Cities and counties around Ohio have led the country in declaring racism a public health crisis.
The first step to solving a problem is recognizing its existence. That’s why I joined my colleagues Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to continue the effort at the federal level. We introduced a Senate resolution last week that declares racism a national public health crisis, and acknowledges the systemic barriers that people of color, especially Black Americans, continue to face in our health care system.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the “Great Revealer,” and exposed what Black Ohioans already knew: racism threatens their health, their safety, and their lives, every day.
We see it in disparities in access to health insurance and quality health providers, and implicit biases in our health care system. We see it in a justice system and an economic system that too often treat Black lives as expendable. And we see it in all the social determinants of health – education, environmental hazards, housing, and job opportunities.
Of course we know a resolution alone won’t solve centuries of racism baked into so many of our systems. This acknowledgment must be the beginning of the conversation – it’s a commitment to engage with communities that have been silenced for too long, and work together for long-term change.
It’s why in crafting this resolution, I held virtual roundtables to get input from Ohioans across the state – NAACP chapters and groups of young Black leaders and public health officials. The best ideas aren’t going to come out of Washington – they’ll come from Black and Brown communities who have been living with these inequalities and fighting this fight for generations.
This month we lost an American hero and an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis. From the age of 20, John risked his life fighting for justice and racial equality in this country.
We must carry the torch he has passed us as long as we can, and honor his legacy by continuing the fight to finally tear down the walls of racial inequality in this country once and for all.