“We Must Do More” A message from Health Net’s Executive Director, Maureen Kirkwood

We are all living through a global pandemic, while at the same time the epidemic of government-sanctioned police violence against Black people continues. Health Net of West Michigan’s vision is to create a community where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This focus on health equity is core to our work; because of this, we add our voice to those of our many partners who are denouncing the unjust and oppressive systems that allow racism to flourish in our community.

We must not forget why this weekend’s protests happened in the first place. There is community outrage about broken windows and vandalism, yet why does there seem to be more anger about the destruction of property than our nation’s history of murdering Black people? As a community, why are we so quick to support the narrative that it was “outsiders” who caused a peaceful protest to turn into a riot when there is so much justifiable anger within our city at the actions of our local police department? And why were we so quick to celebrate the community clean-up of the broken glass the next day, when it feels akin to sweeping long-existing problems under the rug?

As Roxane Gay writes in the New York Times, “Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine, but Black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For Black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.”

This is why Health Net’s equity work matters. This is why we will continue to do the hard work of moving forward on our internal organizational equity journey. This is why we must continue to advocate for our clients as they navigate a system that often discriminates against those who are poor, those who are Black and Brown, those who struggle with immigration and language barriers, and those who are otherwise made to feel “less than.” And this is why I am committed to using my own privilege, as a white woman and Grand Rapids native, to speak out more and to challenge our “West Michigan nice” culture, to work to dismantle structural racism in our community, and to lift up the voices of my Black and Brown colleagues.

I urge other white leaders to join me, and not leave this work to those who have to face racial discrimination on a daily basis. It is up to us to acknowledge that we benefit from our white supremacist society and therefore we must figure out how it can be dismantled.