Reflections on the 2022 OCG Summit: The Connection Between Data and Health Equity

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By Jason Lacsamana, St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund

Looking back at the recent OC Grantmaker’s Summit, I continue to be inspired by the movement toward innovation, collaboration, justice, action, and equity that we see in our region. I had the pleasure of moderating the morning panel in the health equity track. One speaker during the panel “How Good Data Can Advance Health Equity” was Dr. Manuel Pastor, a dedicated community partner and director of the Equity Research Institute at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Pastor spoke passionately about how reaching equity begins with seeing and understanding that if we talk about those “left” behind, we mean that they were actually “kept” behind. Laws, policies, systems, and organizations have been structured to create systems of inequity. As Professor Pastor said, “income inequality between races today becomes racial inequality tomorrow.” We need to understand that it isn’t just about who has what but making sure that what they have is equitable.

Equitable education requires that public schools in marginalized neighborhoods offer the same quality of education, higher learning paths, and support services as schools in more funded districts. Financial equity means BIPOC borrowers are given the same interest rates as similarly qualified white borrowers. Health equity doesn’t just mean more health services access or clinical measures. It is exploring the root causes of inequities, uncovering harmful policies and systems, and eliciting change to promote well-being. This is in no way an exhaustive list but rather illustrates equity in action.

The systems that create and continue to allow inequities to exist weren’t built overnight. As Dr. Pastor said at the Summit, “We must be impatient about inequity but remain diligent, focused, and patient about our strategy for reaching equity.”

Early this Fall, St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund (SJCPF) and The California Endowment shared key findings from the “Beyond Equity: Seeking Liberation, Autonomy and Justice in Orange County” report. It is a comprehensive look at the actions that led to our modern-day inequities in property and housing, labor, education, migration, and diaspora. SJCPF commissioned the report and actively engaged and convened experts to compiling the report, with Orange County Grantmakers playing an integral part in rolling it out.

As the opening statement of the Executive Summary expresses, “The root causes of inequity cannot be understood nor the pathways for addressing it be successful without examining the historical and cultural context that gave rise to it.” The report is one piece of the equity puzzle. In Orange County, we are lucky to have a network of dedicated and passionate equity changemakers. 

Taken together, having the data while understanding the historical context should lead us toward a more equitable society.  I will add that the additional ingredient is to design our equity strategy with empathy, connection, and justice.  I was struck by a data point and explanation from Dr. Pastor.  The median age of white residents in Orange County is about 20 years older than the median age of Latino residents.  Within this data is a story of a generational divide and cultural difference, such that a large segment of our community do not see themselves in the younger generation.  Without this connection, the lens through which policies and resources are prioritized is often seen through an incomplete context, and those who are in decision making positions cannot see themselves in those who are then “othered” in our community. 

Adding the values of empathy, connection, and justice in utilizing the data and history will allow us to see ourselves in all of our neighbors, to see the issues and impacts through their eyes, and see their kids as our own kids.  Only when that happens, our shared journey toward equity be set in the right path.

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Wajahat Ali

“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.” — Mara Gay, New York Times

Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”

In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”

Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.

As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.