Speaking up — about racism and other systemic forms of oppression — to improve care
The residents of Camden, New Jersey are majority Black and Hispanic. Like many other communities of color across the country, it has suffered from decades of disinvestment, redlining, and over-policing that have resulted in denial of opportunities, widespread poverty and trauma, and poor health outcomes. Our care teams regularly witness overt racism and other forms of discrimination within Camden and South Jersey’s health systems, social services, courts, child welfare system, and local and state government.
The Camden Coalition was founded and has been led by White people. While many staff, leaders, and Board members do have strong ties to the city of Camden, the organization’s regional and national prestige has meant that historically, many staff members have not lived in or had strong ties to the city. Like many nonprofits, we know that our organization can end up perpetuating the idea that people in power and those from the outside “know what’s best” for those who are marginalized. Through this lens, we acknowledge our contribution to the systemic racism and oppression we are working so hard to fight against.
This is why it is central to our care philosophy and theory of change to ask people what they need, and to work alongside them to achieve their own goals, not the goals that we or any other institution place onto them. We work to build authentic healing relationships not only with individuals with complex health and social needs, but also with our partners at under-resourced community-based organizations.
At their root, “healthcare hotspotting” and “complex care” seek to identify and listen to the most marginalized in our community, and to work creatively and persistently to improve their material conditions — with the ultimate goal of improving care for all. We strive to be a bridge between our program participants and the policy- and decision-makers who have the power to make systemic change, and a pipeline to support program participants in becoming effective leaders and advocates. Servant leadership has always been one of our core values.
However, until just a few years ago, we had not been explicit in naming racism and economic injustice as the causes of our participants’ complex health and social needs. To truly improve care at a systems level, we realize that we must speak out forcefully against racist and otherwise harmful policies and practices. We must also make changes internally to reflect the community we serve by cultivating diverse leadership within our organization and partnering with others who share our vision.
We, like many other nonprofit organizations, are constrained by our financial dependence on funders and by our role as a coalition of diverse partners. However, we are heartened by the recent national focus on health equity and anti-racism, and believe that in this climate, change is possible. As such, we commit to:
- Naming racism, classism, ableism, misogyny, homo/transphobia, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression as we encounter them.
- Speaking out — in meetings with partners and government officials, in hospitals and courtrooms, and within our own organization — against discrimination and systemic oppression.
- Cultivating diversity among our leadership teams, Board of Trustees, and partners, seeking to particularly support individuals and organizations rooted in the city of Camden.
In the past, Camden Coalition leaders conceptualized the organization as having a neutral, apolitical role in order to bring a diversity of stakeholders together to improve care. Our current staff and leadership are clear that we can no longer be neutral when it comes to oppression and equity. We are speaking up, and will continue to do so, because speaking up is the first step in transforming our systems and improving the health and well-being of people with complex health and social needs.
Learn more about how we have begun to — and how we plan to continue to — center diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Camden Coalition.