The New England Racial Justice Collaborative is an action and learning network across 12 communities in three states. All these communities are working on promoting racial justice and health equity in their communities. The 12 communities had a history of working together as part of the Boston Public Health Commission’s CDC funded Center for Excellence which supported New England communities to initiate health equity efforts. In 2012, the funding ended, and at the final meeting of all the communities the leaders met and stated that they were so committed to the work of racial justice that they did not want to stop working on the issue. So, the communities decided to continue to meet quarterly to support and advance the difficult work of addressing health disparities by explicitly focusing on systemic racism. This decision was made knowing there would be no funding to support their efforts.
Health disparities are a critical issue in the US and have been a focus of many national, state and local initiatives. When the Boston Public Health Commission tackled this issue they did it from a unique perspective – understanding that racism was a key factor in health disparities. The issue of racism has been central to these efforts from the start. This led to struggles to come to grips with racism in both their communities and in themselves regardless of their racial and ethnic identity. Racism affects health directly by causing stress and anxiety, and it also affects health indirectly by its impact on the social determinants of health
Although the link between health disparities and racism may seem obvious in practice, most efforts to address health disparities in the U.S.do not focus on racism. Rather, if they are addressing diabetes rates in Black men they will offer classes on nutrition to Black men. By taking an approach that not only names the issue as racism but also approaches health from a Social Determinants of Health perspective the communities in the NERJC examine systemic racism in all the social determinants in order to address an issue like diabetes rates in Black men.
This is a very unique coalition of activists committed to racial justice. They encounter great resistance in their own communities and even their own agencies for pursuing this work. They report that the Collaborative is crucial to supporting their work and giving them the tools to continue to create change in their communities around racial justice.
The NERJC is an open and welcoming group of individuals dedicated to eliminating health and racial inequity, and dismantling racism. If you are interested in learning more, or finding out how to join the NERJC, contact an existing member or email Chris Mancini, chris (at) groundworksomerville (dot) org.
Groundwork Somerville is a founding member of the NERJC, along with participating communities in:
Massachusetts: Springfield, Fitchburg, Everett, Somerville, Worcester, Jamaica Plain,
Boston – three sites: Boston Public Health Commission, Food Project, Fenway Institute
Connecticut: Bridgeport, Ledgelight/New London
New Hampshire: Manchester