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Flint, MI–On Tuesday, the Flint doctor who worked on a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Genesee county met with the U.S. Senator who co-sponsored a similar resolution in the Senate.
Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Sen. Kamala Harris met with Dr. Kent Key, and three other activists, after landing in Flint Tuesday morning.
Key said they talked about the Flint water crisis, COVID-19 and the “revolution on racism” for a little more than an hour in a private area at Bishop International Airport.
“We need people like her with national media attention to advocate and let the people know we’re not out of the water crisis. It’s not over,” said Key, who is the executive deputy director for Community Based Organization Partners and faculty at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.
He said they discussed remaining challenges such as residents’ service lines that have yet to be replaced and in-home plumbing systems that were corrupted by lead-tainted water and have not been fixed.
He also told Harris about the upper respiratory issues many residents now deal with as a result of the water crisis which now make them more susceptible to COVID-19.
A third layer to these issues is systemic racism, Key said, as communities of color experience higher rates of various health issues because of it. He and Harris both believe racism is, in itself, a public health issue.
Key and local activist Nayyirah Shariff drafted a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in Genesee County that was adopted by the Board of Commissioners back in June.
The resolution argued that “crisis” is an appropriate label for racism, as it affects large numbers of people, threatens long-term health outcomes and requires major solutions.
Key said the label of “public health” allows people to look at racism systemically instead of in isolated incidents.
Harris and 32 other U.S. Senators introduced a senate resolution to declare racism a public health issue on July 22.
“COVID-19 has caused a public health crisis that is disproportionately impacting people of color. In fact, available data shows that African American and Latinx people are three times as likely to get sick with the virus; and nearly twice as likely to die,” said Senator Harris in a press release. “This is, in part, due to long-standing barriers to care that are rooted in generations of systemic racism.”
The House of Representatives approved a similar resolution, but the Senate has yet to take further action.
“We have three mental health stressors in alignment at the same time pressing on a people, and now you have the national issue with how COVID-19 is being handled which feels reciprocal to how the water crisis was handled,” Key said.
Comparing President Donald Trump and Former Governor of Michigan Rick Snyder, Key said “we have two leaders that are businessmen, two leaders that denied facts, covered up facts, knew what was happening but still allowed things to happen.”
“This feels, quite frankly, like what we experienced with the water crisis is what we are now experiencing nationally,” Key said.
However bleak the topics, he said their conversation was “refreshing” because she wasn’t focused on making promises but was instead focused on listening.
According to Key, there was discussion about how the issues he brought up about Flint could fit into various bills and policies Harris would be proposing.
“It felt like we were actually informing things that could possibly impact the country,” Key said. “It felt like we were doing action as opposed to making empty promises.”