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Gov. Whitmer signs Executive Directive recognizing, addressing racism as a public health crisis, creates Black Leadership Advisory Council

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, confirmed, and highlighted the deadly nature of pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism, the governor says.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and an interpreter during her August 5, 2020, press conference.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and an interpreter during her August 5, 2020, press conference.(WLUC)
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 10:41 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Wednesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer took action to elevate Black voices in state government, signing Executive Order 2020-163, which creates the Black Leadership Advisory Council. The governor also signed Executive Directive 2020-9, recognizing racism as a public health crisis and taking initial steps to address it within state government. Under the Executive Directive, the governor asked MDHHS to make health equity a major goal, as well as required implicit bias training for all state employees.  

“Since I was sworn in as governor, I have made it a top priority to include more people of color, more women, and more members of the LGBTQ+ community at the table. We’ve been able to build a more inclusive state government, but there is more work to do. That’s why today, I am proud to create the Black Leadership Advisory Council of Michigan,” said Governor Whitmer. “We must confront systemic racism head on so we can create a more equitable and just Michigan. This is not about one party or person. I hope we can continue to work towards building a more inclusive and unbiased state that works for everyone.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed, confirmed, and highlighted the deadly nature of pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism. For example, in cases where race and ethnicity is known, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases for Black/African American Michigan residents is 14,703 per 1,000,000, compared with 4,160 per 1,000,000 for white residents, more than three times higher. And the rate of reported COVID-19 deaths for Black/African American Michigan residents is 1,624 per 1,000,000 compared with 399 per 1,000,000 for White residents, more than four times higher.

“These past several months have been difficult for all of us, but they have been especially tough for Black and Brown people who for generations have battled the harms caused by a system steeped in persistent inequalities. These are the same inequities that have motivated so many Americans of every background to confront the legacy of systemic racism that has been a stain on our state and nation from the beginning,” said Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II. “That is why, today, we take the much-needed and long-overdue step of recognizing racism as a public health crisis. It is only after we have fully defined the injustice that we can begin to take steps to replace it with a greater system of justice that enables all Michiganders to pursue their fullest dreams and potential.”

The Black Leadership Advisory Council will be included among a set of diverse ethnic commissions within the state of Michigan. Although African Americans are the largest racial minority in the state, this Council is the first of its kind in Michigan to elevate Black leaders and representatives.

The Council will act in an advisory capacity to the governor and develop, review, and recommend policies and actions designed to eradicate and prevent discrimination and racial inequity in Michigan. To accomplish this goal, the Council is charged with:

  • Identifying state laws, or gaps in state law, that create or perpetuate inequities, with the goal of promoting economic growth and wealth equity for the Black community.
  • Collaborating with the governor’s office and the Black community to promote legislation and regulation that ensures equitable treatment of all Michiganders, and seeks to remedy structural inequities in this state.
  • Serving as a resource for community groups on issues, programs, sources of funding, and compliance requirements within state government in order to benefit and advance the interests of the Black community.
  • Promoting the cultural arts within the Black community through coordinated efforts, advocacy, and collaboration with state government.
  • Providing other information or advice or taking other actions as requested by the governor.

“During my time as a state legislator, it has struck me as odd that no ethnic commission existed for Michigan’s largest minority population in our state — the Black community. Working with a diverse group of people from across our diaspora, my colleagues and I last month introduced Senate Bill 1034 to create such a commission housed within the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, but it was sadly sent to the Senate Committee on Government Operations to languish,” Senator Erika Geiss said. “Governor Whitmer recognizes the importance of this issue as well and has taken executive action to create the Black Leadership Advisory Council, which I am proud to support. I look forward to seeing this commission come to fruition and ensuring its statutory status as with other ethnic commissions, so that our state can continue to tackle the issues that impact our Black brothers and sisters long into the future.”

Housed within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Black Leadership Advisory Council will consist of 16 voting members representing Black leadership in economics, public policy, health and wellness, technology, the environment, agriculture, arts and culture, and more. It will also product an annual report on its activities.

"These actions outlined today by Governor Whitmer will have a transformative impact on our state. We are blessed to have a governor who is willing to hear us, march with us, and use her office to build a better, more equal world." Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley.

The negative impacts of racism have put the lives of countless people of color at risk. To this day, racism perpetuates inequitable outcomes in the criminal justice system, achievement gaps in education, disproportionate results in health and infant mortality, and job and housing discrimination. Governor Whitmer joined the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Emergency Physicians in declaring institutional racism an urgent public health issue.

Executive Directive 2020-9 directs MDHHS to work with other state departments to examine data, develop and plan policies, and engage, communicate and advocate for communities of color. The governor has directed that all state employees be required to take implicit bias training to understand the unconscious preferences we experience without intentional control and how it can impact others. The training is required for  existing employees and must be completed within 60 days for newly hired employees.

“Implicit, unconscious bias exists within each of us, and as public servants we have a duty to understand how our bias can impact the lives of others,” said Governor Whitmer. “I am committed to leading by example and making sure state government is a model for equality, understanding, and fairness.”

Under Executive Directive 2020-9, data documenting differences in health outcomes among racial and ethnic groups in Michigan must be collected, analyzed, and made publicly available to help leaders implement equitable policies. Additionally, departments must understand how racial disparities in societal, environmental, and behavioral factors intersect to affect access to resources like good jobs, access to healthy and affordable food and housing, equitable transportation options, and quality public education.

The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities will work in partnership with departments to develop a plan that details how Michigan will eliminate the root causes of the inequities that cause disparities in health outcomes for our residents.

MDHHS has introduced an Equity Impact Assessment (EIA) tool to help prevent implicit bias from affecting the policies and practices the department develops to serve the community. The EIA guides leaders to think through the full implications of their decisions on minority populations and is proven to decrease systematic disparities and inequities in marginalized populations.  

To apply to the Black Leadership Advisory Council visit Michigan.gov/appointments and click “Black Leaders Advisory Council” from the drop menu of the application. Applications are due by Wednesday, August 19th.

Information around this outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

To view Executive Order 2020-163 and Executive Directive 2020-9, click the links below: 

Copyright 2020 WLUC. All rights reserved.

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