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A Message from Percy Howard, LCSW CIBHS President and CEO
CIBHS Health Equity Statement

“The time for change…is now.”

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I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber, and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.
(Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952)

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Say their names: George Floyd, Stephon Clark, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile…and many others. All Invisible Black men and women, direct victims of police violence, but also victims of systemically entrenched and structurally reinforced racism manifested in a variety of systems outside of law enforcement, including health and behavioral health, social services and education. This being said, the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions condemns all acts of police violence and stands in solidarity with all individuals and public entities, including police jurisdictions, allied with Black and Brown communities to bring about change.

Black and Brown lives not only matter, but are essential to supporting thriving, dynamic and inclusive communities in California and the nation. All our public systems, including police entities, must work together with communities of color in the lead to end police violence. It is time that we collectively come to a definitive understanding that violence, and the threat of violence by police, is inarguably, a social determinant of health. The effects of depression and anxiety, as well as poor management of comorbid health conditions such as chronic depression and diabetes, are all magnified by this threat of violence.

George Floyd’s murder is constantly with me, like a splinter in my mind. He is a constant reminder of the thousands of my Black brothers and sisters who have been killed by police over the past several decades. I struggle daily with rage, profound sadness, survivor remorse, and the ever-present specter of mild dysthymia running in the background of my daily life like a faraway song whose words are indecipherable. If this is a state of being for those of us shielded by layers of privilege, we must imagine this distress magnified significantly for those who have no power and a limited voice.

I am choosing to fight the tendency to render blame on an individual basis, and instead, use the power and privilege I do possess from the advantage of my position to call out structural supports of racism that enable this violence. I choose to question how my own organization contributes to status quo responses regarding the health equity needs of Black and Brown people, and how we can join across our silos to eliminate structural impediments to justice, safety and improved quality of life in all of our communities.

I will be using this space every two weeks for the next two months to focus on four collaborative strategies that can be implemented with communities of color to increase positive health equity outcomes and reduce violence. I hope you will join me in this dialogue, with an eye towards constructing strategies of implementation. These four areas will be as follows:

  • A re-examination of Crisis Intervention Training.
  • Empowering communities of color with decision-making authority in public safety policy discussions.
  • Making commitments to collaborative and data driven cultural competency plans in behavioral health organizations.
  • Examination of the Collective Impact model as a strategy for cross-systems collaboration in California.

Please join with us as we expand this dialogue, and I will be happy to hear your thoughts. I will end with some framing from the great James Baldwin to seed our thinking going forward. Peace, safety and grace to you all in these difficult times. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fZQQ7o16yQ

Percy Howard, LCSW
CIBHS President and CEO

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