Tag Archive: racism as a public health crisis

  1. Empowering Asian American Voices: Sutisha Simluang

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    Sutisha Simluang (pictured above) is a first-generation college graduate, community leader, and Thai immigrant. While a native of Thailand, Sutisha was raised in Arlington, Va. after entering the United States to live with her father at the age of 12. In this blog post, she shares with Voices her own experiences growing up as an immigrant child in Virginia and as an Asian American, as well as those of her family.

    In 2005, Sutisha Simluang’s father came to work in America on a work visa with the hopes of doing agriculture work. But instead, he became a victim of human trafficking. The employers he came to work for took all of his documentation and forced him along with others to work on their farm with no pay. Fortunately, he was able to escape and get connected to refugee and human trafficking resources that assisted him with getting back on his feet.

    The programs offered to Sutisha’s father included translation services that not only helped him access services, but also Sutisha and her sibling get connected to community resources. During that time, Sutisha speedily learned English and became a translator for her family and others in her community. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 27% of children under nine in Virginia are Dual Language Leaners (DLLs), which are young children who have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home. Language barriers can deeply affect the social experience and mental health of immigrant children and their families. Sutisha recognized an urgent need to address these barriers and felt that by doing so she could shield her family from the unpleasant truths of living in America as an immigrant and person of color.

    In 2019, 1 in 4 (24%) of children in Virginia were immigrants, meaning the share of children under age 18 who are foreign-born or reside with at least one foreign-born parent. Stop AAPI Hate produced a Mental Health Report in May of this year to report on the findings from three research projects that investigated the effects of anti-Asian racism on mental health among Asian Americans. The report found that one in five Asian Americans who have experienced racism display racial trauma, the psychological and emotional harm caused by racism and those who had experienced racism during the COVID-19 pandemic were more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the pandemic itself.

    Today, Sutisha often fears for the safety of her family due to police violence and negative interactions involving racial profiling. When Asian hate crimes were exacerbated due to COVID-19, she felt she had no choice but to reveal new truths to her family. She realized that shielding them from an understanding of America’s racial landscape and systemic issues would not help her, her family, or other immigrants and children of color facing similar experiences. Because of these experiences, Sutisha pursued a career in civic engagement and change. Sutisha now works as a coordinator at the Virginia Civic Engagement Table (VCET), which connects non-profit organizations working to advance equality and justice and those that strive to engage underrepresented communities in the democratic process.

    Our Racial Truth & Reconciliation initiative serves to empower the voices of marginalized communities, such as immigrant families and Asian American youth — voices like Sutisha’s. Supporting resolutions like Declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis and continuing to use both an equity and trauma lens in our advocacy and policy work is vital to addressing systemic oppressions and inequality which affect children of color as they’re growing up.

    A great first step is to support the recruitment, hiring, and retention of clinicians of color who are vital to the mental health success of children of color, especially those who have experienced racial and generational trauma in their lives.

    Several of the barriers that Sutisha and her family identified during our discussion highlights the need for advocacy and policy changes. In particular, we have identified areas in our own policy priorities at Voices where we can be stronger advocates to improve language access and reduce barriers, addressing the importance of decriminalizing racial bias, increasing culturally relevant and community-based resources and services, and bridging the gap to create culturally competent and diverse workforces.

    As champions for children, it’s our job to listen, engage, and uplift voices of our communities. You’ll continue to see more stories like Sutisha’s where we explore the lived experiences of Virginia’s children and move to take action to build healthier children, youth, and families.

    Learn more about advocacy and activism opportunities within the Racial Truth & Reconciliation Campaign.

    To connect with us and our work, please join our Voices Community for Kids.

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  2. Still We Rise: Creating Black History Recap

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    Many have made calls-to-action to restore the fundamental ideals of democracy in an attempt to divide an undivided nation. Liaising bridges across partisan lines, races and ethnicities, and generations is imperative to creating an inclusive future for Virginia’s children and the nation.

    While America is among the most diverse democracies in the world, much of its history includes systems of violence and discrimination that have had traumatic consequences for those directly impacted, as well as future generations and communities. Virginia was the second largest state for the importation of enslaved Africans and the number one state for the domestic slave trade. Richmond, Virginia was the epicenter of that trade with its largest revenue derived from the impact of the slave trade as a commercial enterprise. In 1619, the White Lion brought 20 slaves ashore in Jamestown, Virginia. Some historians estimate six to seven million slaves were imported, depriving Africa of its healthiest men & women. This Black History Month, Black advocates raised their voices and attested to experiences regarding police brutality, resilience despite all odds, America’s history of racism, and more through an event, “Still We Rise—Creating Black History.” Yet, for centuries, Black community members and children have been advocating to deconstruct systems that continuously leave the privileged advantaged and the oppressed disadvantaged.

    • In 1957, Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP, recruited nine high school students to face the resistance to integration in schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Governor Orval Faubus ordered the National Guard to bar the students from entry, stating it was “for their own protection.”
    • In 1963, thousands of students skipped classes, gathered at Sixth Street Baptist church and marched to downtown Birmingham, Alabama to advocate for desegregation. Hundreds were arrested and carried off to jail in paddy wagons and school buses. 
    • In 2020, local college students with the Virginia Student Power Network hosted a “teach-in” in front of City Hall with the intent to gather overnight and learn more about police brutality and racial inequities following the death of George Floyd. They were met by the police with tear gas, pepper spray, flash grenades, and rubber bullets, turning the learning space into a warzone.
    • In 2021, Ava Holloway, 14-year-old founder of Brown Ballerinas for Change served as a mouthpiece during a press conference to mobilize advocates in support of Delelgate Lashrecse Aird’s House Joint Resolution 537 to recognize racism as a public health crisis in Virginia.

    This General Assembly Session, Delegate Lashrecse Aird’s resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis passed the Senate uncontested. This makes Virginia the first state in the South to explicitly recognize racism as a public health crisis through a declaration. The steps outlined in the resolution include priorities to:

    1. Expand the charge of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity to address racism as a public health crisis to ensure that statewide policy efforts are analyzed through an intersectional race equity lens and offer funding recommendations; 
    2. Retain the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law as a permanent commission; 
    3. Require training for elected officials, staff members, and state employees on how to recognize and 50 combat implicit biases; 
    4. Establish a glossary of terms and definitions concerning racism and health equity; 
    5. Promote community engagement, actively engage all citizens on issues of racism, and provide 53 tools to engage actively and authentically with communities of color;

    This is a stepping-stone and there is much work left to be done to ensure all children and youth lead long, successful lives, regardless of their racial or ethnic identity. As advocates, we must ensure Virginia commits to racial equity through funding and administrative staff supports. We encourage everyone to join the work of Voices for Virginia’s Children’s Racial Truth and Reconciliation Virginia Campaign year-long to stand alongside those in solidarity that experience an injustice, to ensure racism is an institutional intolerance.

  3. Our Statement on the Events of January 6, 2021

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    As we watched the events unfold on Wednesday, January 6 at the United States Capitol, we found ourselves once again awash with a host of feelings and emotions — horror, revulsion, fear, anger, heartbreak, confusion, rage, and so many more.

    Let’s make it plain, what we witnessed was white supremacy on full display. The impact is racial trauma – the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. An individual who experiences an emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable racist encounter is at risk of suffering from a race-based traumatic stress. In the U.S., we recognize that Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are most vulnerable due to living under a system of white supremacy.

    This includes our children.

    Voices for Virginia’s Children is deeply committed to working diligently by advocating for all of Virginia’s children always, but even more so during these deeply disturbing and uncertain days.   We know that young people already carry the burdens and bear the scars of violence and injustice. We see the horrific price they pay due to systemic racism and lack of equity in our society. We hear the fear and frustration in their parent’s voices as they both hope for a better life for their children but lack the evidence that it may even possibly be so.  Prior to 2020, almost one in five children experienced at least two traumatic experiences in childhood. After the challenges that came with COVID-19 and the escalated instances of racial and social injustices, we can only imagine what these numbers will look like in the coming years.

    We want a better society and life for all children.  We do not want each ensuing generation encumbered by the trauma of the past, nor injured by their own traumatic experiences. It does not have to be this way. We can do better. We must do better.   For the children, for their families, for our shared community, we all have an obligation to do everything we can to help bring about change on a personal and a systemic level.

    What’s needed is a change in our policies, a change in where we make investments and a system-wide overhaul that will finally provide an equal opportunity for children of color, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and immigrant children to have the same opportunities as their white counterparts and more affluent peers.

    We can start by supporting Delegate Aird’s resolution to declare racism as a public health crisis which outlines steps Virginia can take to address systemic racism.

    Yes, this is hard work. But it’s necessary. We owe it to ourselves, to our communities, and most of all, our children and youth.

    For more resources….