Yesterday, I “returned” from the weekend – which really means that I walked into my pantry and sat down at my desk – struggling with how I as a white woman could communicate to our racially diverse staff about all that is roiling around us. Our amazing staff have their own lived experience, and one of the main areas of expertise we have is around how to reduce racial inequities in maternal and children’s health. Our home visiting programs, Healthy Start and the Nurse-Family Partnership, are leaders in this challenging field of public health.
Now, over the last four months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how systemic racial inequities in employment, health care, and housing directly impact who contracts the virus and who survives it. As the inequities are unveiled, the data doesn’t surprise our team because we know racism exists and has for centuries, not just in individual interactions between people, but in the way our lives are organized. Even today after decades of civil rights progress, we may work together, but we aren’t as likely to live together, go to school together, or pray together.
Faced with repeated reminders of racism not just in our criminal justice but many systems, here is the message I shared with our team. I share it with you now as supporters and partners because, as the largest philanthropy serving this racially diverse county, we have a responsibility to acknowledge that racism exists in insidious and profoundly damaging ways. Delaware County cannot move forward without all of us stating unequivocally that racism is unacceptable, and then intentionally taking action for positive change.
These last two plus months have been so tough, the last few weeks even tougher, and now we have a weekend where it’s hard to feel hopeful about our country. Race and racism have come to the fore in ways that even the most oblivious would have a hard time ignoring. Whether it’s birdwatcher Christian Cooper’s experience in Central Park, or 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor’s murder in Louisville, or the hunting down of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, or now the completely wanton disregard for life exhibited by the police officer in Minneapolis as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck, all show a deep, deep flaw in our society. How can one not feel enraged at the injustice?
Every day our work together prioritizes addressing racial inequities in health care. You are truly “being the change you want to see in the world” and we need to keep playing that critical role at the foundation. Because of your work on the front lines every day we are uniquely poised to continue to insist that racial inequities are acknowledged and addressed. We’ve talked about what life will be like after the pandemic is over, and how we can make sure we’re not just going back to the way things were but rather taking a big leap forward. As the writer Roxane Gay said in a New York Times column yesterday, “The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”
As I ended my email to our team, I welcome your thoughts about how this foundation, our staff and board can be part of courageously leading, participating, creating and insisting others commit to a “new normal” for all, and wish you some comfort, safety, and peace,
Frances M. Sheehan