Politics and Government

Health commissioner: State office dedicated to African American health ‘beacon of hope’

A group of people dance at the capital
TKO Drumline performed at the ceremonial launch of the Office of African American Health on Friday.
Anika Besst | MPR News

A new state office dedicated to improving the health and well-being of African Americans in Minnesota held a ceremonial launch Friday at the Capitol.

Minnesota’s Office of African American Health (OAAH), established through legislation in 2023, is a part of the Minnesota Department of Health. 

“The Office of African American Health will help take a new lens and partnership with our programs. And put community at the forefront, develop some new solutions, push the policy levers, and engage in a new way,” said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham. 

She says the office uses community partnerships, targeted initiatives, grants, and policy change efforts to improve the health of the African American community in the state. 

The OAAH focuses on identifying and addressing the health disparities faced by African American communities in Minnesota. In a statement, they describe that the disparities “stem from historical and cumulative discrimination and disadvantages,” that relate to housing, education, employment and health care. 

Health Equity Assistant Commissioner Dr. Robsan Tura says this is a historic office for Minnesota's Department of Health. 

“It is time for us as an organization in the state to engage with this community in a meaningful way to address the generational trauma in this community. So the inequities that are long standing inequities perpetuated by structural racism, perpetrated by structural inequity,” Tura said. “So for me, it’s a historical moment to say, we hear you and we’re here for you.” 

The 2023 legislation also created the African American Health State Advisory Council and a grant system for community-based health organizations. 

The director of the office, DaVonna Rucker, has a history of advocating for equity and looks forward to the work of the office. She is grateful for the work of those before her who she says, “saw fit to create a space such as this.” 

“For over a decade, I have dedicated my career to advancing equity in the Twin Cities metro area. And I cannot understate the pride that I had in being able to stand before you all today and radically and explicitly name who I am called to serve in this life,” Rucker said. 

Cunningham, along with other speakers at the launch, called out the new chapter that has been created by this office’s establishment. 

“The office is more than a new department branch. It is a beacon of hope and a firm commitment to equity, and embodies our strategic efforts to tackle the unique challenges and disparities that African American communities face statewide,” Cunningham said.