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Two Steps Forward: Racism IS a Public Health Crisis  

A Statement from the Institute for Public Health Innovation Staff and Board of Directors: 

Last year, Virginia made history as the first southern state to declare racism as a public health crisis. It was an essential step in the long and challenging work of undoing institutional racism in Virginia’s policies, systems, structures, and norms. Then last week, The Washington Post brought to light a troubling perspective that underscores the challenges and urgency of the work ahead. Understanding racism and acknowledging its central role in creating the profound health inequities in our region provides opportunities to create the intentional change necessary to truly make a difference in the public’s health. 

This work begins with developing a shared understanding of how racism, particularly institutional racism, is defined. That work progresses by acknowledging the large body of evidence that illuminates the effects that racism has on individual and community health. Racism creates obstacles for Black and Brown Virginians to achieve their best health and for all of us to collectively address the stark disparities and inequities in health outcomes. Of course, Virginia is not unique in its history, or the ways that blatant and concealed racism affects the public’s health. This formal acknowledgment is one that many state and local jurisdictions have recently made to demonstrate their commitment to take meaningful action to address health inequities. 

While racism and gun violence are highly politicized, that does not take away from the evidence that these are significant public health issues. In addition, efforts to address them promote values that are important to share and reflect what the public health field is all about — humanity is precious and that everyone deserves health and well-being. Those in leadership positions are responsible for combining empathy with science to solve social problems and protect and promote the public’s health.  

After the Virginia resolution was passed, we partnered with the Voices for Virginia’s Children and the Virginia Public Health Association to host a 4-part webinar titled, “Racism is a Public Health Crisis in Virginia .” We encourage others to view the series for educational purposes and to identify ways to get involved. In the future, we intend to facilitate further discussions to highlight practical strategies and actions to continue to make progress. We are deeply committed to intentional action in collaborating with our many current and future partners. 

In closing, we express our ongoing support for the dedicated professionals at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) who work tirelessly to promote health and advance health equity, often without recognition. VDH is an essential partner to our organization. Together, we have accomplished a lot to improve health outcomes. We look forward to working alongside the agency as we strive for equitable health opportunities for all Virginians.  

We hope this moment can fuel continued commitment among governmental and non-governmental organizations to work together to take another step forward in addressing racism as a public health crisis.