Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the Black Leadership Advisory Council on Wednesday, declaring racism a “public health issue.”
The council — the first of its kind in Michigan — will give advice to the governor and help recommend policies to combat systemic racism. This includes identifying state laws that create or perpetuate inequities, promoting legislation that seeks to correct racial inequality within Michigan, helping community groups serve Black communities and promoting the cultural arts within Black communities, according to the governor’s office.
The council will consist of 16 voting members and is housed within the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.
“We must confront systemic racism head on so we can create a more equitable and just Michigan,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This is not about one party or person. I hope we can continue to work towards building a more inclusive and unbiased state that works for everyone.”
Whitmer also declared systemic racism a public health issue and signed an executive order directing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to “work with other state departments to examine data, develop and plan policies, and engage, communicate and advocate for communities of color,” according the governor’s office.
She is also requiring implicit bias training for all state employees.
“Implicit, unconscious bias exists within each of us, and as public servants we have a duty to understand how our bias can impact the lives of others,” Whitmer said. “I am committed to leading by example and making sure state government is a model for equality, understanding and fairness.”
The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected Black Michigan residents, with rates of COVID-19 infections three times higher among black residents when compared to white residents, the governor’s office said. The death toll is four times higher.
“These past several months have been difficult for all of us, but they have been especially tough for black and brown people who for generations have battled the harms caused by a system steeped in persistent inequalities,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II in a statement. “These are the same inequities that have motivated so many Americans of every background to confront the legacy of systemic racism that has been a stain on our state and nation from the beginning.”
The advisory council will work with the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. Those wishing to apply for the council can find more information here. Applications are due by August 19.
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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Michigan Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair.
Photo “Gretchen Whitmer” by Gretchen Whitmer.