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Regional Vignette: Colorado Health Foundation

This article first appeared in The Racism Issue of Change Agent.

The state of Colorado is becoming increasingly diverse as its population grows. Racism shows up structurally and culturally in our systems and communities all too commonly. Access to basic needs—from health care to affordable housing—continues to be out of reach for Coloradans who live below the poverty line and/or have been marginalized because of who they are, what they represent, or where they live. Colorado Health Foundation’s vision is rooted in changing that reality.

It was important that we start addressing racism at the core of our work—and build from within. We adopted cornerstones to our work that must be reflected in all we and our partners do: Be community-informed, conduct all work with an eye toward achieving health equity, and serve those who have historically been without power and privilege. Our organizational policies and guidelines, particularly with regard to hiring, have been revamped over time to be more inclusive, and our staff participates in racial affinity groups.

Externally, our approach to being more inclusive and addressing diversity and inequity head-on has started with discourse and conversation. We have primarily used our institutional voice and influence, along with convening power, to educate about racism. But simply identifying and understanding the role that racism can play in accessibility is a huge challenge. Explicitly connecting racism to health has been like creating a myth-buster approach to communications. Some people don’t believe that racism can make you unhealthy. We have to be repetitive in our communications, and constantly find new ways—through our grantmaking, advocacy, and convening—to underscore the fact that racism does make you unhealthy. We have to be comfortable making people uncomfortable, and that takes confident leadership. We have to be prepared for negative reactions and clarify our stance or position, never backing away from what we believe.

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