Whitmer calls racism a public health crisis, launches Black advisory council

Michigan News

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday recognized racism a public health crisis and signed an executive order creating a new Black Leadership Advisory Council.

Whitmer announced the moves at a morning briefing alongside Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, as well as Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley. She referenced broad inequities but also coronavirus, which has disproportionately affected people of color.

“It is not enough to simply label an injustice. We have to actively take steps to replace injustice with justice,” Gilchrist said. “This formal declaration from our administration creates the space for state departments and agencies to specifically examine, respond to and coordinate all of our policies and programs to quickly and substantively put Michigan on a path to address these issues head-on.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist discusses new racial equity initiatives in Michigan at an Aug. 5, 2020, press conference in Lansing. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

He called the Black Leadership Advisory Council a “leading pillar” of the effort. The Council’s mission will be to develop, review and recommend policies that combat discrimination and inequity.

“Black folks, we are the largest racial minority in the sate, but this council … is the first of its kind in Michigan that will elevate and engage Black leaders and our representatives,” Gilchrist said. “It will build upon the work that we’ve begun with the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities (which Gilchrist leads).”

“(The Council) will expand the scope of that work to create policies that address disparities in health, create generational economic opportunity, lead to community investment, provide access to affordable and available housing, increase public safety in the truest sense, make investments in education, environmental justice, and broadly create more opportunities for Black Michiganders to pursue happiness and success,” the lieutenant governor continued.

He said the council will include at least one person between the ages of 18 and 35 to get the perspective of younger Black people and at least one expert on immigration policy.

Whitmer said her directive on the public health crisis tells the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to review to data, plan policies and advocate for communities of color.

Khaldun noted people of color are disproportionately affected by a number of health problems ranging from maternal and infant mortality to diabetes to COVID-19, saying that’s due to “unequal treatment and racism that have plagued our society for centuries.”

“Declaring racism as a public health crisis means that we will and must tackle this with urgency and intention,” she said.

She said MDHHS was expanding the application of an equity impact assessment, which is a decision-making tool that “provides a concrete, organized and objective way of assessing processes, budget allocations, policies and programs with an equity lens.” She said the assessment will allow leaders to consider policies that may be unintentionally inequitable because they are historically embedded within the system.

That tool will be used within MDHHS and then rolled out to other agencies.

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