WHI Steering Committee agrees to intentional emphasis on race equity

Health equityRecent meetings of the WHI Steering Committee have focused on priorities for 2021, filling open Steering Committee seats, communicating about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, discussing plans to increase enrollment in Medicaid and Affordable Care Act insurance plans, and maintaining the MI Community Care program for individuals with complex health, behavioral health, and social needs.

On February 9th, the WHI Steering Committee voted on new members and discussed the WHI’s intentional focus on race equity in 2021.

The two new members are Mashod Evans, an itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the senior pastor of Bethel AME Church in Ann Arbor, and Angela Moore, a lifelong Washtenaw County resident with lived experience that is of direct relevance to the WHI mission.

In 2021, the WHI will place an intentional emphasis on race equity. Strategic priorities include amplifying local initiatives that promote health and racial equity, educating the community about the effects of racism, messaging about vaccine availability to individuals in traditionally under-served Washtenaw County communities, working with community networks to expand outreach, and more.

The meeting included a candid conversation about the readiness of the Washtenaw Health Initiative, the Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT), and community organizations to take on race equity in meaningful ways. One meeting participant asked that all WHI member organizations think critically about how they have benefited from keeping racist structures in place.

Terrisca Des Jardins, the new executive director of CHRT, took the opportunity to discuss her professional experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and her personal background. Des Jardins has a long history of incorporating DEI in the workplace, has hired teams of up to 60 percent people of color, including employees with lived experience, and has advocated for and secured DEI  in governance and leadership for over 20 years.

At the meeting, Des Jardins described several steps she has taken to advance DEI since joining CHRT in October 2020, including soliciting feedback from former staff of color, making improvements to CHRT’s hiring practices, and successfully pushing to revisit CHRT’s 2020-2025 strategic plan with a specific race equity lens. Des Jardins values equity for many reasons, including that the most objectively successful and personally gratifying organizations she’s been a part of had diverse and inclusive teams, leadership, and governance.

In addition to the discussions on race equity, the Steering Committee discussed the WHI’s role in communicating about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. The WHI will assist in community communication as part of a multifaceted effort to understand who the best messengers will be, utilize community networks, and encourage the acceptance of safe and effective vaccines.

Stakeholder conversations on race equity will be ongoing through the spring. We will keep everyone informed as the conversations and work evolve.