By Vanetta Abdellatif

The beginning of a new year is an opportunity for many of us to make course corrections in our lives. To become more organized, healthier, or simply happier. Seeing 2020 in our collective “rear view mirror” sparked optimism for a kinder 2021. I’ve heard people say, “I wish we could put the pandemic behind us and just have things ‘normal’ again.” “Normal” is not good enough. For many, “normal” has never been good, especially when it comes to health care. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and many other people of color have long struggled to enjoy good overall health and equitable access to quality health services.

The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and others left many of us grief-stricken and angry. These tragedies also mobilized individuals the world over to protest racism and injustice in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Then last week’s armed insurrection provided yet another stunning example of the injustice and disparate treatment that exists and another painful reminder that our nation has a lot of challenging work to do.

I know I am not alone in being outraged, shocked, and saddened by the January 6 assault on our democracy. We all have the right to assemble and speak our opinions freely in the spirit of public discourse—that’s an essential component of democracy. But we cannot tolerate the abuse of those freedoms to terrorize others. The stark contrast in law enforcement’s response to the insurrection compared to the peaceful protests in support of Black Lives Matter was apparent for all to see. It is yet another example of the degree to which racism pervades our society and compelling need to dismantle it.

Let’s turn our anguish into action and advocacy. Let’s work together to create a more just and equitable society—a society where social justice prevails, and everyone has the opportunity for prosperity and good health. We’re all affected by systemic racism, and to make real, lasting change, all of us must join with BIPOC communities to demand change.

To address systemic inequities, we must listen to and stand with all of those who have been negatively impacted by racism for far too long. We need an honest examination of the root causes of health inequities, focusing on the social determinants of health.

At Arcora Foundation, equity drives our work. We want to make sure that every child and every adult is healthy, and that must include good oral health. We are working with communities across the state to ensure that our programs and efforts are informed by community wisdom and knowledge of what is needed to address health inequities.

The important work we are doing to advance equity by improving oral and overall health—for all, with no one left behind, will continue. We have made progress and we see even more opportunity to build on our strengths in the years ahead through partnership, advocacy, and innovation.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Our own work of bending the arc of oral health toward equity hasn’t and won’t be easy. Join with us to make the recent tragic events a springboard to strengthen our resolve and a catalyst to ensure equity and justice prevails.