Beyond Rhetoric project confronting racism in Genesee Co.

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 9:45 PM EDT
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GENESEE CO., Mich. (WNEM) - A new project is turning the fight against racism into a campaign promoting health and well-being.

Dr. Kent Key, a professor at MSU, and Dr. Lisa Lapeyrouse, a professor at UM Flint, are both working together to confront and combat racism in Genesee County, primarily in healthcare.

In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Genesee County declared racism a public health crisis. It pledged to assess its internal policies to help ensure racial equity. Key, who has been working in public health and having these conversations for decades, was one of the authors behind that resolution.

“We were one of the first, not the first, but we were among the first in the nation to do it,” Key said.

The resolution led to the formation of Beyond Rhetoric, a project to move the fight against racism beyond conversation. And by then Lapeyrouse, an associate professor of public health and health sciences at UM Flint, had joined the movement.

“So that really brought us to thinking, ‘How do we operationalize this so that it is doing something that is more than just words on a page or some kind of acknowledgement?’” Lapeyrouse said.

A key part of the project’s process is using community engagement, both young and old, to develop a plan to tackle racist policies and practices that directly impact residents of color in Genesee County.

“We are now at the point where we want to start forming work groups to work around those priority issues. So that’s where the current phase we are with our research,” Lapeyrouse said.

“It’s important for me that what we create, the residents feel like they are co-owners of it. Because they co-created this with us, they co-created this process,” Key said.

That process includes a community action council that will draft a strategic plan.

“What we’re trying to do is give people tools and allow them to see racism playing out in systems as opposed to just individual experiences. Because when we identify systems, then we can identify the policies and practices that need to be changed,” Key said.

The end goal is to create change the community can see and feel.

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