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Legislation Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis Heads to the House Floor

Woman speaking
Del. Lashrece Aird speaking at a 2019 candidate forum. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*Joi Bass reported this story

The General Assembly’s House Committee on Rules voted Friday morning to send a resolution declaring structural racism as a public health crisis to the floor for a full vote. 

Del. Lashrece Aird (D-Petersburg) is the bill’s chief sponsor. She says systemic racism is a problem in Virginia, adding that it is critical for the Commonwealth to reckon with its past. 

“Virginia is ground zero for the racism that exists in our country, and as a result we have a responsibility to turn this around not just for individuals, but for our families and for our children,” Aird said. 

As the representative of the 63rd District, Aird says this is critical for her constituents, 47% of whom are Black, according to VPAP

“We have a diverse population of families. The one thing that breaks my heart is the fact that for generations, our families and a number of our citizens were never given a fair opportunity,” Aird said. 

She added that families in her district were met with systemic barriers to prevent them from reaching their full potential. 

The resolution advanced through committee on a 13-5 vote, with every Republican standing in opposition, including gubernatorial hopeful Del. Kirk Cox from neighboring Colonial Heights.  

Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Richmond), who is the chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, co-sponsored the resolution. He said this legislation has been in the works for a long time and is long overdue. 

“That’s the start of healing, and the first way to do that is to acknowledge the challenges that we have, not only in the past, but that exists today,” Bagby said. 

Bagby touted the work he has done with the Black Caucus to address racism and its underlying causes. 

“It shows up in education. It shows up not only in physical health care, but in mental health, in generational wealth, it shows up in financial institutions. It shows up in every corner of the commonwealth,” Bagby said. 

At both a press conference and during the committee meeting, advocates voiced their support for the legislation, including Janice Underwood. She is the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer in Gov. Ralph Northam’s cabinet. 

“We take one step closer toward declaring racism exactly what it is, a public health crisis,” Underwood said. 

She said getting to racism’s structural core is complex.  

“Treating the root cause of racism has proved more difficult than finding the vaccine for coronavirus, but Virginia is ready to reckon with our history and leverage the antidote to this 401-year health crisis,” Underwood said.