“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.” – Warsan Shire
I recently started at Center for Health Progress as the organization’s first community organizer, and had the opportunity to travel to Oakland for the Othering & Belonging Conference. In preparation for the conference, I spent some time reflecting on the work I do as a community organizer and my own personal experience as an immigrant.
Colorado is my home now, but it wasn’t my first home. And since I work primarily with refugee and immigrant populations in Fort Morgan, I can relate to that experience. They are often considered “the other.” Since they look and dress differently, speak unfamiliar languages, and were not born in the United States, they are made to feel as though they don’t belong, when that is what they are so desperately trying to do.
Let me tell you a little bit about my community. Fort Morgan is a rural town in the Eastern Plains of Colorado. It’s not very large, but it’s very diverse, with an equal number of white, black, and Latino residents, plus a smaller number of Asian and Native Americans. The local economy is based in agriculture and related industries, including a Cargill meat-packing plant, which is the town’s largest employer. Of Cargill’s 2,114 employees, 86% are immigrants or children of immigrants—56% Latino and 30% black. The meat packing company relies heavily on our immigrant and refugee populations, as does the entire city, and ramifications of Trump’s Executive Orders earlier in the year can still be felt.
Our community faces many health care challenges. One is recruiting and retaining physicians. Another, is language barriers. Chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity also affect the health and quality of life of Morgan County residents, and remain a major driver of health care costs. Fort Morgan also does not have a local public transit system, which is a barrier for many residents in seeking proper health care.
When I think about achieving health equity in this community, I think about how many of my neighbors are being left out when policies are being created, laws are being enacted, curriculum is being developed, medications are being researched and manufactured, etc. When you are “the other,” you are hardly ever part of the discussion, except perhaps to talk about how bizarre and problematic your presence is. Or, you might receive dubious praise for your achievements, which are deemed spectacular in a patronizing way. If you do not belong, nothing about you is right.
At Center for Health Progress, we’re making sure all voices are heard and considered in the design of our health care system. We are building leadership in the community that will equip Coloradans with tools to advocate for their rights and give them tangible skills. This will strengthen their voice so they can speak out on health care issues—and help providers and any other people they interact with—understand how important it is to make decisions based in community.
Health equity includes physical, behavioral, oral, and environmental components. It also includes race, income, and ZIP code dynamics. When these components are aligned harmoniously, we can ensure all Coloradans have access to health care and the opportunity to live a healthy life. Let us welcome and embrace those who are excluded. Let us share stories about all people. Let us have leadership reflective of these values. Colorado belongs to all of us, and we all belong here.