A Call to Action for Our Health Care System as we Honor Dr. King’s Legacy
For many of us committed to social justice and the health and wellbeing of our communities, this year’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is particularly powerful.
Our society once again finds itself at the precipice of race relations. Social justice advocates and organizers, furious with the recent high profile killings of Black youth, mostly young men, have taken up the banner that Dr. King carried so many years ago, and are demanding that the legal and justice systems recognize that Black lives matter.
This demand that Black (and by extension Brown) lives matter is a call to action. It is a call for us to reflect on the work of Dr. King and to take to heart his own call to action that “the time is always right to do what is right.” This call to action goes well beyond the legal and justice systems. It is a call to action for every institution, every system, and every individual in our society.
One clear area of society where Dr. King’s message and the demand that Black and Brown lives matter needs to permeate, is our health care system. It is time for our health care providers to do what is right and make Black and Brown lives, particularly the lives of young Black and Brown men, a priority.
Too many of our young men of color are being pushed out of schools, forced into prisons, or are being murdered in our streets. The fact that Latino and African American young men are two and three times more likely to be exposed to incidents of violence than white young men, is a public health concern with major implications for the wellbeing of our communities. The fact that the homicide death rate for African American young men is 16 times higher than white young men is a serious public health crisis that needs to be addressed now.
I say this as a Chicano man who knows, all too well, the impacts of racism and injustice on my health and the health of my family. I say this as a health educator who has worked with young men of color for years, trying to incorporate program models that serve them into the health care system. And I say this as a father of two Chicano boys, furious that they too will grow up in a society that does not value their lives and refuses to make space for us to live healthy and free.
It is time for the health care system to address this crisis. We need more health care professionals to proactively step outside of traditional health care roles to support the health and wellbeing of young men of color. At a time when many young men of color have lost all trust in the political and justice system, we need more health care professionals to act as allies in the movement for justice and equity. We need more health centers to become true health homes for young men of color, creating safe spaces that focus not only on treating their symptoms but that are also dedicated to helping our young men heal.
The California School Based Health Alliance, in collaboration with the California Pan Ethnic Health Network, has developed a new resource, “Making the Health Home Model Work for Boys and Young Men of Color”, that offers health care professionals a range of suggestions to better engage and support young men of color. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive. Our hope is to spread best practices gathered from our partners, so that health care professionals can consider how they can begin to transform their health centers into future health homes for young men of color.
The system we have now is not doing enough to serve our young men. If we all commit to making these moves, it will be a good start. The cost of inaction is more lives lost. “The time is always right to do right.” --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.