A child’s zip code must never determine their health outcome. This core belief – that no matter where children live and learn, they should have the ability to thrive without the burden of environmental harms – is the cornerstone of our work at Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE). However, we also know social determinants of health, including racism, are driving health inequities across this country and impacting the lives of children and their families every single day.
Dr. Robert Bullard, father of environmental justice, defines the issue of environmental inequality:
“It’s the principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection regardless of race, color or national origin. It’s the right to live and work and play in a clean environment. The current situation is not equal; it’s never been equal. Some people are more equal than others in the US – if you are poor, working class or a community of color, you get less protection, you get less enforcement of pollution laws.”
We need to work toward a future in which our health outcomes are not defined by the zip code in which we live. That all community members are treated equitably and engaged in meaningful conversation, regardless of race, national origin, sexual orientation or income.
Ten years ago, a diverse group of individuals came together to form WHE.
They adopted the following organizational values:
While true to the WHE mission and vision,
these values are not enough.
Many of us at WHE can’t possibly begin to understand the injustices our friends, colleagues and program recipients who identify as Black/Indigenous People of Color face each and every day. But we are here today to promise to do better. We strongly condemn and grieve the recent violent and publicized deaths of black men and women. No member of the black community should ever feel that they are risking their life when going for a jog in their neighborhood (Ahmaud Arbery), bird-watching (Christian Cooper), shopping at a convenience store (George Floyd), or sleeping in their own home (Breonna Taylor). Attending a conference or a racial justice summit simply is not enough.
Every day, we must invest time and resources to address the public health crisis that racism is. In 1988, the American Public Health Association, for the first time in its history explicitly acknowledged the ways racism negatively impacts health for people of color, and in particular, for black Americans. “As a growing body of research shows, racism is a social determinant of health that perpetuates and exacerbates the very trends our field works to reverse. Therefore, public health, at its core, is antiracist work. Health disparities, discrimination, and residential segregation, which are topics familiar to public health researchers, are by-products of racism.
Enough is Enough
We must use our privilege in a way that stops racism in its tracks. We know choosing silence is choosing to be complicit in maintaining the systems that produce these violent and fatal inequities. We need policy reform and investment to make our communities healthier. We need open, honest and uncomfortable dialogue. And we need to demonstrate through intentional strategies that we must, and can, do better.
The WHE Staff and Board