As illuminated in the recent updated report Hard Facts, the most pervasive and unjust inequities in our region—including those related to children’s health—fall along the lines of race/ethnicity, and strongly intersect with those of poverty and income. Healthy and Equitable Futures’ focus on racial equity and associated capacity building and systems change strategies offer promising synergies with the Racial Health Equity body of work.
As emphasized by our Partnership value, the strategy is also in critical alignment with the expanding community-wide, collective impact work around racial equity, including the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI), the joint City of Rochester and Monroe County Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), the city’s Racial Equity and Leadership (REAL) Initiative, and the Urban League’s Interrupt Racism work, among other efforts.
The strategy focused on Black and Latino children ages 0-8 in Monroe County (equity in objective and outcomes) and is undertaking intentional changes to internal grantmaking and community engagement practices to better share power with parents and communities (equity in process). Our new approach places Parents and Families along with their Children at the center of the strategy and with them being the guiding and driving force that leads to change. Additional key components include the Learning Collaborative, Parents Leaders and Parent Advisory Group. The strategy leverages grantmaking, convening, and advocacy across three levers for change: Family Leadership, Social-Emotional Supports, Representative and Inclusive Systems.
Health disparities arising from unequal social and economic conditions that systematically marginalize certain groups and communities are recognized to be fundamentally unfair and unjust, and consistent with an understanding of health equity as an ethical and human rights principle. Therefore, the inequities related to the social determinants of health in the Rochester area issue a strong call to action. The emergent impact of COVID-19 has unearthed and unveiled the pervasive, pre-existing and perpetual plight of the Black and Brown community. With these inequities on full display, the community is demanding a call to action to move beyond traditional programming and instead to address the systemic policies, practices and procedures that, if not addressed, will continue to sustain the status quo. Racial/ethnic minority children and families, and the Black/African-American community most of all, have experienced the burden of multiple social disadvantages resulting from the historical and continuing existence of structural and institutionalized racism—ranging from overt discrimination to implicit bias in housing, employment, education, criminal justice and health care. One of the most pernicious manifestations of structural racism is the dramatic economic inequality between Blacks/African Americans and Whites. For Black/African American and Latinx families, this inequality is reflected in dramatically higher rates of family and child poverty along with adverse health, educational and social outcomes in childhood and throughout the life course. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented strategies, solutions and measures that will result in disruption and dismantling of deeply entrenched constructs and structures that have resulted in centuries and decades of unconscious, implicit bias connected to deliberate, intentional barriers compounded by sanctioned, complicit beliefs.
Utilizing the Appreciative Inquiry Methodology, staff convened a series of community conversations and listening sessions over a three-week period with more than individuals and groups reflective and representative of the Black and Latinx communities including varying voices and perspectives, across many sectors. We posed the following question and received ample feedback, input, ideas and insights:
We learned it is not enough to have voices at the table, we must also ensure that the table is set in such a manner that encourages, elevates and promotes shared power and influence. This can be realized by valuing the lived and learned experience of the providers, partners, community, families and youth by allowing listening to be our position so that lifting, leveraging and linking can be our action. The critical call to action includes investments in and prioritization of the most pressing needs identified by the Black and Latinx communities with an emphasis on viable, visible and valuable solutions created by those in power as a vehicle for sustainable, systemic change. As a result of our community conversations, the following three focus areas emerged and are recommended components of this strategy: Capacity Building BIPOC Led Organizations, Leadership Development Pipeline and Advocacy.
Capacity Building was highlighted with a focus on strengthening and supporting BIPOC led organizations in their continued growth and development in the region. Based on the feedback received, BIPOC led organizations have often been under-represented, under-funded or not funded in capacity building efforts although they are viewed and upheld as the most trusted by the communities they are seeking to serve. An intentional focus in this area will bolster grassroots organizations through coaching, mentoring, organizational development and technical assistance and operational support.
Leadership Development is considered vital for creating intentional opportunities to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). With an increase emphasis on DEI in organizational leadership and board composition, we heard that working with existing leadership programs to further their impact was of importance. Investing in individual leaders as well as organizations is key to supporting pathways, building pipelines and creating pools for BIPOC professionals to move into leadership positions and roles through coaching, mentoring, fellowships, and other leadership development opportunities across several sectors including health, human service, business, faith-based and education.
Advocacy was elevated to support, uplift and equip community voices for systems change as a crucial step to address historical health inequities in the region. Structural, systemic racism, implicit bias and intentional policies have created barriers for Black and Latinx individuals and families leading to marginalization and discrimination of these groups. Many of the systems that have created discriminatory conditions are the result of discriminatory policies that can be reversed and/or replaced with supportive policies. As we remove barriers and begin to build bridges that lead to the creation of an equitable ecosystem that supports and uplifts the Black and Latinx community through systems and policy change. This effort would include training on effective advocacy, supporting community led movements to improve health, and work to address systemic barriers that have created inequity in the region. The structures and polices that have created inequitable outcomes happened over generations and the process to address them will require a long-term focus.
A culturally responsive, community-based wellness center will provide a space for healing and growth through support, education, and service provision. This Healer’s Village is a foundational component for the creation of an ecosystem, an environment that build capacity and leverages the connected resources that uplifts, supports and values black and brown bodies, minds are overall health. The Healer’s Village will include culturally appropriate, theory-based, mental health services, delivered by licensed and/or trained providers at a location(s) central to the focus neighborhoods. Complementary services would include community education, and health and social service assistance for referral needs in a variety of areas. This new endeavor is led by Melanie Funchess.
Community Engagement to Reduce Victimization (CERV), which began in 2019, is a community-based violence intervention program targeting dispute-related violence. The program is a collaborative effort between Rochester General Hospital (RGH) and three street-outreach organizations (Pathways to Peace, ABC Save Our Youth, and Rise Up Rochester). CERV aims to reduce victimization by enhancing the existing hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIPs) at RGH and supporting collaboration between the organizations providing street outreach. The program strives to help safety net providers reach and intervene with gun victims before new victimization events unfold. This project is led and directed by Dr. Irshard Altheimer of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
The Black/African American and Latino communities identified an immediate need for the creation of an ecosystem that is designed to address the most pressing issues affecting the people within these groups. To support and uplift community members, BluSky, LLC will co-create a single digital platform in which community members, social activists, and service providers can convene to share information and provide local assistance and begin to close the gaps, needs, and threats facing its marginalized populations.