Lt. Gov.Garlin Gilchrist marches with Michiganders for equality. Photo via Facebook.
Lt. Gov.Garlin Gilchrist marches with Michiganders for equality. Photo via Facebook.

The state’s work toward equality and reconciliation is a national example.

LANSING, MI — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s statewide declaration of racism as a public health crisis is just the next to “prevent discrimination and racial inequity in Michigan.” 

“Since I was sworn in as governor to make it a top priority of mine and my administration to include more people of color…at the table,” Gov. Whitmer said in an Aug. 5 press briefing. “Not in a tokenism way, but in an empowered way.”

This isn’t the first step that she and other Michigan leaders have taken, with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at the helm of the state’s first efforts to address racial disparities.

“The coronavirus pandemic has shown this inequity to be particularly true, especially in the Black community, where the health of our friends and family has been disproportionately impacted,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist said. “That’s why we are taking immediate action to assemble some of the greatest minds to tackle this racial injustice now and in the future.” 

Michiganders are tackling systemic racism head-on and, perhaps, helping to create a national blueprint for reconciliation and equality.

Simmering Tensions

Michiganders of all ethnicities reacted with outrage to video images of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, being murdered by Minneapolis police in May of this year. The video was broadcast on all news channels, streamed on every social-media platform, and seemingly inescapable.

The coronavirus pandemic had been confirmed in the U.S. less than 90 days prior, and most of the country was still adjusting to life at home and the influx of virtual interaction. 

It seemed like the world was morbidly entranced by the video of a strong Black man crying for his mother as he died on camera.

In the absence of the normal political debates and entertainment distractions, people around the world tuned into the horror of the Black experience in the U.S.—and they came together to protest the brutal way Floyd’s life was taken. 

Black Michiganders, joined by allies of all races, picked up the mantle and began meeting daily to protest police brutality in front of Detroit Police Headquarters and at other police precincts across the state.

RELATED: PHOTOS: Protesters Hold Silent March Across Iconic Detroit Bridge

Turning Up the Heat

A month before Floyd’s murder, Gov. Whitmer’s administration was already examining racial tensions and disparities in Michigan. As The ‘Gander previously reported, Black men in Michigan reported experiencing discrimination when they wore masks to protest themselves from the coronavirus, and Black Michiganders die at rates twice as high as their white counterparts.

“We didn’t want to just be the ‘typical’ advisor group that would wax philosophically and then does a report at the end,” Dr. Renee Branch-Canady, a member of the state’s coronavirus task force on racial disparities, told The ‘Gander. “It really is an active and engaged process where we are advising and partnering with state departments.

“I suspect that our report at the end of this process will be more about what we accomplished on behalf of the citizens of Michigan.”

State Sens. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit) proposed legislation to declare racism a public-health crisis in Michigan. Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit) introduced similar legislation in the State House.

Cities, townships, and counties throughout the state then made their own declarations. From Kalamazoo County to the City of Lansing, Michigcanders were tackling racism head-on.

Gov. Whitmer ensured all Michigan communities addressed biases—implicit and otherwise—when she declared racism a public-health crisis earlier this month.

Denise Brooks-Williams is a senior vice president and COO for Henry Ford Health Systems and also serves on the task force. She says she credits the leadership of Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, for refining the group’s mission.

“When we started as a task force, we said this would be a group that would take action, not just one that would study and file reports,” Brooks-Williams told The ‘Gander. “She has said from the very beginning that this is unfortunate, but this is something that we should have expected because of the vulnerabilities in the African American community.”

READ MORE: These Michigan Communities Are Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

Too Hot in the Kitchen

President Donald Trump has routinely spoken out against people seeking racial equality, calling for governors to “dominate” protesters instead of calling for new ways to bring people together.

“The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division, which I fear will only lead to more violence and destruction,” Whitmer said in a statement. “We must reject this way of thinking. This is a moment that calls for empathy, humanity, and unity.”

In his latest display of dominance, the president enacted Operation Legend, a federal program that lends officers to local law enforcement to quell gun violence in mostly Black and brown cities. 

While Trump has threatened harsh actions against protesters, Michigan leaders like Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist are sending the message that they hear the pain and frustration of demonstrators. 

“I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re doing,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist told The ‘Gander. “We want to build the infrastructure and systems so people can grow and be their best selves.”

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