California State Leaders Take Concrete Steps to Address Systemic Racism
Capacity Building & Leadership, Healthy Communities
Health in All Policies, Population Health
Public Policy Development, Public-Private Partnerships
Julia Caplan, MPP, MPH
As many in our nation are grappling with the legacy and current reality of systemic racism, California state agencies are moving to action. On April 29, 2021, the California Strategic Growth Council (SGC) and Public Health Institute (PHI) released a 29-page Racial Equity Report describing work at California state agencies to address systemic racism.
Their accomplishments include:
- The Department of Transportation created a new Office of Race and Equity and is developing an equity index analytic tool for transportation planning, and the New Motor Vehicle Board voted to create an advisory committee on Equity, Justice and Inclusion.
- The California Health and Human Services Agency is developing an equity dashboard to identify data gaps by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity across programs.
- The California Arts Council adopted a strategic framework that includes a guide for racial equity assessments.
- The California Environmental Protection Agency released “Pollution and Prejudice,” a story map that demonstrates the influence of redlining on neighborhood pollution, and incorporated race demographic data into CalEnviroScreen (v4.0), a tool used by many state departments to prioritize neighborhoods for investment.
- The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Farmer Equity Office has created two Ad-hoc advisory committees to represent socially disadvantaged farmers/ranchers and the organizations that serve them. The Agency committed to integrating equity into all aspects of the agency’s next strategic plan.
- The Department of Housing and Community Development is monitoring how grantees are advancing racial equity through state funds, and incorporating racial equity into its guidance for local communities. They also reported organizational racial equity survey highlights in their 2019-2020 annual report.
- The Natural Resources Agency created positions for an Assistant Secretary of Tribal Affairs and an Assistant Secretary of Equity and Environmental Justice, and the Coastal Conservancy Board publicly adopted Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Guidelines.
Six Cabinet Secretaries (or their designees) and the Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research discussed their racial equity commitments, progress, and challenges in a round-table style discussion at a public meeting of the SGC. The participants represented the State Transportation Agency, Business Consumer Services & Housing Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture, Natural Resources Agency, and Governor’s Office of Planning and Research.
Each of these agencies has participated in the Capitol Collaborative on Race & Equity (CCORE), a cohort-based partnership between the Public Health Institute, Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and SGC. CCORE convenes government entities to work together to learn about, plan for, and implement activities that embed racial equity approaches into institutional culture, policies, and practices. Since 2018 CCORE has collaborated with over 30 California state departments and agencies.
The recent Racial Equity Report and discussion support the SGC 2020 Racial Equity Resolution, in which SGC member agencies committed to integrating racial equity concepts into organizational practices and publicly reporting on progress. The agencies involved are early adopters among their peers in California state government, and across the nation, with strong leadership commitments to racial equity.
The cabinet leaders were quick to acknowledge the complexity of this work and the many steps involved. “Our agency is on a journey in three phases: listen and learn, commit, and act,” stated California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot. Yana Garcia, Deputy Director for the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), noted that “It is all of our responsibilities to dismantle the impacts of systemic racism.” Transportation Secretary David Kim added, “Equity is not a talking point or an ancillary activity. It has to be front and center.”
Increasingly, state entities in California participating in CCORE are being looked to and elevated for their efforts. For example at the 2021 Government Alliance on Race & Equity Annual Membership Meeting, separate breakout sessions featured SGC, CalEPA, and California Arts Council. Through CCORE, participating organizations examine historical legacies of institutional and structural racism, develop plans, and implement actions for change. In her remarks, Deputy Secretary Garcia noted the role of CCORE: “I want to acknowledge how critical the foundation setting work was that we’ve all done… we’ve all grown to appreciate that even more than we thought we would when we were going through the [CCORE] training and implementation years, which were incredibly valuable.”
One feature of SGC’s Racial Equity Resolution is a commitment to transparency and public discussions of this work. Several community-based organizations, advocacy groups, local governments, and community members provided input at the recent public meeting. This included expressions of support as well as calls for continued and greater accountability and community partnership.
Read more about California’s state government racial equity organizing in this 2019 blog post about SGC becoming the first cabinet-level body in the nation to publicly adopt a racial equity action plan, and this 2020 blog post about its Racial Equity Resolution. To watch the April 2021 discussion or view any previous meetings, visit the SGC YouTube channel.
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