Lt. Gov Gilchrist explains why declaration of racism as a public health crisis matters

Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a declaration this week that racism is a public health crisis.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is leading the state's initiative and he spoke to FOX 2 about the message it sends and the effort to address it.

"This declaration that racism is a public health crisis is really important for two big reasons. For one, it just states a fact and it is inarguable that the impact of racism and prejudice on the systems that we live in, have led to worse health outcomes for people of color in Michigan and frankly across the country. 

"The second thing it does is it unlocks the potential for every state department and agency, to take a look within itself to analyze the data that they put out and collect. And to understand the rule that the programs and policies and agencies, what they can do to deal with the impact of racism."

FOX 2: "Getting down on a granular level what does this look like policy-wise and how does it affect people on the ground?"

"Step zero is data information collection and understanding," Gilchrist said. "So state departments and agencies have a ton of information and a ton of data, but it needs to be organized and understood. And with the partnership of potentially, the other announcement that we made, which was the establishment of the Black Leadership Advisory Council. With that partnership, they can take a look at some of the data and information that is coming from, say, the housing department, and the many different agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, our Department of Education, etc. By using that data and understanding what is truly happening, we can respond with ways where programs can be reformed."

FOX 2: "There are people who live in the areas where this has been an issue for a long time but are other people who may never step foot in the city of Detroit in the neighborhoods. How do you explain this to somebody who doesn't think this is an issue?"

"In two ways. Inequitable systems hurt everybody so we need to recognize that the work with racism as a public health crisis is going to work in tandem with other initiatives that are in our administration," Gilchrist said. "In December of 2019, for example, we created a Poverty Task Force that will look at every department and agency that has some type of anti-poverty or poverty reduction program in it, and better align those services and better optimize them rather than address poverty as a broad scale because poverty is a problem all over the state of Michigan."

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FOX 2: "This poverty initiative was around before and it affects everybody, it's not just about racism."

"That's right, the Poverty Task Force was not specifically focused on poverty among people of color, that was focused on poverty in the state of Michigan and that's important because poverty looks different in different communities in different contexts and we need to make sure that our programs respond to that. It is the same thing with racism, it does not look the same in cities the way it looks in suburbs - or the way it looks in the rural part of our state. So we want to have mechanisms that are able to be responsive to those different needs and those different situations."