Thank you for previously reading part one of this blog series. (If you haven’t, you can find it here) With these interviews, KConnect is examining how equity, or the lack of equity, is shaping our collective understandings and experiences. It examines how we might systemically make changes that can have a positive impact on children and families while addressing the unique needs of marginalized communities.
To gain a deeper understanding of the COVID-19 healthcare and other impacts, we convened a panel of experts in a variety of roles in our community. Micah Foster PA-C, the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids African Health Institute, is not only leading GRAAHI in their work for equity in healthcare, but he is practicing on the front lines of the pandemic. Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell is the Inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Kent Intermediate School District and acts as an expert in equity in the education system. Dr. Juan Olivarez is the Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and has acted in a variety of roles including the former president of GRCC. Lastly, Paul Doyle is the Founder and CEO of Inclusive Performance Strategies and specializes in bringing equitable practices to organizations and businesses in our community.
This blog focuses on how inequities are negatively impacting children and families in our community, how we can change the system to better serve our community, and actionable steps to achieve equitable outcomes during this time of crisis.
How are these inequities negatively impacting children and families in our community?
Founder & CEOInclusive Performance Strategies
What’s the impact of stress and anxiety within the households of families? You have some parents who are living in privilege who are communicating their stresses of having their kids around all of the time and trying to keep them healthy. Then you have those parents who don’t have the resources and on top of that are trying to survive without essential needs. What impact is this going to have mentally on those families and their kids?
Dr. Brandy Lovelady Mitchell
Inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Kent Intermediate School District
They’ve been talking about flattening the curve and talking about this trajectory of how the numbers will go up around this time frame where we will see more loss of life while we rapidly see more loss of jobs, which is increasing the depression, frustration, anger, and anxiety.
We are also hearing more and more at this time of year about child abuse – at the same time we have fewer eyes on kids than ever before. It’s the perfect storm in terms of having people in small quarters under a significant amount of stress caring for children with no outlet; I think all communities will continue to struggle with that. We need to do more capacity building with educators as they stream into these homes – in some ways they will be hearing or seeing some of the smoke and noise around that, and will they know what to do?
Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.
Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Johnson Center for Philanthropy
Our kids are going to feel this as a trauma; there will be PTSD. That’s my biggest concern; the stress caused by fear, lack of structure, tension at home, etc. and what that stress is causing will be very devastating to children.
Micah Foster, PA-C
Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
Clinically, both anecdotally in my own practice and globally as measured by the metrics, the level of anxiety and depression is increasing. What you may not be fully cognizant of is the impact that shutting down PCP offices has. For patients with pre-existing anxiety where they can’t get access to their primary care provider, or they don’t get a refill filled in a timely manner, the consequence or fallout to that family is devastating.
Looking forward, what should we think about now in order to radically change the system and create sustainable change through an inclusive growth lens?
Paul — We have been diving into inclusive growth for quite a while in this community and are trying to create momentum, buy-in, and commitment. I’m hoping, if anything comes out of this crisis, that we move the whole focus of inclusive growth or the value proposition forward. Not as a “nice to have” but as a “must have”.
We know if we have inclusive growth, we’re able to enhance the capacity of all community groups to be empowered, and have some level of control/influence on their quality of life, we all will benefit. That’s going to take some commitment to be uncomfortable with changing structures that limit inclusive growth. I think that if we just focus on how we react to COVID-19 we can miss the opportunity to address system inequities that have caused disparities for a long time.
Juan — We can illuminate this and maybe our conversations will shift to a much higher level in what it means to have an inclusive growth community – it’s all about access and opportunity. I think moving forward, challenging our policies, regulations, neighborhood access to health, food, jobs, etc., can and should take a different light. It can’t just be about a pandemic, it really should be about anything that happens in our society that is a crisis, and there will be more.
We have a window here; it’s about economics and people not having any safety net to fall back on to transition into a new job or to go to school. We have to illuminate what it means to have access and opportunity for people and why it matters to communities and society as a whole.
In each of the areas that we’ve talked about – healthcare, education, and jobs/income – what do you think are 2 or 3 actionable priorities that we should begin working on now to enhance inclusive growth across Kent County?
Micah — In the healthcare sector, we need to continue to focus and increase our diversification of the healthcare workforce. When diversity in the healthcare workforce mirrors the diversity in the community, health outcomes are better for all. We also need to increase our education on the importance of social distancing and the definition of that for some communities. We can do this by creating material around coronavirus that speaks in a language that is received by different demographics and does a better job of combating bad information.
We also need to adapt our education system to more flexible models – education as a whole is still designed for a population that existed 50 years ago. Some institutions here and there have done a great job transitioning, but as a whole, the system is still catering to a demographic that doesn’t exist. Lastly, when we talk about funding and revenue challenges for students and student loans, the number one reason students drop out of school is not necessarily for student loans, but the number one reason is for non-school related expenses – we need to bridge the resiliency gap when it comes to income acting as a barrier to education.
Brandy — Our history and lived experiences have been asking to redesign preschool-12 spaces for a long time. If we told the truth, our school system was never designed for all people anyway. We must ask to redesign with end-users in the co-designer seat at the table with us.
There are other states who have been talking about a safety net of basic housing for everyone as a birthright, including basic wages and basic healthcare for everyone. It’s time to have conversations around basic human rights related to healthcare, housing, and wages. Education is a piece of that in terms of creating independent thinkers.
Juan — I think we can immediately start making sure that we address the digital divide – we need laptops in every child’s hand and wifi for the city.
Jobs we can move on quickly with re-training – this is a great motivator if people do lose their jobs, and there will be many who do, we need to be right there with them. Give intermediaries the resources they need to help with the training and retraining of citizens in their neighborhoods to be ready for the workforce.
Paul — We have to enhance our practice of looking at structural racism and identify those things that are contrary to inclusive growth and address them.
Thank you for reading our two-part blog series. We hope that you found it meaningful, insightful, and that it has inspired you to encourage system leaders to act now in order to address the inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Many of those in our country are in denial about the impact of systemic racism and injustice in our world which has been exacerbated during this time of crisis. This is a critical time to come together like never before to address these systemic inequities. Join us as we continue to examine the ways in which we could collectively change our community for the better.
If you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please fill out this contact form and someone will be in touch shortly.