While National Minority Health Month has existed for more than 100 years (started as Negro Health Week by Booker T. Washington in 1915), many of the systemic issues surrounding health disparities and access facing Blacks, continue.

Calling good health “the true measure of race progress,” Washington rallied health departments, schools, churches, businesses, and professional associations, to actively engage Black communities where education and services are most needed. That mandate, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office on Minority Health, has not changed.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said that even as great successes have been charted in the decrease and elimination of some health conditions, others weigh disproportionately high among minorities. “We have made unprecedented strides in strengthening the health care and well-being of all Americans,” Burwell said in a release. “Our progress is clear. Life expectancy gaps are narrowing, and Americans, including racial and ethnic minorities, are living longer than ever before. Amidst this great progress, however, racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care persist across many communities . . . from serious health conditions as heart disease, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.”

Burwell said she remains confident that those issues can be transformed through more equitable policies, including additional support for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. “President Obama, just before he signed the Affordable Care Act into law, said: ‘That our generation is able to succeed in passing this reform is a testament to the persistence – and the character – of the American people, who championed this cause; who mobilized; who organized; who believed that people who love this country can change it.’ As a Department, we will strengthen our commitment in working with our partners to continue accelerating momentum toward a nation free of disparities in health and health care,” Burwell said.

This year’s theme for National Minority Health Month, “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation,” promotes not only access to health services, but a renewed commitment to outreach and early, preventative grassroots education. “To accelerate health equity in this era of health care and public health, we must bolster collaborations that reach across sectors such as education, justice, housing, and labor and confront the structural forces and social, economic, and political influences on the health of our communities,” J. Nadine Gracia, deputy assistant secretary for Minority Health said in a statement. “Let us join together in April, and throughout the year, in a renewed commitment to end health disparities and achieve health equity in America.”