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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


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