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Vanessa Briggs: ‘Upstream solutions are key to authentic engagement of our communities’

June 5, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was written by Vanessa Briggs, the president and CEO of the Brandywine Health Foundation.
“I can’t breathe.” Tragic evidence of police brutality captured on video and shared for the world to see. A world that has too often questioned the veracity of people of color when the subject turns to unfair treatment by those sworn to protect and serve.

Well, now they have seen it first-hand. And now, they know the truth. People of color cannot sleep in their own beds while Black, jog while Black or even go bird watching while Black without the threat of physical harm or even death.

From the onset of slavery in this country, Africans were conveniently considered less than human and unentitled to America’s promise of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Today, that attitude manifests as systemic racism and is asserted daily in ways big and small under the guise of white privilege.

Across this nation we are witnessing in real time the consequence of long-term social injustice, racial inequities, and prejudice.

Vanessa Briggs. (Courtesy)

I know all too well what it is like. Despite my education, dedication, and life-time commitment to creating healthy communities for all, I wake each morning expecting at some point to be confronted by distrust and doubt simply because of the color of my skin.

But I consider myself fortunate. God has spared me and my family from much of the strife and intolerance suffered by countless people of color as they struggle each day to put food on the table, raise their children and remain hopeful that the promise of the American dream will someday be theirs to share.

Our responsibility to our mission

With all of the philanthropic dollars pouring into communities to address the lack of affordable healthcare, mental health services, housing, youth programs, access to healthy food, and jobs with livable wages, what has really changed? How have these charitable acts made sustainable differences or gotten to the root causes of the challenges faced by our nation’s most vulnerable?

It is like trying to carry water in a bucket with huge holes at the bottom. In order to make any progress you have to acknowledge that there is a problem with the bucket and work to fix it.

From our Partners

The death of George Floyd is forcing many Americans to take a good look at the buckets of hope for a better life that people of color have been carrying for a long time. Nothing will change until we deal with the gaping holes of injustice and inequity.

Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” To me, what matters is improving the health of our most vulnerable populations and I cannot and will not remain silent. I stand prepared to take the bold and necessary actions to lead the Brandywine Health Foundation into the future as we strive to carry out our vision: A thriving, inclusive and healthy community for all.

Our guidepost to equality

In 2019, Brandywine Health Foundation’s board of directors approved our Guiding Principles: Community Engagement, Inclusiveness, Equity, Collective, Innovation, Leadership, Stewardship, and Accountability. We created the theme — Listen, Learn and Lead — which embodies the process that we feel is key to outstanding community service. Please visit the website to read the board chairs joint statement on racial equity.

Our action

As a result of our 2018-2019 “Let’s Talk Series,” we developed our third strategic priority:  Community Voice. Thanks to a generous $100,000 grant from the Philadelphia Foundation, the Brandywine Health Foundation has begun to raise the funds needed to lead real positive community-driven change.

The main goal of our Community Voice strategy is to build community capacity and leadership. This will in turn increase responsibility, enhance communication and decision-making skills that will ultimately influence systems, policies, and distribution of community resources.

It is clear that business as usual will no longer suffice. Upstream solutions are key to authentic engagement of our communities. We must work together to implement actions that dismantle the root causes of social injustice and health disparities. We cannot rest until people of color can live without bearing the tremendous weight of institutional and systemic racism. Only then can all Americans truly breathe free.


For more information on how you can be a part of the Brandywine Health’s Community Voice initiative, please contact Vanessa B. Briggs at


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