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New Grand Challenges Initiative Aims to Eradicate Racism

June 23, 2020
Ron Manderscheid
By Ron Manderscheid, Executive Director, NACBHDD and NARMH
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The opinions expressed by Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone and are not meant to reflect the opinions of the publication.

I am delighted to report that the Leadership Committee of the Grand Challenges (GC) Initiative voted unanimously earlier this month to undertake a 10-year project to eradicate racism in the United States.

The national GC initiative is being undertaken through the collective action of the social work field. In 2012, under the leadership of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW), and with the support of deans and directors of social work academic programs throughout the United States, AASWSW set up a committee to design and implement an initiative that encompasses 12 major grand challenges (GCs) for American society.

The GCs comprise 12 major problems. Four are problems of health, e.g., health disparities; four, problems of wellbeing, e.g., social isolation; and four, problems of equity, e.g., smart decarceration. Eradicating racism will join the current national efforts to address these 12 core problems. Conceptually, racism is a foundational challenge that undergirds each of the others.

Work already is underway to find, test and implement solutions to these very difficult problems. Each GC has a national team that is developing one or more solutions. Further, university and college social work programs are training students to address the GCs. Most significantly, the Suzanne Dworak Peck School of Social Work at the University of Southern California focuses its entire DSW program on the GCs. Every student is required to select one of the GCs and then develop, test and implement a solution to that issue.

The new GC to eradicate racism will focus on intervention and prevention. Work will be undertaken to develop a model for eradicating racism by identifying evidence-based and
practice-based interventions that ameliorate the negative outcomes of racism. Further, culturally-grounded upstream interventions and preventive efforts will be identified to eradicate the disadvantage that exists as a result of white supremacy.

Over the next 10 years, researchers, practitioners and policymakers will be encouraged to engage in a variety of activities that will advance the Eradicating Racism GC and ignite related achievements. These efforts will:

  • Focus on evidence-based and practice-based research that cultivates innovation to improve the conditions of daily life of people impacted by racism and facilitates systemic change on the individual, organization, community and societal levels.
  •  Advance community empowerment and advocacy for eradicating racism and white supremacy through solutions that create sustainable changes.
  •  Foster the development of an anti-racist social work workforce that promotes access to resources and opportunities, and encompasses transdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Promote teaching and learning within social work education programs that examines structural inequalities and white privilege, and their impact on individual and group outcomes.
  • Develop a policy agenda for eradicating racism and white supremacy from institutions and organizations, where structural racism is evident and causes the most damage.

We have known for decades that persons who are poor and disadvantaged have a much greater risk of developing behavioral health problems. Because minorities are overrepresented among these groups, they are at higher risk than are whites of developing behavioral disorders. Undoubtedly, racism does play a role in these disparities.

As we go forward, the behavioral health field must join the social work field in eradicating racism. Clearly, racism is a source of trauma, which then produces behavioral health problems for those subjected to it. Hence, eradicating racism is a key part of our prevention agenda.

Hats off to the Grand Challenge Leadership Committee. Eradicating racism is a bold initiative that can benefit all of us.

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