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Reflections from the PolicyLink Equity Summit

Staff Perspective Shireen Malekafzali

Colleagues and Friends – I feel more energized than ever to continue our fight for health equity in San Mateo County! I had the great opportunity to join over 4,000 professionals last week at the 2018 PolicyLink Equity Summit. The Summit shared an inspiring vision of diverse leadership paving the way for a more equitable, healthy and prosperous future. It was clear that the issues of Get Healthy San Mateo County are also the issues of the nation, and we were able to dig into them with other jurisdictions and leaders working on similar issues. We had breakouts on food systems, transportation equity, economic opportunity, equitable development, place-based strategies, housing justice, and community safety.

We also didn’t ignore the hard question of how we create a different tomorrow. Youth leaders called out the adults in the room. They asked us what we were doing to listen and support the youth that we repeatedly say are the future. “Schools don’t have the resources they need, why can’t the help come to us? We have experienced trauma, why do we have to go outside our communities to get the opportunities we need?” These are the questions we’ve been thinking about with others in the recent launch of the Community Collaboration for Children’s Success initiative.

We were asked why we can’t talk as openly about race in America as other countries do – own our history, teach it justly and openly embrace the conversations. PolicyLink’s Founder and CEO, Angela Glover Blackwell, said that “when we lead with race, you get where you want to go – everyone does.” She challenged us to think about centering race as a critical framework for working towards our future. Centering race resonates from a health perspective given the unfortunate reality of significant differences in health outcomes by race. For example, a Black resident’s life expectancy is nearly seven years less than a White resident’s. And Latino residents are 10% more likely to be obese than White residents in our county. These health inequities are preventable and need to be changed especially with the demographic changes in our future.

At the Summit, we learned about the demographic changes that are coming in America. America will be a majority of people of color country by 2040. San Mateo County is ahead of the curve – we have been a majority people of color county since 2000. With nearly 20 years under our belt, what have we learned about how race drives needs, opportunities, cultures, leadership and more? We will be featuring an upcoming Get Healthy SMC forum on Racial Health Equity over the summer to put race at the center.

Angela Glover Blackwell also talked about “radical imagination.” Can you imagine a new San Mateo County? –one without large differences in health outcomes and life expectancy by race, place, and income?  –where we recognize that our own prosperity, no matter who you are, is tied to one another? –where we celebrate differences while working in solidarity to create a just and fair society where all can participate and prosper.

I can. And that vision drives me every day to work with you to achieve a healthier, more equitable San Mateo County.

The conference enabled me to step out of San Mateo County and feel more connected than ever to a larger movement of people working towards the Get Healthy San Mateo County mission and vision. There is a movement out there that we are a part of but don’t always feel. I was reminded of that – and I hope to remind you of that today. Let’s use our radical imagination to ensure everyone in our county has equitable opportunities to live a long and healthy life.