Race, Health and the Work We Must Do Together

By Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD
President, the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York

Nora OBrien-Suric
Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD

Our team joins the global expression of mourning for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others who are the victims of racist acts of violence. We hear and echo the community’s anger and frustration, we condemn police brutality and we join those who call for the dismantling of structural racism. We will say it clearly so there is no misunderstanding: Black lives matter.

Racism is not only about inter-personal experiences, as devastating as these everyday occurrences are; rather, it is deeply embedded and reinforced in policies, structures, institutional practices and societal norms. The Health Foundation’s mission is to improve the health and health care of people and communities in western and central New York. We know that, in order to pursue that mission, we need to continue recognizing structural racism and the impact those power structures have on the health of the Black community.

Examples of structural racism can be seen in many facets of health care, including bias in health care delivery and the social determinants of health—socioeconomic factors like housing, transportation and food access. These inequities are more apparent than ever during the coronavirus pandemic, as Black communities across the country have seen far greater rates of illness and death.

Marshall Ganz, a community organizer and Harvard lecturer on public policy, once said, “Charity asks, ‘what’s wrong, how can I help?’ Justice asks, ‘why is it happening and how can I change it?’” Our team is listening to these words as we examine and improve how we partner with the community.

We remain committed to supporting and elevating the work of organizations, programs and people who are moving us closer to health equity. We will keep using our voice to call for legislative change like universal health care, funding for health and social programs and other efforts to address unfair systems. And we will, as a team, continue to interrogate our own organizational practices with the goal of making them more just and equitable.

These events and the ongoing reliving of trauma can be devastating to the mental health of many in the Black community, especially because social distancing measures make it difficult to seek help in the traditional ways. In closing, I am sharing this compilation of virtual mental health resources.

Thank you to everyone in our community who is standing together for change.