From the legacy of his ancestors to navigating a disease threatening Black Michiganders today, Rudy Hobbs is steeped in history.
PONTIAC, Mich.—Every year, Rudy Hobbs takes his daughters from Oakland County and heads south to Shady Groves, Alabama. There, he visits his family’s graves. To him, this is an important lesson for his children. Shady Groves is where his ancestors were slaves.
He’s a proud “girl dad” and wants this annual family trip to bring his daughters perspective.
“I take my daughters there every year just so they have an appreciation of whose shoulders we truly stand on,” Hobbs told The ‘Gander. “Those are our ancestors who gave their lives for us to be where we’re at, so that we can have a better life.”
Hobbs was born in Alabama, but when he was very young his family moved to Detroit. It was hard for his father to find work as a Black man in Montgomery, Alabama in the ‘70s. Hobbs’ father found work at AT&T, retiring in recent years from his position in management.
Management is Hobbs’ profession as well. As the deputy county executive for Oakland, he’s hard at work building his place in that long legacy dating back to Shady Groves, seeing both how far Black Americans have come and how far the road to equity still stretches out in front of him. But he’s doing his part to move Oakland County further down that road.
Right now, that means tackling disparities with the coronavirus. Michiganders of color have been massively disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, and because of less economic opportunity tend not to fall in the priority vaccinations groups the state of Michigan has set. Those, coupled with the supply shortages the state has seen, are one dimension of the trouble getting to equity in immunization.
Another is America’s history. Hobbs is working to overcome both, by advocating for equity in public health and reassuring Black Michiganders that this vaccine is safe. He understands the concerns of Black Americans about the vaccination but underscored its importance.
“That distrust … goes back to our slavery days of being guinea pigs,” he said. “I’ll be honest, I just got the flu vaccine for the very first time this year. I understand our hesitancy around vaccinations. But I would share that as we, just this weekend, hit a really, really terrible milestone of having a half a million people pass away from this terrible virus, I think it’s important that we get vaccinated … I do know how deadly this virus is today.”
Hobbs is also working on improving health care access in Oakland County. The new program, Oakland 360, is designed to help local clinics provide primary care services that would typically be addressed by a family doctor. For this, Oakland has partnered with Honor Community Health and has been seeing patients since August. Making sure that program serves everyone in Oakland County is a top priority, Hobbs explained.
“[We] look at every service we provide here at the county through an equity lens,” he said. “We engaged a vendor that will now start to look at and assess all our services and thinking through how equitable our services are, are those services needed, where the gaps are, and make recommendations on how we fill those gaps so we can have services that reach and serve everyone.”