Last week, Colorado Springs City Council decided El Paso County Public Health's board didn’t need representation from women of color, opting to replace Councilwoman Yolanda Avila, who is Latina, with a white man. It’s almost as if there haven’t been yearlong discussions about equity all around the country. Or maybe leadership in the Springs just haven’t been listening to the rising voices of the disenfranchised?
Council opted to replace Avila, who represents the Southeast, with brand-new councilor, Dave Donelson, who represents District 1. Avila just started her second term — she was elected to the board of health in 2019, and served on it during its most challenging year, helping connect health officials with those who most needed assistance during the pandemic. Last year, she represented the city’s most diverse neighborhoods and the ones with the highest rate of COVID infections in the county.
Apparently, that means nothing to the majority of Council. Instead, they went with a political neophyte who is woefully unprepared for the region's health challenges.
While Public Health officials have been on the frontlines of the fight against COVID, there’s so much more the organization does. Getting up to speed isn’t going to be quick or easy for Donelson — restaurant and pool inspections; day care inspections; health indicators; Women, Infant and Children programs; food safety; land use planning; and tobacco cessation programs are all part of Public Health's mission.
Here’s a big one: researching and working to erase health disparities in El Paso County. You know, like the social and systemic issues that mean if you live in the Southeast that your life expectancy is 16 years less than if you live in Donelson's District 1.
Or what about working to address vaccine hesitancy among people of color in Colorado Springs. They’ll listen to Donelson, right?
Avila was the sole woman of color on the board. Removing her means board members Dr. Richard Vu (of Matthews-Vu Health Clinic) and Longinos Gonzales Jr. are the only remaining people of color — and they’re both men. They haven’t experienced the challenges many women face, and now those women have lost a vital voice on a public board.
Instead, the residents of the Southeast will continue to face an uphill battle to be heard, understood and included in this community.