Inside NHPHA: A Monthly Column Written by NHPHA Leadership: Thoughts on Systemic Racism, Equity, and NHPHA

by Lisa Bujno, NHPHA President

In May, the country recoiled in horror at the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. The tragedy brought a heightened national attention to the issue of systemic racism, spurring ongoing protests about police violence inflicted upon Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Flurries of statements were issued by organizations from every sector, including NHPHA, in support of action against racism. It seemed that we had reached a juncture where transformative progress could be made toward that vision put forth by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. 

As public health professionals know well, however, urgency over an issue can fade away, even when a public health threat continues. Immunization, lead poisoning, injury prevention – their importance with the public has waxed and waned over the years. Sometimes it seems that public health exists just to protect the threatened flames of vital public health issues. So, at NHPHA, we are committed to keeping the momentum going against systemic racism.

Over the past year our Board has focused on Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI), an NHPHA strategic imperative. Our Past President, Marcella Bobinsky, has led this charge, guiding an NHPHA Equity Work Group in developing our plan to create an organizational culture of DEI at NHPHA. Toward this end, we are actively working to assess and address systemic racism internally and making plans for educational offerings on systemic racism. NHPHA’s work with the COVID Equity Task Force is another example of our commitment to this issue.

Public health professionals have a moral imperative to act on this public health crisis. We each have work to do to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. What can we do? I usually begin by listening, learning, reflecting, then acting. Read a book on racism and equity. Listen to people of color as they describe the challenges they face daily. Reflect on actions you can take in your personal and professional lives to eliminate systemic racism. Then act – in whatever way you can – perhaps through participating in an educational offering, a mentoring program, or a group working on promoting diversity.

Again, it all comes down to leadership. I visited Dr. King’s memorial 25 years ago the first time I went to Atlanta. As I walked through the projects to get there, my seven-year-old in hand, a black man approached us. “You’re going to visit Dr. King’s memorial?” he asked. I nodded. “I’ll go with you,” he replied, “it’s not safe for you to be walking here alone.” To me, that was leadership. As Dr. King said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Help continue the fight – don’t let the urgency of this issue fade away.

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