The Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition stands in solidarity with those denouncing racism and injustices that contribute to discrimination and inequality for people of color. The death of George Floyd cannot be ignored nor allowed to be a protest today and just a fading tragic event tomorrow.
We are committed as an organization working in maternal and child health to stepping forward boldly without hesitation to take action that will bring about change and justice. We must address injustice and racism — both individual and institutional — that contribute to the lives of black men, women and babies. Why is that black babies dies two to three times more often than white babies? Why is it that the maternal mortality rate is higher for black mothers? Why is it that George Floyd was not allowed to breathe? Why is that the voices of the most vulnerable are not heard until there is a protest? Why?
We can no longer sit back and ask, why? I encourage all public health organizations to create a plan to address racism — not a plan that sits on a shelf, but a true plan that demonstrates both commitment and meaningful action. We must continue without pause to join and stand together as a people dedicated to bringing about needed change.
In addition to our commitment as an organization, we must also be committed as individuals. As an African American woman and mother, I clearly understand the feeling of hopelessness, the need to cry out and the hurt and frustration as I watched the death of George Floyd! There were so many emotions, because I am a mother of an African American son. I understood and understand what that has meant for me as a mother. In 1999, while my son was in college, without his mother watching, he decided to get a tattoo. On Sunday morning, I called him and ask why he chose that particular tattoo that is profoundly visible on his shoulder? I thought I knew why, but never asked. His tattoo reads ”Built for The Struggle”. He told me it is a reminder of what he knew he would face each day. But, it’s also a constant reminder …. that he was built to handle it! At that point, there was nothing more for me to ask!
If we are to guarantee that every baby – black and white — has an equal chance to be born healthy, and every mother — black and white — has an equal chance to survive, we must stand together and address issues that contribute to economic and social inequality and their manifestation in health disparities. I believe we can. However, it will take real action by public health organizations and the voices of all of us speaking our heart and telling the truth to bring about long overdue and lasting change.
Faye Johnson, CEO
Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition
June 7, 2020