Whitmer signs executive directive recognizing, addressing racism as a public health crisis

LANSING— Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took action to elevate black voices in state government, signing Executive Order 2020-163, which creates the Black Leadership Advisory Council.

The governor also signed Executive Directive 2020-9, recognizing racism as a public health crisis and taking initial steps to address it within state government. Under the Executive Directive, the governor asked MDHHS to make health equity a major goal, as well as required implicit bias training for all state employees.

“Since I was sworn in as governor, I have made it a top priority to include more people of color, more women, and more members of the LGBTQ+ community at the table. We’ve been able to build a more inclusive state government, but there is more work to do. That’s why today, I am proud to create the Black Leadership Advisory Council of Michigan,” Whitmer said. “We must confront systemic racism head on so we can create a more equitable and just Michigan. This is not about one party or person. I hope we can continue to work towards building a more inclusive and unbiased state that works for everyone.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, confirmed, and highlighted the deadly nature of pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism, officials said. They offered the example that, in cases where race and ethnicity is known, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases for African American Michigan residents is 14,703 per 1,000,000, compared with 4,160 per 1,000,000 for white residents, more than three times higher. And the rate of reported COVID-19 deaths for African American Michigan residents is 1,624 per 1,000,000 compared with 399 per 1,000,000 for White residents, more than four times higher.

“These past several months have been difficult for all of us, but they have been especially tough for black and brown people who for generations have battled the harms caused by a system steeped in persistent inequalities. These are the same inequities that have motivated so many Americans of every background to confront the legacy of systemic racism that has been a stain on our state and nation from the beginning,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. “That is why, today, we take the much-needed and long-overdue step of recognizing racism as a public health crisis. It is only after we have fully defined the injustice that we can begin to take steps to replace it with a greater system of justice that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential.”

The Black Leadership Advisory Council will be included among a set of diverse ethnic commissions within the state of Michigan. Although African Americans are the largest racial minority in the state, this council is the first of its kind in Michigan to elevate Black leaders and representatives.

The council will act in an advisory capacity to the governor and develop, review and recommend policies and actions designed to eradicate and prevent discrimination and racial inequity in Michigan, officials said.

Housed within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Black Leadership Advisory Council will consist of 16 voting members representing Black leadership in economics, public policy, health and wellness, technology, the environment, agriculture, arts and culture, and more. It will also product an annual report on its activities.

Executive Directive 2020-9 directs MDHHS to work with other state departments to examine data, develop and plan policies, and engage, communicate and advocate for communities of color. The governor has directed that all state employees be required to take implicit bias training to understand the unconscious preferences we experience without intentional control and how it can impact others. The training is required for existing employees and must be completed within 60 days for newly hired employees.

“Implicit, unconscious bias exists within each of us, and as public servants we have a duty to understand how our bias can impact the lives of others,” Whitmer said. “I am committed to leading by example and making sure state government is a model for equality, understanding, and fairness.”

Under Executive Directive 2020-9, data documenting differences in health outcomes among racial and ethnic groups in Michigan must be collected, analyzed, and made publicly available to help leaders implement equitable policies. Additionally, departments must understand how racial disparities in societal, environmental, and behavioral factors intersect to affect access to resources like good jobs, access to healthy and affordable food and housing, equitable transportation options, and quality public education.

 

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