How our worst health crisis can lead to a new ─ and better ─ normal

How we deploy vaccines to control COVID-19 will define not only public health, but our moral health

A man holds an arm and watches as a nurse administers a vaccine.
Photo: SDI Productions/iStock

The following is an opinion piece by Ridgway White and La June Montgomery Tabron, co-chairs of CMF’s Michigan Philanthropy COVID-19 Working Group. The piece was published in Bridge Michigan on March 12.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our communities, our economy and — most important — our children. We support the ramping up of vaccines to stop the spread of the pandemic, but as leaders of organizations centered on equity and concerned for the human condition, we also remain clear in our view that these life-saving medicines need to be distributed and administered first to those most at risk.

The consequences of the spread of this deadly virus have disproportionately affected communities of color. Across the country, Black people are experiencing inordinately high rates of severe illness and death from COVID-19, and the disparities are even more alarming in Michigan. While the virus does not discriminate, the way our systems provide treatment and access to support does — and that did not begin with COVID-19. We see the effects of long-standing, compounded marginalization on Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color in education, health, housing and more.

We serve as co-chairs for the Michigan Philanthropy COVID-19 Working Group, a committee of two dozen foundation leaders and partners convened through the Council of Michigan Foundations. Recognizing the existing inequities amplified during this crisis, the Working Group has made strides to help connect, strengthen and mobilize our sector’s response, while also identifying opportunities for policy reform.

By bringing together experts, data and unvarnished analyses, our Working Group has forged a clear set of priorities to advance more equitable outcomes for Michigan communities, children and families that will live on well beyond the pandemic. These efforts have underscored the need to use quality data and to be active, engaged listeners in our communities so that we can advance real-time knowledge sharing and truly support our fellow Michiganders.

Clear, accurate information about the vaccines — including their availability — should be widely and readily accessible, and there should be transparency about who is receiving the vaccine at each stage of the process. It is critical that decision-makers use data to deploy the vaccine effectively, efficiently and equitably so that those who need it most are thoughtfully included in the planning. It is critical that we recognize and address barriers to access. And in the meantime, it is critical we each continue doing our part to prevent the spread.

This work is hard, complicated and fraught with deep-rooted feelings of fear, confusion and mistrust, but it is in crisis that we can find more strength than we ever knew existed. Crisis can also be a reminder of just how important partnerships are to creating lasting change. By working together, using data to inform our decision-making and maintaining a lens toward equity, we can help Michigan move forward stronger than ever.

This IS the equity challenge of our time — how we respond today will ripple forward for years to come.

We cannot go “back to normal” with inequities left unchecked. We must create a new normal, one that goes beyond the pandemic, in which race is no longer a defining factor in opportunities for success, well-being and life expectancy. This is our time to create a new, more equitable path forward — together.


La June Montgomery Tabron
President and CEO
W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Ridgway White
President and CEO
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation