At the Trust, we have watched as people across the country march in the streets to protest the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and hundreds of years of racial injustice—and felt the outcry ourselves. Racism and racist policies and practices have permeated every aspect of our society since this country was founded, and we believe that systemic change is the only way forward to ensure a just society for people of color who have been held back far too long. To the people experiencing racism and fighting for change, we see you, we hear you, and we support you.
There are many ways we can collectively engage to work for the change that needs to occur. To do this work means addressing inherent tensions of power and inequity, privilege and disadvantage—in our nation, our state, and within our own organizational structure.
What does this mean for our work at the Trust? We are a 70-year-old foundation charged with improving the health and quality of life for people with low incomes in Forsyth County and around North Carolina. We are on a journey for racial equity, finding ways to put Kate B. Reynolds’ vision in today’s context. In partnership with communities, we are working for thriving residents, equitable access to health care, and equitable health outcomes.
We began this process by listening to and learning from the communities we serve. We looked inward at ourselves and continue to expand our team and partners to include more people who share lived experiences with these communities. We looked outward and named specific goals and outcomes—rooted in systems change—to improve the health and quality of life for people with low incomes and people of color because we know racism and lack of access to quality health care, educational opportunities, and economic mobility are inextricably linked.
Together, we’re working for equity and changing systems in the following ways.
Local Impact in Forsyth County
Locally, we are pushing for a more inclusive economy in Forsyth County, a community with one of the worst economic mobility rates in the country, where African American and Latino residents in Forsyth County are more likely to experience poverty. Research and community input tell us that we need to address the barriers to living-wage employment, lack of investment in effective public transportation, and poor coordination of community resources. We are focused on building the public will for an inclusive economy, increasing the education and economic advancement of parents with young children, launching the next generation by connecting young adults to jobs and educational opportunities, and improving the safety net.
We stand up for our youngest residents through our Great Expectations initiative to ensure all children are prepared for success in school and life by the time they leave kindergarten. We work to address unacceptable disparities: an infant mortality rate that is three times higher for African American babies, racial bias in child care, pre-K and elementary school settings, and fewer Latino students reading at grade level than in other parts of our state. These are issues caused by racist institutional practices, and we must change the local systems that perpetuate these disparities.
Health Improvement in North Carolina
Statewide, supporting racial equity and justice means fighting for equitable access to health care and equitable health outcomes. Inequities in health care access and outcomes are deep throughout North Carolina and are being magnified as we weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the CDC, people of color are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. Right here in Forsyth County, Latino residents make up more than 60 percent of COVID-19 cases but only comprise 13 percent of the population. Latinos are almost three times as likely to be uninsured; African Americans are twice as likely as whites to lack insurance.
That’s why we continue to fight for equitable access to quality health care and health insurance and call for the expansion of Medicaid in our state to close the coverage gap.
We also focus on the social drivers of health because we know that communities of color are more likely to lack access to affordable housing, healthy food, and transportation. We are working with health care systems to acknowledge these social drivers and engage with residents being impacted to understand how to address unmet social needs.
Throughout the state, we support grassroots groups led by people of color who are trusted resources and messengers for their communities, and we invest in communities and neighborhoods that have been marginalized far too long. Through our placed-based initiative Healthy Places NC, which invests in under-resourced rural communities, and locally here in Forsyth County, we are partnering with grassroots organizations working for the rights of African American, Native American, and Latino residents. We are investing in their leadership development and providing grants to build the capacity of their organizations to do long-term systems change work.
We believe that philanthropy has a role to play in this historic moment to fight racial injustice and reform the systems that have intentionally held people of color back. We can use our voice to call out racism and support systems change. We can use our power and privilege to have critical conversations about race, justice, and reform with other people in power. And we can transfer power to residents and communities that have too long been denied a seat at the table.
While we have made important changes at our foundation to work for racial equity, we also know we have more to do. Together, let’s work for a just society that stands up against racism and changes the system to ensure equitable health, educational, and economic outcomes for all residents. We can do better. We can do more. We must.