California must show the nation a way that offers complete democratic participation, inclusion and a narrative of “Belonging.” Here’s how:
By Robert K. Ross
Dr. Robert K. Ross is the president and CEO of The California Endowment, the largest health foundation in the state. He is a medical doctor and former public health director of San Diego County.
Minerva Carcaño, Special to CalMatters
Bishop Minerva Carcaño is the chairperson of The California Endowment Board of Directors.
California is one step closer to becoming a health4all state.
In the state budget proposal, there is an effort to expand health coverage for undocumented Californians in the state’s Medi-Cal program. From the perspective of California’s largest private health foundation, it’s the smart thing to do because providing health insurance coverage for all reduces health care costs and pricey emergency room visits for a sizable portion of California’s workforce.
It’s also the right thing to do because undocumented Californians are part of the fabric of our state, and how we all come together to create the tapestry of California. We must move past the divisive narrative of who belongs and who doesn’t.
California must lead the way and show our nation another way – a way that offers complete democratic participation, inclusion and a narrative of “Belonging.” California must be unapologetic on this front in the years ahead.
There is no room to be cowed into tiptoeing from allegations of “woke culture.” This is fundamentally the best path forward for this nation – and especially as we approach the year 2026, the 250th anniversary of our nation. July 4, 2026, will provide our nation with a critically important opportunity to answer the question of “who are we” as America.
For California, there should be no hemming and hawing about the answer to that question: all of us matter and belong.
While “Belonging” is a lofty term, spiritual in orientation, it has profound moral and policy implications for community wellness specifically, and the most robust democratic and economic future for California and the nation generally. America cannot achieve “liberty and justice for all” unless all are valued and included in the equation. “Belonging” must be translated into practice.
Here is the beginning of how we can be a more inclusive state where everyone belongs:
- Health for All: Statewide affordable, quality health coverage for all, inclusive of immigration status. We absolutely must finish the job of assuring health coverage for all Californians. Immigrants are our neighbors, friends and colleagues. They are Californians.
- Housing for All: Housing the homeless may be daunting, however, we simply cannot rest until all who need housing and/or an affordable home can do so. This means policies and practices that not only get unhoused residents off the streets but prevention policies that “go upstream” to stop creating homeless individuals in the first place.
- Voting for All: California must lead the nation in countering the attack on voting rights and ensure that voting access is a priority.
- Schools for All: School districts must be equipped with resources and services to keep kids in school, safe, healthy and well. We must further reduce and ideally cease school suspension and expulsion practices for young people with behavioral health needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated isolation, anxiety and depression in young people, and schools and communities must have the capacity to address these needs and provide a welcoming, safe and inclusive learning environment.
- Justice for All: There is no research or scientific data to support the premise that incarcerating young people has therapeutic benefits. The research underscores the harm caused by locking kids up. Incarcerating young people should be rare. This means strengthening the capacity of community-based providers and schools to address the trauma that has been historically inflicted on these children. California should be the first state to transform the juvenile justice system by closing all youth prisons.
- Equality for All: The overall justice system is laced with racial inequality, as Black and Brown communities are disproportionately impacted by incarceration. California should lead the nation in re-imagining public safety through a public health approach: more prevention and community-based mental health and substance abuse support and treatment. This does not mean the obliteration of budgets for law enforcement, but it does mean building the capacity of effective community-based programs, like Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles and Neighborhood Thrift in Fresno.
As 2026 draws near, embracing and elevating these policy approaches means California emerges as our nation’s first state of “Belonging” – discarding the dangerous and growing narrative of racism, exclusion, divisiveness and blame that has made it into the current narrative of much of this nation. It is the brand of America that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and civil rights icon John Lewis asserted as the nation’s prize: The Beloved Community. The civic, economic and healthy future of California will benefit – it is both the smart and the right thing to do.
Dr. Robert K Ross has also written about five elements to transform California’s health care system, remaining vigilant to stay healthy during the pandemic, and how to leverage federal dollars to advance equity through community councils.