Flint, MI–The Genesee County Commission voted 7-2 Wednesday morning to adopt a resolution asserting that racism is a public health crisis.
This follows the Genesee County Board of Health’s unanimous vote in favor of the resolution on June 3.
The resolution states that “more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes” and that “in Genesee County, the highest excess death rates exist for African Americans at every stage in the life course.”
It argues that “crisis” is an appropriate label for racism, as it affects large numbers of people, threatens long-term health outcomes and requires major solutions.
By adopting this resolution, the county commission has agreed to assess internal policies and procedures and work to “create an equity and justice-oriented organization.”
The resolution calls for increasing diversity, implementing educational efforts addressing racism, advocating for policies that will help communities of color, and forming alliances with organizations confronting racism.
“The adequate response to the resolution cannot be done quickly,” said Health Officer John McKeller during the meeting. “It will require, in my mind, convening a group of some of these key residents who have raised this issue and developing some specific guidelines and steps that I could then bring back to this board at a future meeting.”
The resolution also requests the board consider allocating money in the budget for these activities.
Commissioner Bryant Nolden, who is also the chairperson for the Genesee County Board of Health, said he believes “there will be some funding opportunities coming down through the federal government that will be able to address some of the concerns we’re seeing around the potential budgetary issues.”
Commissioners Ted Henry and Shaun Shumaker voted against the approval of this resolution.
In the meeting, Shumaker stated he wanted to postpone the vote.
“I would like to ask a favor next time that we not put something as important as this on the agenda 24 hours before we have to vote on it,” he said. “I think it’s unfair…I voted to move it forward to this board. I did not expect we would only have 24 hours to do any research.”
Henry stated that he also needed “time to sort this out” before being comfortable approving it.
Commissioner Martin Cousineau stated during the meeting that while he had no problem voting yes on this, he could see how, from a procedural standpoint, some people might be “a little uncomfortable with it.”
“But that’s the way crisis brings things forward,” Cousineau said.
The resolution was drafted by local doctor Kent Key and activist Nayyirah Shariff following the death of George Floyd, a black man, killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
As protests over police brutality and racism continue, cities throughout the country including Indianapolis, Denver and Dayton, Ohio, have begun to declare racism a public health crisis as well.
“I’m excited that the resolution passed,” said Key, executive deputy director for Community Based Organization Partners also known as CBOP and faculty at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.
“Being able to talk about racism, structural, systemic, and all other manifestations of racism, will allow us to address policies and practices and laws that unfairly disadvantage people of color,” he said.
Key also stressed the significance of the resolution passing at the county level.
“The city is majority black but we’re the minority in the county, so this gives us a different leverage,” he said. “As a county, we can now look at securing funds and grants to provide programming, interventions, maybe research studies as well, that will address the systemic level of racism and how that manifests in our health.”
Key said he would like to see resolutions like this one become “infectious.”
“We would like to see other municipalities in Genesee county, and the state of Michigan follow suit so that we can really address racism which, I feel, is one of the most cancerous viruses we have in this country.”
On Tuesday night, Ingham County unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. A similar resolution was introduced to Michigan’s Senate floor on Wednesday.
Cousineau said that he is “hopeful that we’re making progress and this type of resolution brings attention to that.”
Commissioner Brenda Clack shares Cousineau’s hope.
“We must admit at this time in history that we are a broken people,” she said during the meeting. “We are all broken and it’s shameful that it took the death of an individual such as Mr. George to bring this forward but I want to commend Dr. Key and his committee…for bringing this forward.”
Clack stated that while many of these issues have been addressed before, they have not been a consistent point of discussion. But she thinks this time will be different.
“It’s surprising…that we’re still standing on our feet, between the water issue, the pandemic, and now this racial issue,” she said. “We have proven that we are strong and we will continue.”