Echoing Ida Dispels Myths and Gets Real About Health Care Reform

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

By Alicia M. Walters 
Echoing Ida writers L to R: Amber Phillips,
Elizabeth Dawes Gay, Cynthia Greenlee, Annika Leonard,
Shanelle Matthews, Jazmine Walker, Renee Bracey Sherman,
Malika Redmond, Jasmine Burnett,
Bianca Campbell, Alicia Walters, and Samantha Daley

Despite the shut down of the federal government, the Affordable Care Act, commonly and now affectionately known as ObamaCare, continues to roll out.  Yesterday, millions of uninsured and curious individuals began flooding to find out whether they really could get health coverage, many for the first time in their lives. Like clockwork, those who would deny millions access to the care they need are attempting to do so by also denying pay to millions of federal workers and those who need access to programs like WIC and Head Start. For those of us involved in Echoing Ida—the Strong Families project that highlights Black women’s voices—these attempts to deny our basic human rights to health care, food, and education are nothing new. But with the onset of ObamaCare, for the first time, our communities have, as Echoing Ida writer Jasmine Burnett puts it, “a unique opportunity to bury the medical wrongs of the past that have had a negative impact on Black Americans.”

And yet, those of us with long histories of such medical mistreatment—who have endured the ridicule of the nation as we attempt to access public programs to sustain our families—have a sense that the potential for our health equity may come at a price. When the first Black president made a way (albeit an insurance-company driven one) for us to access care, it came with hateful protests many of us would like to forget. For those protesters and the political right, ensuring health care to millions of people by expanding Medicaid is an opportunity to roll out the welfare queen tropes of old. As an estimated 11 to 13 million Americans, many of whom are people of color, begin accessing care, what will those protestors have to say? What will pundits and officials say about who deserves health care?

Rather than wait for the nonsensical attacks to begin, Echoing Ida is launching a campaign to put forth historical, critical, and seldom heard views on the complexity of health care and its relationship to the Black community.

We are writing from and to our own communities: because we deserve to know the truth about our own health disparities.

We are writing to educate the public: sharing the historical barriers to health care and solutions to overcome them.

We are writing to counter stereotypes: for we have cared for ourselves, our families, and communities by any means necessary and through the richness and strength of our bonds.

Already, Elizabeth Dawes Gay has shared a critical aspect of Black women’s health where unfortunately, ObamaCare falls short. In Where the Safety Net Won’t Catch Us, she shares why the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. is worse than that of many under-resourced countries; that while ObamaCare expands access to prenatal care for all women, it does nothing to impact what's really causing maternal deaths: the stress of racism.

While most mainstream news outlets talk about health care in the Black community solely as an issue of Medicaid expansion, Echoing Ida writer Taja Lindley discusses her personal challenges and decisions around obtaining health care as the daughter of generations of nurses and health care professionals. She shares her journey navigating the health exchanges in New York not as one who is afraid to access care, but knowing she deserves to afford it.

Renee Bracey Sherman and co-author Kelly Eusaint Lewis were published today in Ebony’s online magazine with an educational piece about the challenges faced by Black trans* people, one of the most marginalized and misunderstood communities.

Echoing Ida is not stopping there. Look out for pieces from other writers on breast cancer disparities and the ACA; whether the navigators will fulfill on cultural competency in historically disenfranchised Black communities; how Black communities have cared for ourselves despite centuries without adequate health care; a young person’s journey through ObamaCare; and a moving piece on safe motherhood for Black women.

This campaign is about more than ObamaCare, the latest rhetoric, or political fight. Echoing Ida is focusing on health care because we have a collective opportunity to focus on the health promotion of our communities that have been long described as unhealthy and unworthy of assistance. As always, we will be critical, honest, and candid. We will move you to action and shed light on injustice. As Ida B. Wells did, so we will continue to do toward stronger families and healthier communities.

Alicia M. Walters is the coordinator and a participant in Echoing Ida. She is founder and principal consultant at Creative Justice Works where she works with organizations on communications, policy advocacy, and movement-building. 

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