I want to use my space here to project the voices that have most resonated with me this past week. Now more than ever, it’s essential to not only seek out diverse viewpoints but to also amplify those messages. Indeed, at this time we must address not just the pandemic, but also racism, another sickness in our communities and our country. Many of the New Jersey mayors who work with us, as well as Quality Institute members, have shared their insights, including their personal experiences with racism, examples of their work to combat injustice, and their fervent calls to action. At the Quality Institute, we know that racism is a public health crisis; we cannot address social determinants of health without addressing racism. Let’s heed the collective call to action together and enable our frustration, sadness and anger to drive lasting change.
Here are some of the powerful voices I would like to share:
Shereef Elnahal, MD, MBA, President and CEO of University Hospital, Newark, and Quality Institute Board member
George Floyd’s death, and the response in cities across the country right now, should remind us all of one thing: Racism is still among the biggest health risks in America.
Michellene Davis, Esq., Executive Vice President, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, RWJBarnabas Health
We find ourselves now amid a global awakening of the individual, structural and systemic racism of our country as evidenced by recent accounts of police brutality. It is important to note that the recent response across the globe to the recent killing of George Floyd is not merely about that killing, rather, it is due to the killing of Black men and women before the pandemic and of the rapid sequence of events involving the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury, and the threat of weaponizing law enforcement against Chris Cooper in Central Park. These events speak to the daily weathering of racism that is experienced by so many in Black and Brown communities. There are many in law enforcement who are dedicated to ending injustice.
While these actions are never acceptable, because they are occurring during the magnification of inequity and disparate impact of COVID-19, it is even more stark. In addressing social determinants in our work, we base that work on an equity framework. We join with the American Academy of Pediatrics which stated, “(r)acism is a social determinant of health and creates toxic stress in children, teens and families that impacts their health.” We align with the American Public Health Association when it states that “(r)acism attacks people’s physical and mental health and racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now!” The social determinants of health cannot be adequately addressed without laser focus on dismantling individual, structural and systemic racism everywhere that it is encountered.
Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, President and CEO of Virtua Health
While we stand together actively fighting an invisible yet insidious virus called COVID-19, a more dangerous societal virus that has been woven into the fabric of our communities, institutions and economy silently eats away at the tenets of our humanity. Racism, hatred and discrimination run counter to the great American dream. What we should all recognize by now is our interconnectivity. What affects one of us, affects all of us.
Brandon McKoy, President, New Jersey Policy Perspective
Far too many Black and brown New Jerseyans face barriers to success that prevent them from pursuing lives of good health, safety and joy. This is no accident. These barriers have arisen through centuries of institutionalized racism, bigotry and hatred. They are destructive trends that undermine our collective welfare and damage our economy, and they are the result of explicit policy choices.
Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General of New Jersey
We hear you, we see you, we respect you, we share your anger, and we share your commitment to change.
Mayor Susan Shin Angulo, Cherry Hill
The killing of George Floyd exposed deep fissures in our shared American experience. This injustice demands our attention. We must be unwavering in our commitment to social equity, protecting the underrepresented and vulnerable, and to respect peaceful demonstrations that advance real and sustained change.
Mayor Ras Baraka, Newark
(On COVID-19 reopening): Normal is gone, normal will never return. We are never going back to normal, and we never should have been at the normal we were at. The normal we had made it possible for us to have the most infections in the state, the most deaths in the state, it gave us poor access to health care and quality food and doctors and medicine.
Mayor Steven Fulop, Jersey City
While in Jersey City we have taken some massive steps forward over the years, I know even here we have more work to do. My commitment to you is that we will continue to work hand in hand with leaders in the African American community to get our city to the place that it should be with every community knowing they are always treated equally and fairly.
Mayor John E. McCormac, Woodbridge
[On COVID-19] One has been around for a few months and the other for a few centuries. … Both need a cure. We are hopeful that scientists will provide a cure for COVID-19, but only a peaceful dialogue and discussions and understanding of each other’s positions will help eradicate racism.
Mayor Andre Sayegh, Paterson
We have been fighting this virus for more than two months, but there has been a virus that has existed far longer and that has been much stronger in our country: racism. COVID-19 stands for Coronavirus 2019, but hate has been here since 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were brought to the colony of Virginia. Today, African-Americans cannot escape the evil that lived in this land even when they are jogging or bird watching. Therefore, now is not the time to be quiet non-racists, but rather vocal anti-racists.
Finally, I am asking you, our members and partners, to share your voices, especially if you are making real change in your organizations and communities. At the Quality Institute, we know our strength comes from collaboration with all of you. We will continue to work with you to create a nation that is free of racism and fair and equitable for all.