By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
Amid ongoing efforts to reckon with racism, policing and other divisions within La Mesa, the City of La Mesa Community Relations and Veterans Commission hosted a virtual educational event called “A community conversation on inclusivity” on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Panelists Dr. Rodney Hood and Leda Albright spoke to facilitator Gail Nugent on what inclusivity means and how people can take action to make La Mesa more inclusive.
Mayor Mark Arapostathis opened the meeting by saying, “La Mesa, like other cities, is looking to be more inclusive.”
Nugent said the meeting came to be because of the issues La Mesa has had since May, including protests over police brutality, riots, and the serious injury of Leslie Furcron.
Dr. Hood is a longtime resident of La Mesa. Within six months of moving to the city 34 years ago, he experienced an instance of racial profiling. A police officer stopped him on his way to his home around 3 a.m. after he finished a late shift at a local hospital and could not give a reason for why the doctor was being stopped. In the days that followed, Dr. Hood went to La Mesa Police Department headquarters and explained that he is a doctor and where he lives.
For him, the problem ceased and he was not contacted by officers again. However, not all Black residents in La Mesa can rely on their professional credentials to give them credibility.
In addition to his work as a clinician, Dr. Hood has researched and lectured extensively on the historic aspects of race, ethnicity, genetics and racism in medicine and the impacts on today’s health inequities. He served on the City of San Diego Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention as the public health representative and is the President of the Multicultural Health Foundation.
Before opening the floor to questions from Nugent and the public, Dr. Hood shared a powerpoint presentation that explained how systemic racism has led to differing health outcomes among Black Americans and other minorities, not a difference in lifestyle or genetics.
He explained that medical bias and discrimination can both lead to health problems, which is one of the reasons COVID-19 has been so devastating in Black and Latino communities. Dr. Hood said the life expectancy is shorter in the diverse South Bay neighborhood where his clinic resides than in La Mesa. This is partially because of pollution and other forms of environmental racism.
Dr. Hood pointed out that individual racism could go away, but those outcomes would be the same because of systems. He is pushing for equity so the conditions that sicken Black people and other minorities no longer exist.
Dr. Hood drew an example from his own life. He was diagnosed with hypertension and began taking medication to treat the condition. After taking his medication at work, he checked his blood pressure and saw that it was in a normal range. When he went home, he watched the news where he saw violence against and dehumanization of Black people. He checked his blood pressure again and found that it was high despite the medication due to the stress of watching the news.
The other panelist, Albright, does not reside in La Mesa. As a consultant, she conducts trainings on diversity, inclusion and equity throughout Southern California.
She commended La Mesa for already showing community resilience when volunteers gathered to clean up after the riots on May 30.
Through her work in other cities, she had ideas about how La Mesa could work to increase equity but her main point was that programs end. “Programs are throwing money at a problem, not really long-term helping people,” Albright said.
Instead, La Mesa needs transformation.
She also recommended leaders find out what the community actually wants instead of assuming what will help. Addressing smaller issues will help build trust ahead of major ones that need community buy in.
Many of the residents who wrote in were concerned about what they saw as increasing intolerance recently which is difficult to address while the community is separated during COVID-19. Albright offered ways to get involved in local committees and advisory groups to influence the direction of the city.
According to Albright, the work of building a better La Mesa does not solely fall on its Black residents. “[It’s] not the work of the Black community. All of us need to work this together or it’s not going to work.”
— Contributing editor Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.