The City Council Health and Equity committee unanimously approved on Friday a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in San Antonio and pledged to advance racial equality efforts through such measures as increased access to affordable housing and health care. 

Councilwoman Jada Andrew-Sullivan (D-2), who led the drafting of the resolution with fellow committee members and local activists, said declaring racism as a public health crisis means making sure San Antonio is “standing on the grounds of inclusiveness.”

The declaration is meant to include all residents, Andrews-Sullivan said, including “a family that has moved here for the safety of their children by fleeing from the borders of Mexico, [or] whether it’s a Native American whose soil that we stand on.”

“We know if a person is stressed, their health is going to decline. If a person doesn’t have adequate housing, then [their] health is going to decline,” Andrews-Sullivan said. 

The resolution, which will be subject to a vote by City Council, includes an explanation of the historic examples of racism in San Antonio including the Battle of the Alamo, segregated lunch counters at downtown eateries in the 1960s, and redlining throughout neighborhoods to exclude people of color from residing in certain areas of town. 

Addressing racism today includes working with community activists to find solutions to “systemic and institutional racism,” bi-annual presentations about what policies and programs the city is implementing to improve racial equity, and promoting racially equitable economic and workforce development programs and policies.

While the resolution had unanimous committee support, local activists, including Celeste Brown, voiced concern that while “we can call racism a public health crisis,” if the City budget doesn’t reflect that, then it is not going in the right direction. 

“We are in the middle of two pandemics right now,” Brown said – coronavirus and racism. “It is simply a step in the right direction calling racism what it is.” She urged follow-through in the form of concrete action. 

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) told the Rivard Report it is important for City Council to review the resolution before the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District budget is approved. 

“We will have to look at the resources available to see how we are going to be able to achieve some of these outcomes,” Sandoval said. That includes looking more deeply into social determinants of health, including access to healthy food and mental health services. “The resolution begins the conversation” about putting resources and policies behind ending racism. 

Local activist Jourdyn Parks said that she hopes City Council can expedite the passing of the resolution so it isn’t something the community “hears about for the next six months” and nothing happens. 

“Waking up every day Black and thinking about these solutions, that’s not what we need and that’s not what’s going to save my life,” Parks said. “But I would like to vocalize my appreciation for the resolution because I can look at it and say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I asked for.’”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.