Highlights and Specifics

OCTOBER 15, 2022


The Invisible Laws and Policies that Create Illness, Inequality, Disenfranchisement and Discontent in America. How Our Laws and Policies Affect the Health, Wellness and Flourishing of a Nation and What We Can Do about It

Conference Goals
Those of us working in healthcare or working with under-served and justice-involved youth/adults (HomeBoy Industries, CRED, StreetSolid Industries) are well aware of the fallout from suboptimal social determinants of health: the crippling physical, emotional and psychological effects created by poverty and the man-made environments we have built and allow to exist. Sometimes, though, we are unable to see the “bigger picture” causes. This conference is designed to open eyes to the invisible laws and policies that create illness, inequality, disenfranchisement, and discontent in America. Through a diverse slate of speakers (healthcare, business, law, public health, economics, politics, etc.) our goal is to educate, focus, prioritize, and commit to action. Only by embracing change can we contribute to a healthier more actualized nation and thriving global society.

Additional Details on Speaker Topics

Invisible Laws
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades the human personality is unjust.” Martin Luther King goes on to say, “An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself.”  Historically, redlining (difficulty getting a loan if you live in poor or minority neighborhoods), the Commodity Exchange Act (which allowed Washington politicians to trade stocks on insider information), and pre-Civil Rights laws allowing poll taxes (a tax that must be paid in order to vote) and literacy tests to keep African-Americans from voting, are all examples of unjust laws. But there are present-day laws that are equally unfair. In his presentation, Dr. Sharfstein will explore current “invisible laws” that continue to exact a toll on the human personality.

Economic Policies
Economic policies such as regressive property, sales and excise taxes are just a few of the policies that perpetuate poverty and inequality in the US. These taxes, levied equally on all citizens, demand that the poor pay the same amount (and thus a greater percentage of their total holdings) as the wealthy. Dr. Stiglitz will examine other less visible policies that need to change in order create a more just and enfranchising world.

Social Determinants of Health
As defined by the CDC, the social determinants of health are: “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life risks and outcomes.” This talk will examine the effects that these social determinants can have on health and human advancement.

Social Determinants of Health and Survival in Humans and Other Animals
The social environment, both in early life and adulthood, is one of the strongest predictors of morbidity and mortality in humans. Evidence from long-term studies of other social mammals indicates that this relationship is similar across many species. In addition, experimental studies show that social interactions can causally alter animal physiology, disease risk, and life span itself. These findings highlight the importance of the social environment to health and mortality as well as Darwinian fitness—outcomes of interest to social scientists, biologists, and politicians alike. Dr. Snyder-Mackler will explore these issues in depth.

The Role of Inequality in the Collapse of Civilizations
According to acclaimed anthropologist Joseph Tainter, inequality was a common contributing cause of the collapse of civilizations and complex societies. However, he did not specifically examine inequality as a driving force of collapse, nor enfranchisement as a factor inherent in resilience. Dr. Clark will examine collapse through a lens of inequality and disenfranchisement and bring forth perspectives that may prove useful in our shared future on the planet.

Changing Unfair Laws and Policies via Business
Business is becoming aware of their key role in shaping the norms by which we live and, by extension, the health of society. This panel discussion will examine what is being done to foster equity and enfranchisement by businesses, what more could be done and the benefits to us all.

Change via the Written Word
Journalism has always played a key role in inciting change. One example is when Congress passed the Stock Act in 2012 following a 60-Minutes news exposé on congressional insider trading. Another example is the 1980s Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles demonstrating that Atlanta banks were still lending preferentially in lower-income White neighborhoods but not in middle-income or even upper-income Black neighborhoods. An interview of Mutale Nkonde by  Dr. Anya Schiffrin will examine the role that journalism has played in the past -- and must continue to play in the future if we are to continue towards a more just and resilient society.

Change on the International Level and The Role of Children in Change
Children’s struggle for the rights of their community is central to the American history of social change. The legal fight against segregation was fought by school children in Brown v. Board of Education; children held implacably for freedom of speech when protesting the Vietnam War in Tinker v. Des Moines; and children are currently fighting against the climate crisis in US courts and in the European Court of Human Rights.  What would it look like if American children were to argue for their rights to live in a safe and equitable society - to fight against the invisible laws and policies that create inequality and disenfranchisement in America and the world?  Dr. Grahn-Farley will act as presenter on this important topic.

Change via Art
Throughout history, plays, movies and literature have captured the human heart and helped to incite change -- works like Death of a Salesman, A Doll’s House, and MTV Shuga.  (MTV Shuga, with over 550 million viewers, did more to change attitudes about HIV in Africa than all of the public health efforts combined). One of the great challenges today is that we often feel untouched by the problems of others and by global issues like climate change. We do not feel strongly enough that we are part of a global community part of a larger humanity. Simply presenting data often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and disconnected, unempowered and immobilized. This panel discussion will explain how this is where art can make a difference. It can make us feel strongly, instill urgency and move us to action.