AAOC Ending African American Deaths from Despair – Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive, Webinar Series Opening Remarks Friday, June 5, 2020
“Words cannot express my sorrow at this heartbreaking moment in our nation’s history. Inexcusable violence against unarmed African Americans has gone unchecked for far too long. These crimes are indefensible.
We’re reminded at times like these that African American community members are in poorer health than white Americans FOR A REASON. Research on health disparities is clear: the trauma of experiencing and viewing relentless instances of violence and discrimination against people simply because of their race, along with structural racism that deprives African Americans of opportunities to achieve the same level of success as white Americans, takes a toll on African American mental and physical health.
It is in this context that I welcome you to this Ending African American Deaths from Despair webinar series. This conference has been in the planning stages for months, but it could not be more timely. Although the term “deaths from despair” was coined to refer to a recent spike in deaths among white Americans from opioid overdose, suicide and chronic alcoholism, African Americans bear a disproportionate burden of these deaths in Dane County. And we are concerned that trauma from recent events – violence plus the disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus on the Black community – will exacerbate this trend.
The goal of this webinar series is to offer concrete solutions and opportunities for involvement to prevent deaths from despair from the African American perspective. The program was planned by the African American Opioid Coalition, a group of Black leaders convened 3 years ago under the auspices of Safe Communities to reduce drug harm in the community.
I am excited to announce that this webinar series kicks off my Ending Deaths from Despair Initiative, launched with planning support from Safe Communities. In coming months we will convene a Task Force of community and clinical mental health, faith and business leaders, first responders and advocates to implement a coordinated plan to end deaths from despair: deaths from suicide, overdose and chronic alcoholism.
In addition to work beginning during this webinar series, our action plan will include making recovery coaching and peer support available via EMS and emergency rooms for people experiencing a suicidal crisis, building partnerships with gun shops to increase safe storage options, and continuing our important work to establish Dane County’s Universal Access Center.
It is significant that this work begins thanks to leadership of Dane County’s African American community. Through this webinar series, we will learn important lessons about connection and resilience that we can apply to our work community-wide. The African American Opioid Coalition is an innovator – and we appreciate their leadership and guidance as we move forward.
I am committed to continuing to work in partnership with the African American community to make Dane County a place of opportunity, fairness and justice for all who live here, and to work for the day when every person of color has access to the opportunity and safety they deserve, free from the trauma of racism.”