In recognition of Juneteenth Day, on June 19, 2020 the WAI Regional Milwaukee Office, as part of UW’s Center for Community Engagement and Health Partnerships in Milwaukee, hosted a webinar, “Addressing Systemic Racism: From its Origins to its Impact Throughout Life.”
The webinar’s purpose was to address systemic chronic racism and provide an opportunity to learn how racism affects African Americans across the lifespan. The event’s featured speakers included Patricia McManus, PhD, RN, Co-Founder and President/CEO of Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Inc.; Sheri Johnson, PhD, Director UW Population Health Institute; and Beverly Hutcherson, MS, Administrative Director The Ladder UW School of Medicine and Public Health. More than 550 attendees registered and listened in to the presentations.
Gina Green-Harris, MBA, Director of Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute Regional Milwaukee Office, welcomed attendees and introduced the program. Addressing systemic racism is not easy work, she said, but it is necessary work.
“I want to encourage everyone to take action. I want you to go back to your workplaces with a new attitude, I want you to go back to your families and have honest discussions if you need to,” Green-Harris said. “I want you to really take this meat of what you’re doing here to your bridge clubs, your book clubs, to the grocery store, to whatever you’re doing, and actually start talking about the importance of addressing systemic racism because if we don’t, it won’t go away.”
Patricia McManus, PhD, RN, began the program with an examination of the impact of racism and historical trauma in the African American community. Sheri Johnson, PhD, Director UW Population Health Institute, next presented “Do Data Speak for Themselves.” People working in academia, research, public health, and healthcare fields are the “institutions” and they need to examine the ways in which these institutions have been part of the problem, Johnson said.
“Now is the time to really take a look at them and the ways we are part of the problem, and to be part of the solution,” Johnson said.
Her presentation discussed how structural racism exists within, and is reinforced and supported by multiple societal systems including housing, labor and credit markets, and the education, criminal justice, economic, and healthcare systems. Racism is adaptive over time, she said, maintaining its pervasive adverse effects through multiple mechanism that arise to replace forms that have been diminished. For example, a modern form is the prison industrial complex, which has many impacts on Wisconsin and the Milwaukee region particularly.
Beverly Hutcherson, MS, Administrative Director of The Ladder at UW School of Medicine and Public Health, gave the concluding talk “The Biology of Racism.” Systemic racism should be viewed as an infectious disease where we’ve been treating the symptoms instead of finding the cure, she said. While current theory presumes racism can lead to chronic stressors, driving negative health outcomes for people of color, she proposes racism leads to biological and physiological changes that drive negative health outcomes. This is a biological impact of racism, she said. Truly addressing these biological changes means addressing healthcare, research and academia, creating true equity in all levels of organizations, and more, she said.
Thank you to the speakers, partnering organizations, and WAI Regional Milwaukee Office staff for a successful event.