Opinion | Summit County commissioners: A commitment to equity | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Summit County commissioners: A commitment to equity

Summit County commissioners Karn Stiegelmeier, Thomas Davidson and Elisabeth Lawrence
Summit County Commissioners Thomas Davidson, from left, Karn Stiegelmeier and Elisabeth Lawrence

Our nation and our community are facing tremendous stress, hardship and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic, its social and economic tolls, the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and police brutality against peaceful protestors can all cause us to wonder whether this country, and even our own community, can deliver on its promises.

We are deeply grateful for the many examples of generosity, kindness and compassion in our community. But these extraordinary circumstances have also exposed the disastrous effects of racism in our society, which has oppressed people of color on this continent every day since Christopher Columbus first crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Approximately one-third of Summit County’s population is Hispanic. Yet Hispanic people account for more than 60% of our COVID-19 cases. This speaks to the fact that so many of our Latinx residents are essential front-line workers, with greater risk of exposure to infection; that avenues of information in Spanish are inadequate to inform and protect this community; that so many of our Latinx community members lack adequate housing; that many individuals and families don’t have access to adequate health care, often because of fear or linguistic and cultural barriers. These are fruits of many centuries of white supremacy, which endures today.

We can and do denounce overt acts of racism. The bigger question is how to address the systemic inequality that pervades American culture, including here in Summit County. Solutions are complicated, difficult and not accomplished overnight. Addressing health inequity is one of Summit County’s three long-term, strategic community health goals. Over the past decade, for example, Summit County has significantly diversified the staff in all of its health and human services departments; increased the quantity and quality of communication to our Spanish-speaking residents; utilized critical cultural brokers internally and externally to better engage with Latinx residents; expanded access to child care, health care, workforce housing and mental health services; and consistently provided substantial financial support to nonprofit partners, like the Family & Intercultural Resource Center and the Summit Community Care Clinic, which work for greater equity in our community every day.

We are making progress, but we know this is not enough, and we do make mistakes along the way. True economic justice, real health equity and honest criminal justice reform require a clear-eyed acknowledgment of the problem as well as significant mobilization of resources across the community. Continued progress requires active listening and learning on our part. We welcome, value and appreciate our community’s feedback and input, and we are committed to doing our part to increase equity, access and opportunity for people of color in Summit County.

The COVID-19 crisis and the grassroots uprising against systemic racism shine a bright light on inequities and present us with an opportunity to do more and be better. Rather than choosing small, incremental steps that tinker around the edges, we will chart a new path forward that reimagines our economic, social and cultural future. We will not allow the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to exacerbate wealth and income inequality; we will rebuild in a way that helps to bridge those gaps and recognizes the dignity of the hard work that keeps this place running. We will not look the other way when we see the health impacts of inadequate housing; we will use these very difficult lessons to plan for new and better neighborhoods for local workers.

It is our choice. And it is yours, as well. We ask you, our community members, to lift your voices and call for an end to oppression, an end to white supremacy, an end to economic systems that tilt so heavily in the favor of the privileged. Let’s join together in solidarity for a stronger, fairer, safer and kinder world.

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