Every February, Black History Month is commemorated across the U.S., celebrating Black Americans’ contributions to the country and honoring the centrality of Black history, experience, and culture to our national heritage.
This year’s Black History Month theme centers around the importance of Black Health and Wellness, which both celebrates the legacy of Black pioneers in medicine and highlights the importance of public and community health initiatives that focus on mental health, nutrition, exercise, spirituality, and increasing access to preventative care within Black communities.
As we enter into a third year of the pandemic, we must acknowledge the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on Black and Brown people. As in communities of color nationwide, Vermonters of color are more vulnerable to and experience greater harm from COVID-19 due to structural inequities that exist around housing, food security, access to transportation, and health care. Local leaders and groups are working to address these health disparities and social inequities, strengthen our communities, and create accessible systems of care.
Local Leaders in Action
When Patricia Johnson, RN, saw data that showed Vermonters of color were getting COVID disproportionately and dying at rates three to four times higher than white people, she volunteered to be among the first healthcare providers at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to be vaccinated. Ms. Johnson teamed up with the Rutland Area NAACP to facilitate COVID vaccine clinics for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and she also works to get rapid test kits into the hands of those who need them.
“Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color have faced disparities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccination rates. However, as of January 28, 2022, BIPOC Vermonters have higher vaccination rates than non-Hispanic whites, 86% and 83%, respectively,” Ms. Johnson said.
Ms. Johnson was recently appointed to serve as a member of the Vermont Health Equity Advisory Commission, appointed by Xusana R. Davis, Esq., Executive Director of Racial Equity for the State of Vermont.
The Rutland Area branch of the NAACP, led by Mia Schultz, serves Vermonters in Bennington, Rutland, and Addison counties by providing education, advocacy, and support around issues of racial justice, equity, and discrimination. Throughout Black History Month they are engaging and empowering youth through an arts contest, co-sponsored by the Vermont Student Anti-Racist Network (VSARN), and offering free BIPOC hair clinics. A Get Out the Vote! event was recently held honoring the legacy of Dr. King.
» Follow the Vermont Health Equity Initiative—among the first BIPOC-led community organizations dedicated to health equity in Vermont—was established with an initial focus to organize and promote BIPOC COVID-19 vaccination clinics to a community historically overlooked and mistreated by the health care system.
» Explore books, websites, videos, podcasts, and other materials on Black Health and Wellness, compiled by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the founders of Black History Month.
» Explore the National Museum of African American History and Culture‘s virtual initiative that highlights “activities, rituals and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.”
» Explore and share the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI)’s list of Black-focused mental health resources, and resources for finding culturally competent care.
» Read The Trevor Project’s expert-informed guide specific to supporting Black LGBTQ youth mental health.