Leaning in on Inequity
Once a year, we are incredibly fortunate to host nearly 600 individuals invested in the health of Coloradans at our Colorado Health Symposium. The topics we focus on reflect the landscape of health and the priorities we have as an organization. It’s our signature event, and a wonderful moment in time during the year to engage with others and express how we’re evolving as an organization.
Last year, we made some important changes to the event approach. For example, we:
- Incorporated new forms of creative expression to reinforce the power of community. I certainly won't forget that I got to rap on stage with Jonny 5 and Brer Rabbit from the Denver-based hip-hop group, Flobots.
- Introduced a widened view on health – one that goes beyond the clinic settings and into the social cohesion of a community.
- Showcased new types of storytellers, like Tiffany Anderson and Gloria Wilder, who talked about their own experiences, in addition to those of others.
- Offered capacity-building opportunities during the event.
- Introduced a scholarship program to bring new perspectives and voices from across Colorado communities.
- Launched a new community health leadership award that honors the late, great Dr. Virgilio Licona, who brought a critical voice to some of the most important conversations and decisions related to how all Coloradans can be healthy.
- Talked to and with our attendees about moving beyond ideas to action, and we pondered a movement that centers on the dream of all Coloradans having what we need to live healthy lives.
By the time our staff were driving home from the event last year, we knew that this year’s Symposium would focus on inequity. It is the core barrier to ensuring that health is in reach for all Coloradans. We must talk about it – together, in a collective way. What better way than through this conference platform? Attendees confirmed our thinking, and asked us to focus – for the first time ever – on the impact of race on health.
So, this year, we’re taking on what is perhaps the most complex social issue of our time and trying to understand the basics. Although it is not a new conversation, our hope is to surface a discussion that’s been going on for a long time – and add to it. The discourse around inequity is alive and real. But, it’s new for us as an organization to drive a conversation about inequity that can be heard by leaders in health from across Colorado. That’s different and exciting for us.
When considering this year’s theme around the concept of inequity, we thought a lot about the role the Foundation plays in communities across the state and nationally. We knew that we were entering yet another phase of our evolution as a Foundation – of intentionally taking on equity as a core goal of our work – and wanted to be as thoughtful and bold as possible in our approach.
We’ve framed the conference around a single metaphor: that of a table. We already have a collective table, so let’s get around it and discuss the key drivers of inequity. Let’s get our biases on the table. Let’s try to find a place of belonging at the table.
One source of inspiration while planning the conference came through an essay titled “Grounds for Hope.” The author, Rebecca Solnit, a historian and activist, tackles the approaches of grassroots constituencies and how today’s world has changed how we think about hope. When it comes to fighting inequities, hope all too often gets lost in the shuffle.
Solnit wrote: “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender; a power you don’t have to throw away … Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but it is the less visible long-term organizing and groundwork – or underground work – that often laid the foundation. Changing the story isn’t enough in itself, but it has often been foundational to real changes … Together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.”
This passage speaks to the role we believe that a single event can have in reducing inequities. We’re not going to change the world in three days at the Colorado Health Symposium. But we can have a very visible conversation about improving the health of Coloradans at a table together. Maybe we’ll even drive home this year with a rally cry that all of us identify with – for years to come.
We look forward to sitting at that table with those of you joining us in person and online in early August. Until then, we invite your feedback and thoughts directly via email.