A refrain that struck a chord with many during the Project AWARE grantees meeting held in MD last week was Abraham Joshua Heschel’s statement that “few are guilty, but all are responsible.” I continue to grapple with its’ meaning as I try to address the work of inequities (term used within the field of health) and inequalities (term more predominant in education) in the delivery of health services and education to the diverse communities within the U.S.
For over 30 years the Department of Health and Human Services has been struggling either trying to reduce and more recently eliminate disparities in health and yet as a nation we have hardly made any progress – if any the gap is widening in some aspects of health. The notion to ‘leave no child behind’ has not borne any fruit either. Disproportionalities in educational attainment continue to exist and it is exacerbated further by policies like the ‘Zero tolerance’ policy in schools that suspends children of color to a greater degree – leading to what some people call the prison pipeline.
Why? For a country that proudly call itself ‘the greatest country’ and loudly proclaims its technological and industrial advances – why is it that we are still unable to be the healthiest country or the most educated county in the world? Certainly, a few are guilty – they send factories, jobs, and opportunities overseas for a larger profit that benefit the top executives and their wealthy shareholders. This adversely impacts the social determinants of health – such as economic stability, safe and secure neighborhoods where children can live, learn and grow into healthy adults.
A few others are guilty because though they are sent to the U.S. capitol to serve as custodians of our future, to make and uphold laws that ensure the wellbeing of our communities – they end up taking political stances that become gridlocks that neither help their communities nor ensure the wellbeing of their constituents.
So yes, a few are guilty!
However, we are all responsible – responsible for holding our lawmakers, our politicians, our bankers, our corporate executives accountable for their actions. We are responsible for knowing how our local elected representatives stand on issues of health and education and equity, we are responsible for knowing our local government officials and their plans and activities to keep our communities safe and secure. We are responsible for partnering with our schools to ensure that our children are learning to the best of their ability. Lastly, we are responsible as parents, and community members to ensure that we provide our children the very best future.