In Pittsburgh visit, NAACP leader urges equity in health care

Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, speaks Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Highmark Auditorium, Downtown.
Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, speaks Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Highmark Auditorium, Downtown.
Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Health care in America needs to be more equitable, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said Wednesday during a visit to Pittsburgh.

For that to happen, the health care industry needs to work with schools, social justice organizations and the business community to create a “culture of health care,” said Cornell William Brooks, who spoke to about 150 Highmark Health employees at the Highmark Auditorium, Downtown, as part of the health insurance giant's celebration of Black History Month.

“Health care companies are not alone in this endeavor,” Brooks told reporters before his speech. “This is really a major opportunity moment, not just for this company, not just for this city, but in fact, for the nation as a whole.”

President of the NAACP since 2014, Brooks said community members should be included in conversations about medical coverage.

“It means thinking out of the box. It means everyone thinking beyond their assigned roles,” said Brooks, a lawyer and ordained minister.

For example, the NAACP works with African-American pastors to help educate the black community on HIV and AIDS, he said.

“Pittsburgh is a great American city,” Brooks said. “This is a city of ingenuity and innovation, a city of enterprise and entrepreneurship. It is also a city, like many American cities, wrestling with how do you ensure the health and well-being of our citizens.”

And Pittsburgh, like many cities, has dealt with police-involved shootings and altercations between police and community members, he said.

In one recent shooting, Port Authority police killed Bruce Tyrone Kelley Jr., a 37-year-old homeless man, on Jan. 31 in Wilkinsburg after he fatally stabbed a police dog.

While Brooks said he wasn't familiar with the details of that shooting, he added: “All lives matter, whether your skin is black or your uniform is blue. But we need to be clear: When a young African-American male is 21 times more likely to lose his life at the hands of the police than his white counterpart, we have a problem.”

Brooks' visit occurred on the same day the federal government sued Ferguson, Mo., after its city council voted to revise an agreement aimed at improving the way police and courts treat poor people and minorities in the St. Louis suburb.

Ferguson has been under Justice Department scrutiny since 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson 18 months ago.

The Justice Department complaint accuses Ferguson of routinely violating residents' rights and misusing law enforcement to generate revenue — a practice the government alleged was “ongoing and pervasive.”

“We're disappointed that they've not yet reached a settlement, but we're confident that we're going to secure justice,” Brooks said.

The Associated Press contributed. Tony Raap is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7827 or traap@tribweb.com.

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