Author Archives: Sheri Johnson

Can We Create a Fair Shot at Health?

Apr 27, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Sheri Johnson

Generations of inequity have led to health disparities. Solutions that involve those affected and consider historical trauma will help close the gaps.

Police officer shakes hands with smiling citizens.

My sons are both in college, one at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the other at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. Raising African American boys into adulthood was often stressful. Despite the many advantages and supports we had as a family while they were growing up, I worried about their safety, whether their schools would see and nurture their greatness despite the color of their skin, and whether they would be able to live up to their potential.

As a public health practitioner, I’ve also had the opportunity to observe the amazing efforts of so many caregivers and families with limited resources who heroically “make a way out of no way.” I’ve seen what it takes, for example, for a mom to just get her children to a doctor’s appointment when they each go to a different school because the schools in their neighborhood are not the best she wants for them. I’ve seen the enormous emotional, physical, and mental energy families with fewer economic resources spend simply on surviving day to day—and I know that statistically, the burden of poverty falls particularly heavily on children of color.

I’m now director of University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, which has for nearly a decade compiled the annual County Health Rankings. The rankings have helped communities across the nation see how where we live makes a difference in how well and how long we live. This year we’ve added a layer of analysis that hits home for me, highlighting the meaningful health gaps that persist by race.

We wanted to cover both place and race because county-level rankings can mask the deep divides we have in the health of different groups within communities. Even in counties with the best rankings—and the highest overall level of opportunity for good health—not everyone in every part of the county has access to opportunities for safe housing, adequate physical activity or a good education.

For me, knowing we still have gaps to fill is a call to action, especially as we mark National Minority Health Month. So how do we overturn the current reality and give everyone a fair shot?

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