May 25, 2022

Fighting injustice: A note from Nikki

The Horizon Foundation has centered its work in racial equity since the launch of our current strategic plan in 2018. We want everyone in Howard County to live a long, healthy life — especially those residents who face the greatest barriers to good health. Our community health data show gaps in health outcomes for communities of color and systemic inequities in what we call the social determinants of health (i.e., education, income and wealth, housing, transportation and childcare) that greatly impact one’s overall health and well-being. We have worked to advance systems and policy change with, and beside, communities of color to transform long-held systemic inequities in our county.

In Howard County, we are making progress: we recently passed a school system-wide equity policy and are investing in maternity care for all women in the county. Both changes will improve the lives of Black and Brown families, but our progress seems inadequate when we continually witness historic injustices perpetuating themselves. The leaked Supreme Court draft decision that could overturn Roe vs. Wade will disproportionally impact women of color. The same women who have historically had less access to health care including family planning and contraception services and who face educational, wealth and income barriers that could better support thriving families. In addition, we grieve for the 10 beautiful lives lost in Buffalo – lost by targeted gunfire due to extreme racism and hatred. Inexplicable, except for those who have felt this pain before. Indescribable, except for those who have seen such horror before. Once again, we have dehumanized Black people. And, although we do not yet know the motives of the shooter in Uvalde, we do know that too many young, innocent Hispanic children and their educators died before their time in yet another horrific shooting incident yesterday. Our hearts are with the families, the cities of Buffalo and Uvalde, and with Black and Brown communities across the county for these crimes and for the ongoing impact of race and racism on the health and mental health of our communities of color.

Not only must we stand together and condemn hate crimes, acts of violent extremism and racism in all forms, but we must also recognize that systemic inequities that are perpetuated through policies that continue to devalue others. As we reflect on these recent events, and as we acknowledge the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and the nationwide reckoning that followed, the need for action and systemic change is as clear as ever. If we are to create a safe and healthy community, a community where everyone feels loved and that they belong, then we must stand up against inequities at all levels and double down in Maryland and in Howard County to ensure everyone has the opportunity to live a long, heathy and vibrant life.

Nikki Highsmith Vernick is the president & CEO of the Horizon Foundation.