Calling Us to Action: Liz Baxter, North Sound ACH CEO
More than three years ago the North Sound ACH team and Board made a commitment to embed equity into the work of our organization and with our partners across the region. We embarked on a Tribal and Equity Learning journey together and have been honored to learn from local, regional and national experts who have enlightened and inspired us to the work ahead.
Over the past two months the fractured health system has been exposed, and the impact of generations of structural racism are being discussed broadly, but for the most part without any tangible expectations being proposed. We know what the problems are but we are stymied about where to begin to address them. Then we have powerful and traumatic events being shown on every screen. There are too many times that America has been shown that the lives of African Americans are worth less than those of white Americans. We see it, we protest, and then we tamp down the anger. Any therapist would tell you that you cannot tamp down anger and injustice forever without it erupting at some point in time.
I was raised to turn the other cheek; to be polite and understanding to those who would demean me; to always strive to be a better person; to be the example of how things could be better over time. Within my own mixed-race family there are divergent opinions about what is happening across America and how to address these injustices. The strategies that arise are different for me as an individual with black heritage than they are for me as CEO of a nonprofit, but in the end it comes down to leadership. And the North Sound ACH cannot be silent about social injustice; not if we want to take our journey and make sustainable and lasting change. Not if we want to create a community where all feel a sense of belonging.
We continue to turn to the Othering and Belonging Institute for thought leadership and especially want to point you to a blog post by their Associate Director Denise Herd. We can listen to john a. powell in a podcast where he speaks in response to George Floyd’s murder. And if you need a more mainstream voice, Trevor Noah recorded his thoughts on racism, George Floyd and COVID here. For many of you, these will be hard to hear. For me and other people of color, this is our legacy in the United States.
For North Sound, it is time to take action. We will be making changes to 2021 contracts, adding expectations that our partners add efforts to address racism. Together we are a powerful group of leaders across the North Sound region. Imagine if what happened in Minneapolis had happened in Bellingham or Everett. How would you and your organization respond? Do you feel like you have the tools to address that question? Do protests against social injustice have to be met with force? Are there other ways that those in power can respond to anger, fear, and demands for change? How do we test and develop those ‘civic muscles’?
Across the state counties are implementing COVID recovery plans. Imagine if the governor added an expectation that each county had to develop an actionable plan to denounce hate and address viral racism. Could advancing equity and wellbeing become an integral part of recovery expectations? If not now, I can’t imagine when it could happen.
I live in a lovely neighborhood, and no longer feel safe walking my dogs at night without my white partner. I fear for my adult sons, who work, exercise, and live in predominantly white communities. That everyday fear, anxiety, and heightened awareness takes a toll on me and others who have learned ‘it’s just part of life”. You can’t tell me that I’m lucky to be here and not there, because what happened in Minneapolis could happen in any one of our communities. It probably does happen. The question for us is what can we do to prevent it, to make investments where needed to prepare ourselves, and to have an agreed upon strategy of how we will respond when it happens.
North Sound ACH cannot be silent. A man’s life was taken while we collectively watched. The people recording did not intervene, although their videos have catalyzed a response around the world. They felt powerless, but we are not without power to make a change. The question is whether you are willing to stand together to make change here.