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Diversity

Black Mental Health Matters | A Two-Part Webinar Series in Honor of National Black History Month

Black Mental Health Matters is a webinar facilitated by Dr. Eunice Peterson, a board-certified adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. The webinar is an interactive presentation with a question and answer (Q&A) session designed to provide participants with an understanding of how racism impacts mental health.

Registration is required for this FREE event. Dates, times, and registration links can be found below:

  • PART I: Thursday, February 11, 2021 from 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm • Register Here
  • PART II: Thursday, February 25, 2021 from 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm • Register Here

For more information on this webinar, please see this flyer.

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Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

Good morning,

I hope you’ve all had a good week! We’re in the final day of our Racial Equity Action Week, and I hope that each of you have found these readings, videos, and questions for consideration helpful. As many of us have learned over the last six months, beginning this work and our personal education in order to broaden our perspective around race and inequity and how they exist in our country can be overwhelming due to not being sure where to begin. My goal with this week has been to make these subjects approachable for each of us and applicable to our work and workplaces.

For our final day of readings today, we’re going to focus on current issues that face our country and topics specific to work at the Department of Human Services (DHS). This will not be a comprehensive list, but I hope that it can help you further dig into how race and equity affect our work. Today’s readings can be found here.

COVID-19 has affected all of us in some way this year. For many of us, it has consumed our daily work. Beyond that, it has touched all of our lives in some way, even if we have not experienced it or lost a loved one ourselves. Experiences are showing that this pandemic is not affecting all communities equally; non-white communities are experiencing the public health and economic crises acutely. Inequality.org’s COVID-19 and Inequality, NPR’s “As Pandemic Deaths Add Up, Racial Disparities Persist — And In Some Cases Worsen”, The Atlantic’s “In a Pandemic, All Some People See is Your Color”, and Kaiser Health News’s “Why Black Aging Matters, Too” all detail the pandemic’s effects on racial groups.

However, health disparities between different races are not new. “‘Racial Inequality May Be As Deadly As COVID-19,’ Analysis Finds” from NPR details this fact, and much of the Wolf administration’s health innovation work seeks to address these disparities. DHS has engaged in this work in North Philadelphia’s Health Enterprise Zone since 2017, and work is in place to study disparities and enact solutions in other communities around the commonwealth. This work must also extend to mental health and supporting culturally informed and appropriate behavioral health systems that are equipped to address trauma faced by non-white communities, writes NPR. We must also think about how inequity can affect children starting in their earliest years. “Education Inequality Starts Early” from the US News and World Report and “The School-to-Prison Pipeline” from Teaching Tolerance explains how inequity can set a foundation that affects children into adulthood.

As you read and watch these resources, I encourage you to think about the following questions:

  • How have communities of color been impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are these effects portrayed as the result of structural issues?
  • How do inequities play out in my work? What can I do through my work to advance equity for all Pennsylvanians?
  • How do I move forward with this knowledge?
  • How can I apply what I’ve learned to my work? To my relationships with my colleagues? To my everyday life?

I also encourage you to have these conversations with your coworkers if you are comfortable and able to do so. This is an opportunity for us to learn together, share our experiences, foster understanding and community, and build stronger bonds through these difficult but extremely necessary conversations.

Remember, these articles are meant to be a foundation and introduction that you can build from. They are not the only sources and perspectives on these issues.

I always say that DHS’s work serves more than three million people directly, but it touches nearly ever Pennsylvanian at some point in their lives – be it through the early childhood education system, public assistance, child welfare, health care, or long-term care. Because of this, I feel that we have an obligation to be leaders in this space. Pennsylvanians and our nation are not a monolith. We all have different identities, experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. We must be mindful about how our identities can shape our experiences and use this knowledge to be active allies against racism, inequity, bias, and discrimination that is both consciously held and unconsciously advanced.

Our education cannot end here. I encourage you to continue to pursue information and read in a way that broadens your perspective. Seek out voices and experiences that you may not know first-hand but from whom you can learn. This work can only make us stronger, more empathetic, and better public servants, colleagues, and people.

Moving forward, we will continue to share opportunities to grow and learn in this space. However, if you are looking for other avenues to continue to learn, I highly recommend Emmanuel Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man series.

Listening with an open mind and an open heart is the first and most important thing we can do to be an active ally to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues. This is a constant journey, but I appreciate the time you have all taken to be a part of it with me.

Teresa Miller, Secretary of the Department of Human Services

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Good morning,

I hope you’re having a good week and that you have been able to spend time with some of the resources shared throughout the week.

Today, we’re going to focus on structural racism and how it affects people of color in communities across the country. Gaps in wealth and other economic indicators have long existed between races in America, and this article has very good visualizations of this data and its trends. These gaps occur over generations, and policies like redlining have created disparities that we still see playing out today. The lasting effects of redlining policies can be seen in communities around the country. These effects are explored broadly in The Atlantic’s “Why Black Families Struggle to Build Wealth” and, specifically to Harrisburg, in The Burg’s “My City Was Gone: How Redlining Helped Segregate, Blight Harrisburg”.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) serves more than three million low-income Pennsylvanians. Because poverty disproportionately impacts non-white people, people of color are disproportionately served by DHS-administered public assistance programs. Only 12.9 percent of white Pennsylvanians are below 125 percent of the federal poverty line compared to 32.9 percent of black Pennsylvanians (a poverty rate that is more than 2.5 times higher in comparison). While black Pennsylvanians represent 13 percent of the general population, they make up 25 percent of our Medicaid population, 29 percent of our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) population, and 53 percent of our Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) population.

We need to do a better job of leveraging these programs to help improve the circumstances of the people we serve. This approach alone cannot correct generations of structural disparities, but we must still do the work. DHS has spent the last three years planning a redesign of our employment and training programs, which primarily serve TANF recipients, to focus on how to better support this population and assist them in moving out of poverty. The redesign focuses on getting participants into educational or vocational training programs that they are interested in. It also provides wraparound supports to help them along this journey. Redesigning this program allows us to shift the focus away from keeping clients in compliance with the work requirements and over to what we can do to help them move out of and stay out of poverty.

DHS’s work allows us to interact with and affect people who have not always had the easiest lives. For different people, those challenges come in different ways. We must recognize the effect that structural racism still has today and how it persists. We must then use our work as an opportunity to work against this problem. You can learn more about income inequality in the Economic Security and Economic Development sections of the Racial Equity Tools.

As you read and watch these resources, I encourage you to think about the following questions:

  • What stands out to you as you read about the racial wealth gap? Is this something you were familiar with before today?
  • What is redlining? Do you see the effects of redlining playing out in your community today?
  • Consider the implications of the racial wealth gap in your food system, community, health, and other areas. Do you see disparities playing out in your work?

I also encourage you to have these conversations with your coworkers if you are comfortable and able to do so. This is an opportunity for us to learn together, share our experiences, foster understanding and community, and build stronger bonds through these difficult but extremely necessary conversations. Remember, these articles are meant to be a foundation and introduction that you can build from. They are not the only sources and perspectives on these issues.

Talk to you tomorrow,

Teresa Miller, Secretary of the Department of Human Services

 

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Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Good morning,

I hope you’re having a good start to your day! Today, we’re going to focus on interpersonal racism, how it can manifest in the workplace, and how indirect or unintentional statements or actions can perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination.

What comes to mind when you hear the term professionalism? Chances are that your thoughts are likely influenced by Western and primarily white cultural norms. As discussed in the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s “The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards” (in today’s articles), our nation’s history has established Western white traits as our culture’s norms and expectations. Even as we as a society are marking strides toward greater representation and a respect for diversity, this work is never complete. We must recognize where there are still opportunities to broaden our perspective and make spaces more understanding, accessible, and accepting of all people.

As always, we must remember first that our experiences may not be the same as those of our colleagues. My experience as a woman is not the same as the experiences of my male colleagues. My experience as a white woman is not the same as those of my black, Latinx, Asian, and Middle Eastern colleagues. My experience as an able-bodied person is not the same as those of someone who has a disability.

Speaking in the racial equity context, existing in a professional environment influenced by white cultural norms can create challenges for people of color. From eliminating people from hiring pools based off of their names to needing to overperform to avoid scrutiny, studies from the National Bureau of Economic Research demonstrate barriers that non-white people can experience in the workplace because of their race. You can learn more about these in today’s readings. Code-switching is defined by the Harvard Business Review as “adjusting one’s style of speech, appearance, behavior, and expression in ways that will optimize the comfort of others in exchange for fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities”.

Over the last few months, I’ve spoken with people of color who work at the Department of Human Services (DHS) about their experience working here and their treatment in the workplace. I’ve heard stories of people in management positions having their authority distrusted and sometimes undermined, people who have been afraid to discuss their feelings on national and local news stories related to race for fear of alienating their coworkers, and people who have been objectified because of their race. We must all build an awareness of the challenges and barriers that people of color can face in the workplace in order to actively break down systems, structures, and norms that make people feel unwelcome, unsupported, or unseen. This TED talk on microaggressions gives an overview of something we can all do to build a more actively equitable and welcoming workplace culture. Organizational Change Processes and Leadership Development from the Racial Equity Tools give an overview of what we can do to advance equity among our teams and in our workplace.

As you read and watch these resources, I encourage you to think about the following questions:

  • What are the racial connotations of the word “professionalism”?
  • What is code switching? Have you ever noticed yourself or your coworkers engaging in this?
  • Where and how did you learn to exist in a professional environment? What were you told to do?
  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a professional environment because of your identity?
  • Have you ever been the receiver of a microaggression? How did it make you feel?
  • Have you ever said a microaggression, whether you realized it at the time or not? How can you work to eliminate them in your workplace?

I also encourage you to have these conversations with your coworkers if you are comfortable and able to do so. This is an opportunity for us to learn together, share our experiences, foster understanding and community, and build stronger bonds through these difficult but extremely necessary conversations. Remember, these articles are meant to be a foundation and introduction that you can build from. They are not the only sources and perspectives on these issues.

Talk to you tomorrow,

Teresa Miller, Secretary of the Department of Human Services