On Memorial Day, the world witnessed the brutal and tragic murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, shockingly aided by his fellow officers. Last Thursday, our community and country mourned with his family and loved ones in their heartbreak and with the Black community outraged and wearied by yet another act of racial violence.
At Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, we stand in solidarity with the family of George Floyd and other families who have lost their loved ones to police brutality, with the protestors locally and around the world, and with all who are demanding justice and action to dismantle the systems of racial oppression that Black people face daily. We applaud the swift action of the University of Minnesota to discontinue its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for large events and to the undergraduate student body president, Jael Kerandi who initiated this action. Many other organizations have followed suit, including Minneapolis Public Schools, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the Walker Art Center. This is a start in the local, state and national actions necessary to hold our institutions accountable and dismantle racist systems and practices.
We believe that racism is a public health crisis and join the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and others in calling for change to the status quo. However, words are not enough. We commit to the self-reflective process of examining our own practices and decision-making to ensure we keep equity front and center in the space we occupy as well. We seek to further divest from the practices that prop up structurally racist systems. As a national program center, we seek to be more vocal and serve as a better model of intentional, community-driven, and equity-focused leadership.
Further, as Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, we must forge new and stronger relationships between community leaders and academic research partners to go beyond admiring the problem to be agents of change. We call on universities and other research institutions to build the evidence base to support community-led activism and drive political will to enact anti-racist policies and policies that promote racial equity at local, state and national levels. Support for this research leadership must go beyond grant cycles. Universities can create structures that support– and more importantly– sustain deep authentic, community-research partnerships that elevate the voices of communities most impacted by systemic injustice. And, we plan to support our most valuable resource– the 180 current and former fellows of the IRL program– to do the same and elevate their voices to change both the national narrative about health equity and policy and practices.
A culture of health is one in which all people have an opportunity to live their healthiest lives, and where structural and systemic barriers to health equity are removed. This vision cannot be achieved in all communities until we recognize the interconnectedness of persistent, structural inequities that are rooted in multiple sectors– not just in policing and the criminal justice system, but also in education, housing, employment, financial institutions, health care and much more.
Health equity cannot be achieved until we address the policies and practices within our systems that disproportionately hurt people of color. And, it is futile to support health equity or “a culture of health” when Black men are getting shot or asphyxiated. We cannot worry about disparities in cardiovascular care without also addressing the impact of racism and discrimination on a Black man’s ability to safely jog in his community. We cannot deliver on the promise of a just and healthy nation until our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors of color can live in peace and without fear.
Andriana Abariotes, Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Co-Director
and the IRL National Program Center Team
Get in touch with us: ResearchLeaders@umn.edu
Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL), is a national leadership program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation led by the University of Minnesota. IRL teams develop their leadership skills while using the power of applied research— research that informs and supports critical work being done in communities— to advance health and equity.