on a track to premature death, via many causes including chronic disease morbidity and violence.
Nationwide there is a movement shining a most unfavorable light on police brutality, specifically as it relates to the death of unarmed black men, and the refusal to hold officers accountable for their part in these deaths. #BlackLivesMatter sends a clear message that the time to change systems, paradigms and practices that have disproportionately negative impacts on Black communities is now. The recent refusal of two grand juries to indict two White officers in the deaths of unarmed Black men demonstrates a clear lack of value for the lives of people of color—and has sparked daily demonstrations, including #whitecoats4blacklives, where medical students from around the country staged die-ins as a way to bring awareness to the movement and to add a health care/public health/health equity lens to the movement.
Dr. Bill Jordan, President-Elect of the National Physician’s Alliance, stated in a recent article, “Broadly, we need to provide better child care, school, work and health care options for communities of color. We also need to short circuit the school-to-prison pipeline that finds kids and adults of color punished while their white neighbors are pardoned for the same offenses… School-based programs to reduce violence work. Moving kids into the adult justice systems does not.”
The #BlackLivesMatter movement can and must be complemented by a similar movement to improve the health of Black communities. A good friend and trusted colleague recently tweeted the following:
By addressing and correcting root causes of poor health and other disparities, communities can and will be healthier, stronger, more engaged.
Those of us working in the health care, health reform and public health arenas would be wise to step up our efforts now to amplify our collective voices to demand policies that contribute to social and economic justice. We cannot work on one issue without recognizing the interconnectedness of all of them. If we are to keep people healthy, we must first keep them alive. Our end game is not to shorten, but eliminate the list at the beginning of this article. The time is now.