Building a ‘Culture of Health’ Starts With Equity and Race

January 11, 2018 - (4 min read)

Join NLC Wednesday, Jan. 17 for a Culture of Health Web Forum on Race, Equity and Health.

In the United States, life expectancy can vary by more than 15 years for communities separated by a few miles, subway stops or zip codes. This gap stems from structural inequities that include biases based on race, gender, class and other social factors.

These structural inequities are deeply embedded into the fabric of society, resulting in systemic disadvantages that lead to unequal access to resources that determine the wellbeing of people and communities. These include the opportunity to have affordable housing, to live in safe neighborhoods, to get a good education and to secure jobs with a family-sustaining income.

The problem impacts the health of people of all socioeconomic status; it also affects the strength of our communities, our economy, our national security and our standing in the world.

Through the National League of Cities’ (NLC) on-going work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to build a culture of health – working with mayors and city leaders to address the factors that influence how long we live and how well we live – we have a range of existing and emerging efforts that enable cities to work together to find solutions to tackle these pervasive challenges.

To hear from experts on race, equity and city solutions, join NLC’s web forum on January 17 from 2:00 to 3:00 pm EDT on Race, Equity and Health. You will hear about discrimination in America and its effects on health, as well as local partnerships and strategies to advance race equity and opportunity in cities. The goal of NLC’s work on race, equity and health is to better inform and identify ways we can more effectively engage each other in solutions.

Underscoring NLC’s work, RWJF, National Public Radio and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released the findings of a poll late last year that examined the discrimination experienced by six major ethnic and racial groups in America today in order to build awareness about how people perceive discrimination amongst their respective ethnicities and races.

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Findings indicate that the majority of Americans, including whites, think their own group faces discrimination. This includes life experience with systems – work, police, the courts, housing, healthcare, college, voting – and harassment in many facets of personal interactions. Money may not shield prosperous blacks from bigotry. Asian Americans report individual prejudice is a bigger problem than bias by government or laws and policies.

Roughly one third of Latino respondents experienced discrimination when looking for a home. This is especially important as clean, safe, affordable housing and neighborhoods could act as a vaccine for people’s health. Housing also affects access to high-quality education and the ability to get a good job. The silver lining is that Latinos in urban areas feel positive about what their local officials are doing for them. Sixty percent of Latinos feel their local government represents the views of people like them.

City leaders and agencies can serve as catalysts, conveners and partners to address systemic factors that perpetrate discrimination and unequal opportunity in their communities. The City of San Antonio played a vital role in attracting federal investments via the Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Education and Choice Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. In Indianapolis, the multi-racial organization IndyCAN catalyzes marginalized people and faith communities to collectively act for racial and economic equity. One example is the Ticket to Opportunity program, which organized a regional referendum to triple bus service in the city, addressing inadequate transit as a barrier to job opportunities.

Featured speakers at the Jan. 17 web forum include Dwayne Proctor, senior adviser to the president and director of the Achieving Health Equity Portfolio at RWJF; Edwin Revell, deputy director, and Chris Hatcher, urban design administrator in the Department of Planning Engineering & Permits for the City of Birmingham; and Brandy Kelly-Pryor, director of the Center for Health Equity at the Louisville Metro/Jefferson County Department of Public Health and Wellness in Kentucky. Click here to join the conversation.

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 2.32.24 PM.pngAbout the author: Kitty Hsu Dana is the Senior Health Policy Advisor in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.