Join Our Network

Follow Us:

  • RSS

Black History Month and the Importance of Health Equity

Black History Month and the Importance of Health Equity

During Black History Month, we’re reminded that equality for the African American community includes health equity. A half century ago the civil rights movement succeeded in focusing the nation’s attention on the injustices faced by African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities and a broad consensus emerged – backed by a raft of federal legislation – in support of the idea that a person’s fate in life should not be predetermined by the color of their skin.

Although there has been incredible progress on a variety of fronts in the ensuing years, there remain significant disparities between the races in a number of critical areas, one of the most prominent being health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African Americans and other people of color live shorter and less healthy lives than whites, and suffer from significantly and often dramatically elevated rates of, to name just a few, premature cardiovascular mortality, diabetes, and infant mortality. Researchers from the Institute of Medicine found that racial and ethnic populations receive significantly inferior health care services, even controlling for all other factors, resulting in worse treatment outcomes.  

As early as 1966 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." Dr. King’s prescient quote puts in stark words the critical need to address the root causes of the aforementioned disparities. According to the World Health Organization, the social determinants of health – the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age – are mostly responsible for health inequities. For us here at Community Health Councils (CHC), we honor Dr. King’s message during this month of focus on the black American experience by redoubling our efforts to address the social determinants of health as they manifest themselves in South Los Angeles and in other similar communities across the state and nation. 

For over 20 years, Community Health Councils has been working to expand health care coverage, increase access to quality, affordable health care, and improve the natural and built environment in areas with inadequate resources for healthy living. Through advocacy, community engagement, and research and analysis, CHC has worked to address every sector that influences the social determinants of health. We’ve not only worked towards better health care coverage access and reform, but have come to understand the vital need for a better health care safety net. We know that nutrition and food resources in the community are essential to a better life, but also understand that the environment has an equally profound impact on health. It goes without saying that tobacco and air quality and parks and public spaces all can affect community health, but we’re also actively advocating for improved infrastructure for walking, bicycling, and public transit to combat deadly collision statistics, disincentives to physical activity, and inequities in accessibility. We understand that there is not one way to improve health and we must attack from all sides.

Along the way, we’ve had some significant victories – hospitals saved, ordinances prohibiting new fast food restaurants passed, oil field regulations adopted, health care coverage expanded, clinical services improved, and new grocery stores built. But much work remains to be done; people living in South Los Angeles and other similar communities continue to experience unequal access to the resources needed to live healthy lives. Until we can honestly say that every child has the same chance at a long, healthy, and productive life, we will continue to honor the work begun by our predecessors in the struggle for racial equality by addressing the root causes of health inequity. And we call on all who subscribe to a belief in the fundamental equality and dignity of every human being to join us in those efforts.

Commenting Policy: CPEHN encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We place a high value on diversity and discussion. We would like our comments section to remain a place where anyone can post their thoughts knowing they will be treated in a respectful manner. We actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that create a hostile environment for other posters.