Over the past year, more than 160 community groups, organizations, and government leaders have declared racism a public health crisis. An Arizona group has joined those efforts in order to draw attention to the lack of equity, diversity, and inclusion in many communities.
"Our Black and Brown communities do not have equal access to resources. They don't have equal access to economic opportunity or quality education and all of these things, you know, impact their overall well-being and health," said the former President of the Arizona Public Health Association, Aimee Sitzler.
Sitzler says it was important for AZPHA to lead the way in Arizona and take a public stance against racism.
"It was a really strong stance to say, you know, we're standing against the systems of oppression that exist, that have allowed many of us to have privilege and comfort, but then have negatively impacted our colleagues and community members to death," Sitzler said.
Health officials have warned about the racial disparities in the COVID-19 crisis with communities of color seeing higher numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths. Members of Congress are proposing the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, which would create a program within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to breakdown systemic racism in healthcare.
Dr. Tiffany McCalla works in emergency medicine. She says it is important for doctors and nurses to understand when treating patients of color, that their life experiences matter.
"They may not be the same as you, but those are things as a physician you are responsible for as well if you're treating that patient," McCalla said.
The Anti-Racism in Public Health Act also addresses police brutality by creating a dedicated law enforcement violence prevention program at the CDC.
Attorney Benjamin Taylor says the work is necessary.
"A lot of these officers, who are going through these crime scenes, they're already traumatized. They already have stereotypes, but if they had more cultural training, more traumatic training... more mental health training to be able to go to these scenes then they will be able to interact with people of color a little bit differently," Taylor said.
For some, the public health crisis declarations are just the beginning. Zeruiah Buchanan with the Arizona Public Health Association says words need to turn into effective action.
"No matter what statements are put out. There's always action behind it but making sure that the action is not made from an ivory tower, but rather with the communities that are being affected is extremely important," Buchanan said.