Jan. 19 is the National Day of Racial Healing (NDORH), a day set apart for institutions and individuals to reflect on and take ownership of how they have participated in systemic racism, and to make a commitment to improve. Government institutions are among the guiltiest of operating through a lens of privilege and racism, often being out of touch with, or uninterested in meeting the needs of the people they were created to serve. To this day, white supremacy soaks into the foundation of our democracy, camouflaged in such a way that people in positions of privilege and power remain blind to its presence as it wreaks havoc on those who exist outside its protective bubble. This uneven dynamic is responsible for the disproportionate police response that caused the death of George Floyd and acts of police brutality carried out on peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors while simultaneously allowing acts of terrorism to be carried out by white protesters in our nation’s capital building. In Buncombe County, we are committed to learning from our nation’s jaded history of injustice in order to reach our goal of becoming One Buncombe, an equitable community where all residents have the opportunity to live safe and healthy lives.
In honor of NDORH, Buncombe County Health and Human Services has partnered with the YWCA of Asheville and WNC on Let’s Talk COVID-19 Vaccinations; a virtual town hall focused on holding space for the lived and historical experiences of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) seeking medical care in the United States. Public Health, as an institution, is a responsible party for many grievous acts of explicit racism that have fueled a culture of mistrust in the medical system for (BIPOC). This town hall is an opportunity for Buncombe County Public Health and Community leadership to own the ways in which our systems have failed to meet the needs of BIPOC populations, and to explain the ways in which they have improved these systems to ensure equitable access to medical care and the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s Talk COVID-19 Vaccinations will be livestreamed on Wednesday, Jan. 27, at 5:30 p.m., in English on Buncombe County Government’s Facebook page and in Spanish on Buncombe County Health and Human Services’ Facebook page.
This event and the many equity-focused conversations and actions taken by Buncombe County institutions like Health and Human Services are the result of a concerted effort to create an equitable infrastructure on which we can build a culture of trust in our community. In fact, racism has been named a public health and safety crisis by the Buncombe County Health and Human Services Board, the Justice Resource Advisory Council, and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. These declarations were prompted by the following research findings specific to Buncombe County:
- Life expectancy for Black residents was, on average, 5.9 years shorter (73.4 years) compared to white residents (79.3 years).
- The overall death rate for Black residents was 38% higher than white residents.
- In 2016, 13.7% of whites experienced poverty compared to 27.2% of Blacks and 36.4% of Hispanics.
- The average per capita income for whites was $28,480 compared to $15,335 for Blacks and $13,121 for Hispanics.
*These statistics are based on the 2018 Buncombe County Community Health Assessment
The result of these declarations was an infusion of resources to eliminate racial disparities in education, housing, health, the justice system, and more. There is also a focus to look inward at County policies and practices that could unintentionally support racism such as purchasing and hiring practices.
“The opportunity for health should be available to all those who live, learn, and work in Buncombe County,” states Buncombe County Health Director Stacie Saunders. “At Buncombe County Health & Human Services we are committed to improving our own systems and providing equitable services for our community.”
You can read more of the research here and the resolution here.