Director's Corner: Fighting Diseases, New and Old

Photo credit: Maxar Technologies, Black Lives Matter Plaza NW, Washington, D.C., as seen from space

Like many of you, in these turbulent times we at the Center have cycled through feelings of heartbreak, anger, hopelessness, fear and determination, as our nation confronts the twin scourges of COVID-19 and racism – both infectious and deadly diseases. Both continue to inflict dramatically disproportionate harm upon Black people in the United States.

In our work, we seek to build the power of consumers and communities to ensure that policies and practices improve health and health equity. Yet we see more clearly than ever how over many decades, policies have underinvested in health, undermined economic security and perpetuated racism. The events of the past weeks and months have brought into focus how far we have to go, and how important it is to continue the fight.

Community Catalyst Executive Director Emily Stewart noted, “As an organization committed to health for all people, we seek ways to strengthen our resolve and commitment to justice; to fight alongside our partners and allies; and to amplify and support the voices and leadership of those most affected by systemic racism and oppression.” Please see our organization’s statement and resources for state and local action.

In this month’s Health Innovation Highlights, we share a few perspectives that we hope will provoke reflection and inspire action. In The Washington Post, Harvard School of Public Health Dean Michelle A. Williams and former Massachusetts State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez sound this call to action: “It is time to face this immutable fact: Systemic racism has had its knee on the neck of the African American community since America began. And all of us have a responsibility to acknowledge it and address it.” And, in a Health Affairs blog post, Editor-In-Chief Alan Weil calls the question of whether the health care system will address the fundamental imbalance of power that underlies the “social determinants of death,” writing, “It is not enough for health care institutions to stand against racism or with those who protest it. The test of the day is whether those institutions will use their power to fight racism. Will they cede wealth and power accumulated over decades to those who have been excluded? Will they engage in meaningful dialogue designed to break down barriers to a well-functioning society –one in which people engage in authentic relationships and learn of their shared humanity?”

We also recognize that June is Pride month, a time to celebrate the strength and activism of the LGBTQ+ community, and a time to remind ourselves of the powerful intersections in the fight for justice – the intersections between the fight against homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, sexism and racism. Sadly, the movement lost one of its most powerful warriors for intersectionality, Stacey Park Milbern, a prominent advocate for disability justice who pushed the disability rights movement to become more inclusive of people of color and nontraditional gender identities.

In that spirit, we share our video, produced in collaboration with SAGE. While this video was made well before the pandemic began taking its disproportionate toll on older people, we can’t help but think of the extra added burden COVID-19 has brought to this community that has experienced decades of stigma, rejection and fear. 

Finally, on a personal note, as many of you know, over the past three months I’ve been home with my newborn daughter. As I watch her grow and learn, and revel in her newfound smile and laughter, I am struck by the contrast between the simplicity of her joy and love, and the complicated world that awaits her outside. I find hope in Nelson Mandela’s words in Long Walk to Freedom: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”