In March of this year, one of my closest friends passed away after being diagnosed with a rare cancer that progressed to Stage IV within weeks. A long-time public servant, a man of character, he made his last days count—with grace, humor, and strength. He was exceptional in many ways, but one is in how long he was able to fight. Most people diagnosed with this cancer live just over 200 days. He lived almost three years.
In a lot of ways, my friend was privileged. As a white man with a college degree and a secure financial situation, he received the best treatment for his disease and never had to make hard choices about what he could afford or convince the health care system to care about him. That same security that he felt is not an option for everyone. He had the privilege of education, money, and power, which are all deeply connected to his race, and which gifted me and all those who loved him substantially more time with our precious friend than we might otherwise have had.
Today, many Coloradans of color face very different circumstances when they interact with the health care system. Due to discriminatory policies and practices with historical roots and present day impacts, people of color are more likely to lack access to health insurance and may not be able to afford the health care they need. Because of this, it is more likely that people of color will face a chronic illness and/or die at a younger age. This isn’t right or fair, but the good news is it’s very preventable, if we can dismantle the forces of racism.
At Center for Health Progress, getting Colorado to health equity is our primary focus, which means putting a lot of emphasis on racial equity. It also means shifting power to communities to lead the movement, preparing state and institutional leaders to work with communities, and creating prime public and political conditions for change.
Fortunately, we’re not alone in our work to ensure all Coloradans have the opportunity to access good health care and good health. There are some great examples of community-driven organizations and collaborations that we are learning from, such as the Westwood Food Cooperative, which is a member-owned and operated grocery store. It is increasing access and affordability of fresh and healthy food, while increasing community ownership and community wealth in the Westwood neighborhood. Another great example is FAMLI, which passed a bill during the 2019 legislative session to create a task force to study and recommend a way for Colorado to implement a paid family leave insurance program. Lastly, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos has been engaging youth in reforming schools, ending the school-to-jail track and organizing for immigrant student rights.
Like these organizations, my friend was a man of action. He used his power to affect change. Even when he was deep into treatment and unbearably sick, he was speaking at national conferences and on news networks, writing articles, and showing up at town halls to rally support for a better health care system. As individuals, we can all take action, and I hope you’ll join me in doing so. Donate to a cause that’s fighting for health equity. Volunteer your time and talents. Vote for local, state, and federal officials who are inclusive, recognize their own privilege, and are working to change oppressive policies and practices. Most importantly, speak out against injustice and racism. The opportunity to live a healthy life should be a matter of fact, not a matter of privilege!