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ABC Conference Issues Call to Action on Racism as a Public Health Issue

Patti Singer

Jerome Underwood, chief executive officer of Action for a Better Community. File photo

Racism and health disparities collided in 2020.

What some people are calling the twin pandemics arose in the national and local aftermaths of police-custody deaths of George Floyd and Daniel Prude and the effects of COVID-19 on communities of color.

“It can’t be business as usual,” said Jerome Underwood, chief executive officer of Action for a Better Community. “We want to start the year off by saying we want to shake things up.”

ABC is honoring its roots as an advocacy organization by hosting a three-day videoconference that challenges participants to take steps in their organizations and within themselves to create a more equitable and just community for everyone.

“Racism is a Public Health Crisis: Attacking the Two Pandemic” features national and local speakers who are experts in community action, health and motivating change.

The schedule:

  • Jan. 14: Establishing “why” by looking at data. Keynote speakers Bryan Duncan and Denise Harlow of the National Community Action Partnership.
  • Jan. 21: Health, including information on the COVID-19 vaccine. Keynote speaker Wade Norwood, chief executive officer of Common Ground Health.
  • Jan. 28: Be the Healing, asking participants to commit to change. Keynote speaker Dr. Joy DeGruy.

Workshops are scheduled on each topic.

The conference is geared for business and community leaders who seek strategies to counteract the pandemics of racism and health disparities that COVID made evident. Underwood also is making 10 passes available for seniors in the Rochester City School District.

More information and registration is at Sponsors include ESL, KeyBank and the Greater Rochester Health Foundation.

The conference grew from the confluence of events. The pandemic prevented ABC from holding its annual fundraising luncheon in October.

In the early fall, the staff thought about an alternative fundraiser and a way to reach the community.

“What can we do, what should we do,” Underwood said leadership asked themselves.

The answer came from the organization’s name.

“Action,” Underwood said with emphasis, “for a better community. We’re living our mission.”

Underwood said the conference captures the urgent need for change and is a product of its time.

“A lot of it is carpe diem. You get motivated into action. Anybody reflecting on 2020, are we relevant. What should we do?”

Underwood acknowledged that there are people who don’t see a problem. “They don’t see the agony, they don’t know what it feels like, what it smells like to be in one of those houses where people are experiencing abject poverty a half-mile, a mile and a half from Brighton.”

He’s also not expecting instant transformations.

“ABC, just because you have this conference, you think people are going to change? That would be naïve.”

Underwood said he wants participants to commit to how they can become – or become more – antiracist. “If you’re really committed to systemic change, all of us have to change. What does that look like in your organization?”