Each year, Black History Month gives us the opportunity to reflect back on our nation’s history and to look forward to what might be. This month, Project Access NOW (PANOW)’s staff and board will take time to consider where we are as an organization, as a city, and as a country and to examine our role in sparking much needed change. After the last year as African-American communities were again disproportionately impacted by illness and economic loss, after decades of horrific police brutality, and after centuries of systemic racism in our country, we begin this year with a renewed commitment to our community and ourselves. We can and will do better in 2021.
This month, dedicated to the incredible social change, cultural contributions and progress made by African-Americans in our country, demands both celebration and reflection. African-Americans have lived in Multnomah County and the region since before Oregon was a territory. And before settlers came to the Pacific Northwest, Native Americans lived freely on their ancestral lands. Our state’s heritage is blended inextricably with Oregon’s shameful history of discrimination, racial violence, and exclusion. Today, BIPOC Oregonians still face substantial disparities in health outcomes. Conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and infant mortality affect these communities disproportionately and access to health insurance, medical care, mental health services are startlingly unequal.
For the past 13 years, PANOW has provided culturally-specific services and unparalleled support for the many communities underserved by health care and insurance in our region. While demographics differ by program, in each area our work reaches those most marginalized by our nation’s fractured health system. Overall, more than 65% of PANOW clients are immigrants and/or identify as a person of color, more than 85% speak a language other than English, and more than 60% identify as female. All PANOW clients meet federally recognized benchmarks for low or no income and/or are prevented by law from accessing services.
We recognize that health care is only part of what constitutes wellbeing. So much of what drives poor health outcomes in our region is the result of ongoing discrimination linked to the social determinants of health (housing, access to healthy food, clean water, and more).
In the coming year we, PANOW’s board and staff, are committed to taking decisive action, creating much need change in collaboration with the community we serve.
Here is our pledge to you, our community:
- We will resource and hire to support a diversity, equity, and inclusion focus, adapting our internal policies and procedures.
- We will have honest discussions about racism and white supremacy, and seek to understand our collective and individual parts/roles in these systems as we work to dismantle them.
- We will use data to inform our programmatic decisions and to drive racial equity-driven decision making.
- We will continue to design and implement programs that support Black voices which have historically been silenced.
- We will build a strategic vision inclusive of racial equity markers and metrics to hold ourselves, as an organization, more accountable.
- We will partner with other community organizations to advocate for broader policy changes that improves opportunities for those made most vulnerable.
Black History Month exists to mitigate the ways in which white supremacy has silenced, erased, and dismissed Black voices and Black existence. At Project Access NOW, we celebrate the advancement our country and region has made as a result of Black lives and recommit ourselves to racial equity work in the years ahead.
Carly Hood-Ronick, Executive Director Jennie Leslie, Board Chair