South Carolina Murders: A Statement about the Health and Wellness of America

An Editorial by the President and CEO of California Black Health Network 

CEO and PResidentThe mass killings in South Carolina took my breath away. As I watched the news unfold and the victims’ names released, I felt very much like I did on September 11, 2001. I sat before the television and felt an overwhelming sense of loss, pain, grief, and shock. Somehow, this was even more personal because one of the victims was an 87 year old woman; my own Mom is 88. I wept as I thought about her children, her family and imagined how they must feel. On behalf of California Black Health Network, our Board and our staff, we send our most sincere condolences and we stand in genuine prayer on behalf of each victim’s family.  

CBHN focuses on the health and wellness of the African American community. Many believe that health and wellness means our work is only focused on health reform, or chronic disease management, or preventive medicine. But, those are only some of the issues that CBHN considers as we engage in legislative advocacy on behalf of our communities around this state.

Health and wellness means we have safe places to play, work, live…and worship. It means we can state our opinions and share our ideas in environments that lend themselves to free expression without the threat of injury or death. Health and wellness in our community translates into eradicating the heinous and despicable impact of racism and violence on a community that has suffered from these kinds of grotesque acts for far too many years. Health and wellness in the Black community means that we are tired of being tired and we need it understood…AMERICA IS SICK! America is filled with so much hate and injustice that until all of us recognize our lack of health and wellness, none of us will thrive; none of us will be healthy and none of us will be well.

A few weeks ago I was engaged in a conversation with a group of my advocacy colleagues. We were discussing gun violence and police brutality and the increasing number of incidents that have taken place over the past few years against African American males. One of my non-black colleagues made the statement:  “Yes, you know, we have not come out and said anything about this and we are trying to figure out how to deal with that since it is not a problem in our community.”  I was stunned and immediately incensed! Not a problem in “our community?”  People, until we all understand that gun violence, police brutality, and blatant injustice are issues for all communities, and that even one oppressed community leads to the poor health and wellness of all communities, then we will never be on the road to fixing the problem. We will never be able to have a genuine discussion about genuine solutions.

The mass murders in South Carolina do not just affect Black folks. Nor does the blame lie with only this sick 21-year-old hater. Just like the 4 girls killed all those years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, these murders were inspired by a legacy of outrageous beliefs in white superiority, in the acceptance of blanket bigotry by so many in this country, and inspired by the radical and unacceptable way  people of color are allowed to be treated in the United States. These murders affect a nation; they impact the world. They are about the health and wellness of America and about how the United States is perceived around the world.

President Obama said that these kinds of incidents do not happen with this type of frequency in advanced nations. When I observe all the hate, the insane way our Congress has acted over the past few years, the increase in gun violence perpetrated against our African American community, the fact that it is still OK to fly a confederate flag in South Carolina, and the demeaning portrayal of “minorities” on television and in movies, I must ask the question:  America, are we really a healthy, well, or advanced nation?

California Black Health Network, our Board of Directors, our staff and our partners are in mourning for those killed so senselessly in South Carolina. But this cowardly act only strengthens our resolve, our commitment to making a change. Whether it is a policy on gun violence or a rally at the Capitol on behalf of our young men and boys of color or a policy that protects the rights of our Black babies, we will not stop fighting; we will not stop advocating. History has proven that justice in the Black community is the foundation for justice in all communities! We will continue our quest for comprehensive health and wellness in the Black community on all fronts. We have no choice. This madness must stop!


B. Darcel Harris Lee