Ramsey County commissioners called racism a public health crisis on Tuesday, affirming their commitment to the county’s existing racial equity policy and ongoing work aimed at improving the lives of people of color.

The county leaders joined a growing chorus of local councils and boards acknowledging the devastating legacy of racism in the nation and state, using their pulpits to denounce systematic racism and call for accelerated change.

The Minneapolis City Council last week declared racism a public health issue, and the Hennepin County Board passed the same resolution three weeks ago.

The Ramsey board also voted to extend the county’s Racial Equity Policy Statement to cover elected officials. Until now, the policy implemented in 2019 was for county staffers.

Board Chairwoman Toni Carter called racial injustice an “ongoing and enduring crisis” that needs additional work and resources.

“This is not just about what happens to people of color. This is about what happens to all of us as we exist in an ecosystem together,” Carter said.

Ramsey County Public Health Director Kathy Hedin outlined a history of racism in America, starting with slavery in 1619 and winding all the way to contemporary economic and health disparities — including higher COVID-19 death rates for people of color.

“Today Black people are unfortunately living sicker and dying quicker than whites,” Hedin said. “Racism is and always has been a public health crisis. Everyone needs to play a part in solving this issue.”

Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo, her voice at times breaking, apologized for her role in systematic racism.

“As a white woman, I will say that I have participated, whether knowingly or unknowingly, willfully or unwillfully, in the system that has led to racial inequities in our community,” she said. “I personally want to apologize to all of our communities of color for my participation in anything that has led to systematic racism and inequality.

“I come from a multiracial family. This is an issue we talk about everyday.”