To all you public health professionals in local and regional government who want to advance racial equity (that’s all of you, right?), get to know GARE.

The Government Alliance on Race and Equity is a national network of governments that is addressing institutional racism and working to achieve more racially equitable communities in their own jurisdictions. At a Tuesday Annual Meeting session, representatives of several state governmental institutions in California discussed their experiences addressing racial equity through GARE.

Why focus on governments to address racial equity? Historical and institutional racism continues to shape government agencies and their work, including public health departments. But by coming to terms with the racism and bias that permeates their systems, these institutions can better serve all people in their communities.

“We have to actively work to reverse those power imbalances and we have to do this with urgency,” said Renae Badruzzaman of the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative.

While health equity was certainly not a new concept for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, “leading with race” — an underlying principle of the GARE model — opened the door to new ways of thinking, said Analilia Garcia, who works at the department. In public health, it’s common to talk about health equity but less so to talk about the role of governments in maintaining racial inequity.

“It was an opportunity to truly normalize conversations about race,” Garcia told attendees.

Another benefit to being part of the GARE network is learning alongside other institutions that are seeking to advance racial equity within their jurisdictions and organizations.

“We needed a cohort of state departments and agencies going through the same process that we were doing,” said Meredith Lee of the California Department of Public Health.

The California Strategic Growth Council also benefited from relationships with other institutions, some of which had been established before the organization joined GARE, said Julia Caplan of the council. Years of cross-cutting work in uplifting health in all policies allowed the council to leverage its relationships with other institutions, Caplan said.

While racial equity may be new territory even for the most progressive health departments, there’s still plenty to be learned. When asked about readiness for participating in GARE, the presenters agreed: There is no right way to prepare for the initiative, but governmental institutions need to go all in to advance racial equity.

“We’re trying to transform government and we’re pushing government to work outside ways that are typical,” Caplan said.