Virginia made history as the first Southern state to declare racism as a public health crisis.

The resolution failed to gain traction in 2020′s special session; however, both the House and Senate passed the measure in 2021.

Del. Lashrecse Aird, a Democrat representing the city of Petersburg, Dinwiddie County and part of Chesterfield County, sponsored the resolution.

The vote is significant for happening in a state historically linked to the Confederacy and Jim Crow laws.

“For a state that has built its systems deliberately with race in mind and against one particular group of people, we not only have to rebuild and relay the foundation, we have to reimagine how those services can benefit all people,” said Aird.

The resolution, Aird added, “provides the framework for all of us to formally and finally reckon with those injustices so we can build a more equitable and just society for us all.”

The resolution addresses five specific issues:

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  • Expand VDH’s Office of Health Equity to be the primary watchdog for ensuring policies addressing racism are implemented

  • Make the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law permanent

  • Establish training for all state elected officials, their staff members and state employees on recognizing racism

  • Create a list of definitions and terms on racism and health equity

  • Promote community engagement across the state on recognizing racism

The resolution states the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity will lead the charge on introducing steps to address systemic racism and its impact on public health in Virginia.

The American Public Health Association, which tracks declarations of racism as a public health issue, lists 145 cities and counties across 27 states – up from only seven in 2019.

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