Olmsted County identifies racism as a public health issue

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(ABC 6 News) – The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution identifying racism as a widespread public health issue Tuesday. 

The 135-page report is the culmination of two years of research into systemic racism in Olmsted County. The board of commissioners asked for this report to act as a roadmap towards a healthier, more equitable community.

According to the American Public Health Association, Olmsted County is one of 256 counties across the country, and one of two counties in Minnesota, to identify racism as a public health issue.

“As a society we have trouble talking about these issues. On the other hand it’s a conversation that we need to have as a community,” said Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden.

A committee made up of volunteers from the Olmsted County Human Rights Commission and the Olmsted County Public Health Services Advisory Board, gave commissioners recommendations on how to better support minority populations. 

The committee surveyed Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community members. Those community members said systemic racism in Olmsted County most impacts criminal justice, housing and home ownership, and financial stress.

“In any good democratic process, everyone has the opportunity to influence change,” said one of the volunteer committee members during the presentation.

For example in criminal justice, the committee recommends making it free and easier to expunge records for people with minor offenses.

And, Olmsted County data shows severe disparities between races when it comes to financial stress. 

The poverty rate for Black Olmsted County residents is 39.1%. Compare that to just 5.7% for white residents.

“What are we doing well? Where can we do more? How do we really learn and grow from the changing conditions around us?” Kiscaden questioned.

The county says they have staff ready to start implementing these recommendations immediately. 

The full report can be found here.