A message for those of us within systems

COVID-19 is laying bare the legacy of structural racism and social inequities that many of our systems are built on and that have left communities of color and those already economically marginalized far more vulnerable to the coronavirus and its economic fallout. The nation is also grappling, explicitly and across lines of race and class for perhaps the first time in a generation, with the reality of pervasive violence against Black people by police.

We know that policing and healthcare are not unique. As challenging as navigating the crisis is, this moment is the closest we are going to get in our lifetime to actually being able to rebuild our systems from the ground up. To only re-imagine each system individually — child welfare, housing, justice reform, hunger and more — misses the way in which we live our lives and the opportunity to create a far more fair, impactful and seamless way forward. As public sector, nonprofit and community leaders, we share a commitment to using this moment to drive changes that will move our country and communities towards equity, wellbeing and justice.

For too long, we have insisted that people caught up in systems are the ones who need to change. Today, we call on our fellow systems leaders to focus the change where it belongs: on the systems themselves, so that systems operate with fairness, accountability on all sides and support in the right places.

Our country needs an issue-agnostic, people-first framework centering on what every person needs to thrive, relentless in its pursuit of equity and embrace of opportunity. Across our public health, service, housing, education and safety systems, we must institutionalize responses that build on an anti-racist, human framework that spans fields and disciplines. The recommendations that follow do exactly this. They are rooted in our shared beliefs that:

(i) We are all hardwired for wellbeing — the set of needs and experiences essential in combination and balance to weather challenges and have health and hope;

(ii) Our contexts provide us vastly different access to wellbeing based on our race, gender, orientation, religion, wealth and other factors; and

(iii) Differential structural access to wellbeing reinforces poverty, trauma, chronic illness and oppression.

The recommendations therefore skew toward long-term structural change, recognizing that we need to change the rules to better align with people’s needs, strengths and the reality of the moment. This is fundamentally about healing past and current harms, and preventing new ones. They change how we do our work, but generally do not require new programs, staffing or long-term appropriations. While immediate bridge funding is absolutely needed to shore up millions of families facing dire economic circumstances, food insecurity and more, the changes laid out largely require deploying existing staff and funds differently.

Across sectors we are already making changes that are meaningful and aligned with what we call for here. We are seeing a wellbeing orientation in action, and we are committed to ensuring the gains we make now become durably embedded to define a new normal beyond the pandemic. This call to action builds on demonstrations already occurring across the country. In combination, they provide a path forward that is both deeply innovative and also tested.

This works if we work together. No one of us has the power to make all these changes. By co-signing this call for transformation, we are signaling our shared commitment to boldly doing our part and constructively challenging our fields and neighbors to join us in this transformation.