In summary

We must  equitably invest in community-driven solutions that center  the priorities on the health and economic pain we are experiencing.  

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By Ray Colmenar, Special to CalMatters

Ray Colmenar is the managing director of Inclusive Community Development at The California Endowment.   

In her brilliant new book, “The Sum of Us,” Heather McGhee presents a simple concept: Little will change in our country’s growing inequality until people of all races – including white people – realize that racism costs all of us and that we must come together to push for racial justice.

We need to understand that since the beginning, race has been used to divide us on almost every issue – voting, jobs, housing, health care, immigration – with particularly devastating effects on all working-class and lower-income people, particularly African Americans and other communities of color. 

The enduring impact of structural racism – policies and systems designed to harm people of color, deny them access to resources and block them from the decision-making processes – continues to this day. People of color on average still have less money, less wealth and less access to health care (the list goes on), and the pandemic exacerbated these conditions.   

Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to demonstrate how fragile our public health and safety net  systems are and how our health is intricately connected to where we live, work and play.  Every major media outlet and countless news reports have documented decisively how the pandemic disproportionately harmed communities of color and poor people of all races.  

Data from Kaiser Family Foundation shows that: “Hispanic, Black and American Indian and Alaskan Native people are at least twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as their white counterparts.  California Healthline reported that communities that have relatively high poverty rates experienced COVID infection rates 2-3 times that of wealthier communities. 

If we want everyone to prosper, we must realize that advancing racial equity benefits all of us. Here’s some proof.  According to advocacy group PolicyLink,  “America’s annual GDP would have been $2.1 trillion higher with racial equity – a 14% increase. That’s about the size of California’s economy, the eighth largest in the world.” 

PolicyLink found even more dramatic potential gains at the regional level.  The country’s largest 150 regions could collectively grow their GDP by 24% by addressing racial inequities. Los Angeles stands to gain the most: $510 billion per year.  Even the smallest potential gain – in Springfield, Missouri, where the population is 91% white – is almost $300 million. 

As a program director with The California Endowment, I lead the endowment’s strategy to promote inclusive community development, which is a fancy way of saying we want to create healthy, safe and prosperous neighborhoods for all people in every city in our state.

 It is a bold vision and one that our partners are fighting for every day. From San Diego to Fresno, to the northernmost areas of our state, our partners are organizing community residents, workers  and young people, across various communities to create and promote a shared vision for California that benefits all of us.   

We have an incredible opportunity right now. California will receive about $150 billion in federal resources to confront the effects of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $263 billion budget that earmarks $100 billion that promises to invest in the state’s most pressing challenges: housing insecurity,  jobs,  health care, public schools, climate change and infrastructure. 

Bottom line: the money is there to build a healthy state that should be the envy of the world, and we must meet this moment by putting communities first and equitably investing in community-driven solutions that center the priorities, leadership and ideas of people closest to the health and economic pain we are experiencing.   

 Health is so much more than visiting the doctor. It’s clean water, air, housing, jobs, sidewalks, parks and recreation centers. Many of our partners working in cities and rural communities in California hit hard by the economic and health crises know what it takes to rebuild and recover in a more sustainable, healthier and just way.

We cannot squander this opportunity. We have the chance to make real change  that is driven by the power and wisdom of people in communities. We all need to recognize just how connected we are and that we all prosper when everyone is included.  

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