Skip to Content

Eyes on Equity: Carrying 2023 Wins into the Year Ahead

By Joseph Villela, Director of Government Relations

Looking back on 2023, I find myself thinking about the issues that defined the political landscape and impacted the California communities we serve, such as racial equity, gun violence prevention, reproductive justice, health care, and more. While it’s hard to believe that the year is almost over, these are some of the issues that defined this year and that I anticipate will be with us going into 2024.

The Challenges and the Wins

Advancing Racial Equity

We have been encouraged by California’s ongoing commitment to racial equity, including Governor Newsom’s executive order directing agencies to add practices advancing equity. In addition, the creation of the state’s first Racial Equity Commission showed California's commitment to expanding opportunity and tackling disparities (and we were gratified and excited that Cal Wellness’ board secretary Angelica Salas and board member Virginia Hedrick were appointed to the commission). However, we are concerned about the continuing attacks on racial equity, especially at the federal level — such as the affirmative action decision from the Supreme Court this year.

Given these challenges, we believe that the philanthropic sector must prepare their resources to fight back against court challenges that endanger diversity, equity, and inclusion. Racial equity continues to be an area that Cal Wellness fights for, and the racial disparities in health and health care have never been more pronounced. Cal Wellness is proud to support organizations working toward racial equity, such as the Equal Justice Society, which advances health and racial equity through law and public policy, implicit bias training, and alliance building in California. Other grantees we’ve partnered with, such as Black Equity Collective, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and the East Bay Community Foundation, work with movements and communities to advance racial equity and transform political, social, and economic outcomes.

Supporting Gun Violence Prevention

In the light of the tragic mass shooting in Monterey Park at the beginning of the year, we saw subsequent legislative action this year in California around gun violence prevention. New laws strengthened public carry regulations, improved school safety and gun violence intervention programs, updated the definition of a firearm to include ghost gun parts, and strengthened the process for removing firearms from people who are prohibited from owning them. California also created the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, and nationally, President Biden announced the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

Since 1992, Cal Wellness has supported gun violence prevention through investments in research, policy advocacy, and innovative models addressing gun violence prevention. Partnering with grantee organizations such as Advance Peace, Community Justice Reform Coalition, and Health Alliance for Violence Intervention has been integral in helping to secure ongoing gun violence prevention efforts throughout the state.

Furthering Reproductive Justice

This year, in the shadow of the fall of Roe v Wade in 2022, reproductive justice efforts stepped once again into the spotlight. In California, Governor Newsom signed bills that provided stronger protections for providers delivering abortion care, expanded the health care workforce, and protected patient reproductive health care information. Meanwhile, the Reproductive Freedom Alliance united a coalition of 21 governors committed to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom in their states — the largest such coalition ever assembled.

Throughout our history, Cal Wellness has been a vigorous advocate for reproductive justice, and we fund a range of organizations providing direct services and engaging in policy advocacy to safeguard reproductive health. We also support comprehensive access to sexual and reproductive health care services, which have been under intense attack during the past few years. We will continue to defend the rights of women, transgender and non-binary people to access the full range of reproductive health care services, including access to abortion, because sexual and reproductive health have far-reaching implications for society. When people can access health care they need, they can create the lives they want — which encompasses raising children, should they choose to have them — in sustainable and safe communities.

The State Budget, Health Care, and Building an Equitable Future for Californians

Within the California state budget in this 2023-24 year, policymakers avoided cuts to critical services in the budget, but investments in Californians’ future must continue to be made. We are excited that California is leading — again — to ensure that access to preventive health care is available to all Californians regardless of immigration status. Cal Wellness has invested in the health of Californians by supporting organizations such as the Health Access Foundation, which supports universal healthcare, protects consumers, expands access to care, and more. We also support grantee organizations such as Dientes Community Dental Care, which provides comprehensive oral health services for uninsured and publicly insured low-income adults, seniors and children. Meanwhile, grantees such as Charles R. Drew University challenge entrenched inequities in health care by recruiting, educating and empowering underrepresented minority students to pursue careers in health.

Looking Ahead

In 2024, Californians will continue to face a number of challenges and opportunities, especially in the political landscape. In the realm of state elections, California voters will decide on a number of key ballot initiatives that will shape the state’s future. On the national level in 2024, not only will Americans elect a president to lead the country, but the Supreme Court is also likely to decide the fate of many issues that impact the communities we serve. One example is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which offers protection from deportation and imparts legal work authorization to approximately 600,000 undocumented individuals who came to the United States as children. This issue resonates deeply with me as someone who immigrated to the United States as a child. The work I do here at Cal Wellness as director of government relations is personal to me in many ways, and I will continue to fight for the communities we serve.

When we think about wellness as a whole, we think about how these issues and others intersect, how they will continue to affect every Californian, and how we will remain stalwart in our mission to protect and improve the health and wellness of the people of California by increasing access to comprehensive health care, quality education, good jobs, healthy environments and safe neighborhoods. We will continue to raise our voice to advance wellness across California.

In 2024 and beyond, we look forward to working alongside our grantees and community partners to build a more equitable future for all.

Man in suit in outdoor setting smiles at camera
Director of Government Relations Joseph Villela

Joseph Villela is director of government relations at The California Wellness Foundation. In this capacity, he directs a government relations program addressing local, regional, state, and federal issues and opportunities. In addition, he leads foundation engagement on public policy issues.

Back to top