The May 23, 2023’s Board of Supervisors meeting was full of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) representation, including multiple appearances by our Health Equity Initiatives (HEI’s) across the agenda to spotlight Proclamations for:
- Pride Month in June to uplift our LGBTQIA-Two Spirit+ communities
- Commemorating Juneteenth as a celebration for our Black communities’ resilience and the end of slavery
- Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) Heritage Month in May
As a new Senior Community Program Specialist in the County, there were breath-taking moments that gave me hope in our democracy by seeing everyday heroes in action—and they look like me, and you!
Beginning with an act of solidarity, Supervisor Ray Mueller addressed a public comment that conflated COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” by holding accountability immediately and centering all of our humanity, including the community member who said it. As the meeting went on, HEI Chinese Health Initiative co-chair Alyson Suzuki, offered a concise, authentic message leveraging her perspective as an Asian American parent. Simply put, she said “words matter,” to further demonstrate the impact of the racist remark. It was a chilling moment.
Notably, another HEI Pride Initiative co-chair Dana Johnson (they/them), shared two public comments as someone who lives an intersectional life as a Black transgender non-binary activist. They called specifically for the Board to consider actions that would move beyond Proclamations.
Co-presenting with the BHRS Director Dr. Jei Africa, my teammate and Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator and Pacific Islander Initiative member Twila Dependahl stood in her power as she spoke of the hard work that HEI’s are doing in our communities. The preparation for this presentation took immense collaborative efforts with Community Health Planner Sylvia Tang generously sharing her wisdom, leadership, and support that was behind the scene yet still so critical.
On the other side of the room, there were beautiful exchanges of support and encouragement. For example, with genuine care and joy, Supervisor David Canepa elevated another HEI Filipino Mental Health Initiative co-chair Stephanie Balon, who embodies kapwa (Tagalog for “togetherness/shared self”). Throughout the meeting, Supervisor Noelia Corzo offered gratitude to community members for sharing their stories.
Shortly afterwards, I talked with another HEI African American Community Initiative co-chair, Delicia “Dee” Pennix who attended the meeting in person for the Juneteenth Proclamation and we shared mutual feelings of excitement for our work, for the connections we are making, and for what’s ahead in our communities.
We are all extraordinary, everyday heroes.
You can learn how you can get involved with our Health Equity Initiative Co-Chairs by visiting http://smchealth.org/hei.
Written by Kayla Tolentino (she/her), BHRS Office of Diversity & Equity