Write Policy the Right Policy Can Change Black Lives
The American dilemma around racism for African Americans in the matter of racism and
public health is as old as the democracy itself. Further impacting this crisis are
interlocking conundrums stemming from mass incarceration, environmental racism, and
housing and educational suppression. Only comprehensive solutions can cure what ails
African American communities, from east to west, north to south, and sea to shining
The African American Policy Committee (AAPC) of the Northeast Ohio Black Health
Coalition is a committee consisting of public, private, and community members working
to identify, understand, and collaborate around issues to change and influence policies
related to black health. The AAPC was created because racism has been declared a
public health crisis in a number of local and state municipalities. In response to the
growing frequency of these declarations, the AAPC believes that the only way we can
effectively address these structural dilemmas of systemic health disparities is through
changes to policies that are fundamentally racist in origin, intent, and application.
The recent events involving right wing extremists attempting to take over the Capitol is
just part of a long trajectory of the role of white supremacists acting as domestic
terrorists; a reality that African Americans painfully know all too well. For far too long,
our nation has been in a state of denial about its responsibilities to make its wounded
citizens whole, including African Americans, Native Americans, Japanese and Chinese
Americans, Women, LGBTQ Americans, etc. Instead of speaking to what is apparent to
everyone, White America has pretended that the magnitude of the problem was not as
bad as it seemed, sought to place blame on the victimized, and even, as a University of
Virginia study suggested, propose that African Americans and other Americans of color
had the inability to feel pain.
Merely having a conversation around the issue of racism in public health, as with race in
America in general, is not enough to eradicate the American dilemma without a serious
and sustainable commitment to structural policy change, backed by serious
institutionalized economic support. In the words of the memoir of the late historian Dr.
John Hope Franklin, this call is a “mirror to America.”
The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Public Health Association
have declared racism to be a public health crisis. Across the nation, there appears to be
a growing national movement emerging. In addition to the racial wealth gap, there is a
parallel racial health gap that has impacted the ability of African Americans to achieve
the Declaration of Independence’s mandate of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness.” Concerted action is required at all levels of society and government to
adequately address the challenges we have allowed to fester for generations. The racial
health gap is not relegated to one region. This is indeed an American dilemma.
As Youngstown, OH native Dr. Ron Daniels says about Black America, the United
States is also in a state of emergency. As the old adage goes, when the nation catches
a cold, African Americans catch pneumonia. Well, in the age of COVID-19, African
Americans have borne the brunt of America’s disease, from 1619 to now. It is high time
that this nation take the wool from over its eyes and attend to the needs of arguably its
most loyal and committed citizens, even as they have had to struggle at every turn just
to acquire and maintain membership in the American family.
The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition is a social justice organization created to
address the impact of racism on African American disparities including policy inequities,
historical trauma, food insecurity, research, behavioral health and addiction services by
working to empower, educate and advocate for health equity in under-served
communities. Our goal with the African American Policy Committee is to encourage all
those who will, to come to the table to seek out solutions, rooted in public policy, that
will help solve these myriad crises facing African American communities in Northeast
This is a call to action. As we seek to address these long-standing dilemmas, we
have partnered with others around the country seeking to address similar matters.
Come join our effort.
Reverend Zachary Williams, PhD is Director of African American Policy at the Northeast
Ohio Black Health Coalition