Many people are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1968 assessment that "of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman."
Equally important and less cited is the solution King offered in the sentence that followed: "I see no alternative to direct action and creative nonviolence to raise the conscience of the nation."
There have been important gains since then but, 51 years after King made the comments during a Chicago press conference, racial and ethnic disparities in health and healthcare persist. King’s prescription of direct action contains the foundation for the most promising approach to erasing these disparities.
Community-based action that focuses not only on health status, but also a particular type of health difference closely linked to social, economic, and environmental disadvantages, is central to the work of health advocates as we observe National Minority Health Month 2017 in April.
This year’s theme, Bridging Health Equity Across Communities, encourages awareness that barriers go well beyond the health system and include places where we live and work and where our children learn and play.
Reducing disparities in health means working to address the same conditions King and other leaders noted in the pursuit of civil rights - poverty, low educational attainment, and dangerous and unhealthy housing.
Community organizations and public-private partnerships play an important role in helping improve opportunities for all Americans to reach their full potential for good health and success.
In Atlanta, the Southeastern Health Equity Council, which includes local private and public organizations, joined forces with national nonprofit Uplift Solutions to provide access to capital for small community grocery stories to bring fresh food to underserved communities in the Southeast. The partnership is helping end food deserts and addresses a vital need to which residents of many communities never give a second thought: where to find nutritious food.
From fresh food to safe playgrounds to walkable neighborhoods, the keys to good health are all around us. Because racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy and more likely to face poorer health outcomes, direct action resulting in improvements in our communities can affect the health of generations.
During National Minority Health Month, we will highlight the work of individuals and organizations and healthcare professionals and advocates in communities across the nation to address racial and ethnic health disparities.