CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of a proclamation declaring racism a public health crisis, during a meeting Tuesday evening.
District 4 Commissioner Mark Jerrell introduced the proclamation. It states the board has identified reducing racial disparity as a critical priority.
“The proclamation sends a signal to the community to let them know that we understand the impact that racism has had on certain segments of the population. It lets them know that we are committed to changing outcomes. It lets them know we understand people need greater access to healthcare,” Jerrell said.
According to Jerrell, it also helps keep the board accountable.
“It allows us to leverage this document as a backdrop for policy and funding and really address and level the playing field,” Jerrell said.
Mecklenburg County joins several national public health organizations, such as American Public Health Organization, and other counties in the U.S. declaring racism a public health crisis.
UNC Charlotte Department of Public Health Sciences Professor and Chair Dr. Melinda Forthofer says a public health crisis is an issue that affects an entire population or an issue disproportionately affecting one group. Therefore, is a high priority due to the impact in the population. She says racism has been a public health crisis for decades.
“We have a very strong evidence-base that shows that pervasive, systemic, institutionalized racism has been responsible for inequalities in our population that have dramatic impacts on health and well-being in our population,” Forthofer said.
Forthofer also says major studies show inequality in populations leads to negative population health outcomes for everyone.
“If we can really curtail and eliminate racism, we can dramatically impact of our population and that actually translates into the health of all our population, not just the health of people of color,” Forthofer said.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner At-Large Trevor Fuller, who supported the proclamation, says it benefits more than one group.
“It’s not just for African-Americans. It’s not for people who are discriminated against, it’s for everyone,” Fuller said “Everyone benefits when racism is removed from our expenditure of funds, from our attention, from our focus.”
Jerrell says he hopes this proclamation is the beginning of change.
“This is certainly a first step, it’s not an only step," Jerrell said.
The proclamation doesn’t give Mecklenburg County any additional state or federal funding. It does state racism should be treated with the urgency and funding of a public health crisis.
Chairman George Dunlap says he hopes corporate partners will embrace the proclamation and support the county.
The Board of County Commissioners also agreed to send the proclamation to every legislator, every county in North Carolina and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.