In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
We have been deeply impacted as part of this network of mutuality during the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing racial injustice that shows itself throughout the health and human services system.
As we reflect on Dr. King's life and on his commitment to justice for all, I think much of what he said and fought for during his lifetime are still very relevant and necessary today. Each year, to commemorate Dr. King, many Americans engage in acts of service to honor his memory. I encourage us to also think about how we can engage ourselves, our families, our neighbors, and our work community in the pursuit of systemic change.
We are no strangers here at IDHS to community service. Dr. King instilled passion for community service and also knew that only systemic change can create long-term solutions to challenges like poverty and inequality.
We can honor Dr. King by leaning into conversations and relationships that aren't always comfortable, but that push back against racism and bigotry and help us learn and grow. We can encourage our neighbors, families, and faith communities to stand together against systems of injustice. We can do the work to recognize how we may be complicit in perpetuating inequities, and work to eradicate them.
In an address from 1967, Dr. King wrote: "Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future."
I am hopeful his words and actions inspire us to build a future worthy of that faith. As human services providers, it is a privilege to be able to help, to heal, and to empower. And, as part of the IDHS family, you are on the frontlines in the fight for justice for all.
In honor of what would have been Dr. King's 93rd birthday, we will continue his work at IDHS to advance equity and racial justice. Staff at IDHS have taken many steps forward in this regard.
Together, we have:
- Trained staff to recognize and understand how implicit bias impacts our work, and to take steps to address that bias;
- Partnered with the University of Illinois Chicago's Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy to create and implement racial equity training for staff, including starting our second training cohort next month;
- Identified small and people of color-led organizations in communities across Illinois to provide support for navigating the State's grantmaking process so they can do business with the State;
- Examined and revised funding solicitation language and processes to ensure that community partners are aligned with our mission to advance equity and racial justice, including recognizing organizational leadership that reflects the communities being served;
- Reviewed hiring practices to help make our staff more diverse;
- Funded racial healing activities across the State to help communities bridge racial divides;
- Updated policies and practices to help ensure that every IDHS staff person and customer is treated with kindness, dignity, and respect, regardless of their race, zip code, or disability.
This important work continues. I share Dr. King's optimism and am inspired by his vision. In these turbulent times, IDHS has to be ever more committed to supporting and building better, stronger, and united communities.
We must always strive to do better at seeing and respecting the shared humanity of all people, and to reimagining systems that privilege some over others. We have to put faith in our future. I hope and trust that we, the people of IDHS, will embrace and live out the tenets of justice and equality that Dr. King spent his life advancing.
Grace B. Hou