Applying a Race Equity Lens: A Call to Action for Human Services

APHSA is working to influence policies and practices that address structural bias and inequity, connect our members to resources, organizations, and best practices to apply a race equity lens, and build capacity within public human services to promote social and economic mobility and health and well-being for all races. In the coming months, we will work in alignment with state and local human services leaders to access the policy levers that move human services towards building an environment in which one’s race identity has no influence on how one fares in society.

No matter where we come from or what our life experiences have been, we share a common desire to be healthy and live well. Our ability to pursue these goals is lifted up by opportunities available to us; where we live, learn, work, and connect are fundamental to our growth and development. These factors, which we refer to as the social determinants of health and well-being, create the enabling conditions for people to thrive. Across these determinants, national data show that people of color are more likely to face structural barriers within the systems we all rely on to reach our potential. These persistent barriers are a call to action for human services organizations to address the root causes of racial disparities through policy and practice to enhance well-being for all people.

APHSA's Organizational Effectiveness (OE) Team helps agencies develop goals and objectives for advancing racial equity. Through the use of disaggregated data, diagnostic tools, and facilitation, they help leaders examine root cause factors that perpetuate race-based biases hindering equitable progression. As a practice, OE works to develop a healthy internal culture in addition to exploring system level strategies that generate real results. Learn more.

A Look at the Data: Racial Disparities in Social Determinants of Health and Well-Being


Employment — Access to stable and sufficient employment is fundamental to a person’s ability to achieve economic mobility. Yet, across all education levels, people of color on average have lower median wages than White individuals of the same education level (National Equity Atlas). This disparity is exacerbated by the fact that employment rates for Black men fell further and recovered more slowly than did White men’s during the Great Recession (Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality).


Education — Education is a key building block towards a brighter future for children. Yet, disparities in reading achievement between White children and Black and Hispanic children have remained stable for the past 40 years, and in fact grew during the 2000s. Across common metrics of academic achievement from pre-kindergarten through high school, disparities remain and in some cases, have grown (National Assessment of Educational Progress).


Health — From an early age, health outcomes differ along racial lines. The infant mortality rate for Black babies in the U.S. is more than twice that of White (Center for Disease Control). And Black children with asthma are more than twice as likely than White Children to be hospitalized or have an emergency department visit, and four times more likely to die from asthma (American Lung Association). These health disparities persist throughout life; black people have higher death rates than Whites in all age groups less-than 65 years (Center for Disease Control).


Wealth — Accumulation of wealth helps families weather storms and pass opportunities onto their children. While the median net worth for White households is $162,770, it is only $21,360 for Hispanic households and $16,300 for Black households (Peter G. Peterson Foundation). This translates to just 13 cents and 10 cents of net wealth respectively for Hispanic and Black households compared to every dollar of wealth for White households.


Housing — People who live in highly segregated and isolated neighborhoods have lower housing quality, higher concentrated poverty, and less access to jobs, transportation, and education. For some racial minorities, the effects of historical racial biases in the housing market continue to linger. For example, younger Black city residents (born between 1985 and 2000) are just as likely to live in a high-poverty neighborhood as the previous generation (born between 1955 and 1970) (Brookings Institute).

Community and Social Supports

Community and Social Supports — State and local human services agencies play a key role helping provide opportunity for all, yet evidence suggests the potential for structural biases within these systems. For example, compared to Whites, Black parents are more likely to be reported for abuse and neglect of their children and are more likely to have their cases be investigated and substantiated when compared to White parents of similar risk scores (Child Welfare Information Gateway).


Incarceration — Within the criminal justice system, data suggest people of color experience more severe sentencing and higher rates of incarceration. Black men who commit the same crime as White men receive federal prison sentences that are, on average, nearly 20% longer (U.S. Sentencing Commission) and Black individuals are incarcerated in state prisons at an average rate of 5.1 times that of White individuals (Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics).

Understanding the Need for a Race Equity Lens

Applying a race equity lens means that at the core of our work we are actively seeking to illuminate disparate outcomes and paying disciplined attention to race and ethnicity while analyzing problems, looking for solutions and defining success. In our work, this involves actively working to understand the environmental and structural root causes preventing social and economic mobility and health and well-being for all races. Within our national context and point in history, APHSA is committed to be an accountable actor and supportive ally in systematically eliminating racial inequity.

In March 2021, APHSA introduced the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Peer Community which provides a platform for current and future leaders to discuss policy and practice related to advancing racial equity in health and human services at the state, local, and community levels. For more information about this group, please contact Jennifer Kerr, APHSA OE Director.

Well-intentioned efforts to implement race-neutral policies often perpetuate existing systematic discrimination among historically excluded groups. A race equity lens is an essential tool to address structural racism, including both explicit and implicit bias that undermines the well-being of all races. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in institutions because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple systems and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism (Race Equity Tool, 2016). Yet, some organizations are using innovative approaches to deploy a race equity lens to make both internal and external changes in policy and practice. These approaches can shed light not only on the root causes of racial inequity, but also illuminate the shifting dynamics of power, race, and identity.

Incorporating a Race Equity Lens into Organizational Culture

Incorporating a race equity lens into the work of human services agencies starts with understanding the problem and building internal buy-in to address it. Numerous resources have been developed by leading experts in the field that offer guidance on how organizations can begin walking down this path. While the details in these tools may vary and need to be adapted to each organization’s specific context, common themes include:

  • Prepare your organization – Building a race equity lens into your organization’s work requires an understanding among staff of the problem, its relevance to your work, and a shared vocabulary to engage in meaningful discussions. In the early phases of your work, it is often helpful to identify leaders within the organization to help champion the cause of race equity and to name race equity work as a strategic imperative in your organizational planning documents.
  • Guide your work through a framework – Following a structured framework to shift your work to include a race equity lens can help provide a pathway to make the needed changes. While there are many tools available, they generally emphasize the use of data to help drive improvements and incrementally shift organizations from internal assessment of policies, processes, and belief systems to external assessment of ways to address root causes within populations served.
  • Operationalize your work for the long-term – As a clear action plan takes form, organizations should consider strategies that embed race equity practices into routine organizational processes. Integrating this work into your communications, human resources, contracting, policy analysis, reporting, and organizational planning processes can help ensure your efforts lead to a permanent cultural shift.

APHSA Resources/Publications

As we continue to apply a race equity lens to everything we do, we also strive to share stories that showcase our members and partners’ race equity journeys.

2020 Call to Action Series (as seen in Policy & Practice):

Race Equity Champions (as seen in Policy & Practice):

Additional Resources

Listed below are additional resources that can be used by human services agencies to develop action plans to develop a race equity lens and address structural bias and inequity.

Resources Description
APHSA Response - USDA Equity RFI
(July 16, 2021)
APHSA comment letter in response to a Request for Information issued by the federal government on "Identifying Barriers in USDA Programs and Services; Advancing Racial Justice and Equity and Support for Underserved Communities at USDA."
APHSA Response – OMB Equity RFI
(July 6, 2021)
APHSA comment letter in response to a Request for Information issued by the federal government on "Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities."
Racial Equity Action Plans: A How-to Manual
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)
Framework for local governments to apply a theory of change for implementing a racial equity action plan.
Racial Equity: Getting to Results
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)
Tool to assist jurisdictions using a race equity lens to identify metrics and implement a community process to have greater impact in their work.
Racial Equity Toolkit: An Opportunity to Operationalize Equity
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)
Tool to bring a race equity lens into operations and decision-making within government agencies.
Racial Equity Core Teams
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)
Guide for organizations to establish and scale cross-departmental core teams that help lead efforts to achieve equitable systems change.
Advancing Racial Equity and Transforming Government: A Resource Guide to Put Ideas into Action
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)
Government-focused guide to operationalizing a race equity lens.
Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture
(Equity in the Center)
Reference guide to help organizations build and expand capacity to advance race equity.
Placing Equity Concerns at the Center of Knowledge Development
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)
Overview of elements needed to use knowledge and evidence in a manner that places equity at the center of human services planning.
Moving Forward Together: CSSP’s Journey to Center Equity, Inclusion, and Justice
(Center for the Study of Social Policy)
Short narrative summarizing the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s journey towards advancing race equity.
Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide
(Annie E. Casey Foundation)
Reference guide describing seven steps to undertaking race equity and inclusion work.
Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive, & Antiracist Organization
(Safe House)
Brief packet with frameworks, definitions, and resources for building an inclusive and tolerant organizational culture.
National Equity Atlas Regional, state, and national data and resources for policymakers interested in growing an equitable economy.
Talking Productively About Race in the Colorblind Era
(Kirwan Institute)
Report examines the variances of racial colorblindness and its implications on race equity.
TFAH Webinar Series on Achieving Health Equity through Collaborations, Innovative Funding and Leadership
(Trust for America Health)
Webinar explores strategies to promote health and race equity
The White Ally Toolkit Workbook
(David Campt, 2018)
Guide for organizations to achieve racial equity through using active listening, empathy, and personal storytelling
Opportunity Insights
(Harvard University)
Report explores racial disparities in income mobility in the U.S
Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
(Cook Ross)
Study examines unconscious bias and testing mechanisms and prevention strategies
Roots of Health Inequality
(National Association of County Health Officials)
Online learning collaborative that explores root causes of health inequality
Creating a Racial Equity & Social Justice Policy
(Montgomery County Government)
Tool to achieve racial equity and social justice in Montgomery County in Maryland
Communication Guide
(Government Alliance on Race and Equity)
Tool to communicate about race and structural racial inequalities
Communicating on Race and Racial Economic Equity
(Prosperity Now)
Tool to communicate about race and understand racial wealth divide