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Anti-Racism One-on-Ones with YWCA and Vice Mayor

On April the 21st, the Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) held their meeting by Zoom as they continue to engage in one-on-one listening in preparation for the ISAAC Public Meeting, this Fall. 22 members were in attendance for the one-on-one conversations with Komal Razvi and Daniel Hamilton of the YWCA, and an update from Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin on how COVID-19 is disproportionally affecting people of color in Kalamazoo County.

Ms. Komal Razvi: Serves as the Health Equity Program Manager at the YWCA, for Cradle Kalamazoo, an infant mortality reduction initiative for Kalamazoo County. Kalamazoo is experiencing racial differences in infant mortality; black babies are four times as likely to die than white babies during their first year of life, regardless of income and education level of the mother. The YWCA’s work for Cradle is committed to reducing infant death overall and closing the racial gap in infant mortality. Some important points discussed include:

  • Health equity in infant mortality requires us to look beyond the immediate and clinical causes of infant mortality; must focus on the systemic issues (such as housing, employment, and other social determinants of health)
  • A challenge faced is for hospitals and clinics to document and report data by race/ethnicity to allow proper analyzing of the scope of infant mortality by social justice agencies, such as the YWCA.
  • Having fathers and caregivers involved and promoting safe sleep practices is highly impactful for increasing health outcomes
  • Urging for policy changes (such as equitable housing and extension of medicaid coverage up to 12 months postpartum) can address the issue at its roots as opposed to simply being reactive.

Mr. Daniel Hamilton: Serves as the Community Affairs and Impact Coordinator at YWCA Kalamazoo, and focuses on educational policies and their disproportionately negative impact on children of color. The local and state advocacy efforts that he coordinates focus on eliminating policies and practices that contribute to school pushout and the criminalization of youth of color in schools and communities. To begin to address this, it is important that:

  • Schools adopt anti-racist, trauma-informed, and restorative justice policies when responding to non-violent student behavior.
  • We advocate and support policy recommendations that prioritize student engagement and expanding access to remote learning during this period of COVID-19.
  • One way ISAAC can support this work is through a formal statement of support for the YWCA’s local and state advocacy efforts around educational policies to raise awareness and stand in solidarity.
  • In the fall, the ARTF could ask legislators to also make a public statement in support of transforming disciplinary policies that push students of color out of school to restorative justice policies that address students’ needs.

Vice Mayor Griffin provided updates on the local actions related to COVID-19.  As of April 21, of the 201 cases in Kalamazoo County, 37% are Black while our general population is made up of only 11% Black. She reminded us that if we want to equitably address this crisis, we need to insist that data is also reported by race/ethnicity and to advocate for accessible testing for all in our community.  These health disparities speak to the structural racism we have been learning more about as a Task Force.  Working together toward the dismantling of these disparities is part of Building the Beloved Community.

 – Al Dixon and Emily Hazel, Anti-Racism Task Force co-chairs, and Rochelle Habeck, ARTF member