I recently attended Communities Joined in Action’s annual conference in San Antonio. The theme of this year’s conference was Unleashing the Power of Communities: Achieving Health, Well-Being, and Equity. It was two days full of inspirational and informative keynote addresses and plenaries, useful advice from breakout sessions, and a lot of TexMex.
The plenaries focused on the successes and challenges of collaborative efforts to address community health, social determinants of health, and the role of philanthropy in working towards health equity. I heard from leaders and colleagues across the country about incredible cross-sector collaboration to improve the health of their communities. I attended presentations on the work of Creating Healthy Communities Coalition in Cincinnati, the use of multi-sectoral data sharing to address community health in Baltimore, and much more. It was a jam-packed two days!
Still, the part of the conference that really resonated the most for me was the opening keynote address by Natalie Burke, President & CEO of CommonHealth ACTION. During her presentation, Chaos, Privilege, and Bravery: Health Equity Never Had a Chance BEFORE…, I found myself vigorously trying to jot down short quotes to help me remember the essence of her talk. In nearly illegible handwriting, I filled up a few notebook pages of memorable phrases, offering insight and ideas for advancing health equity. Below are three quotes from Natalie Burke that echo what we are working towards at CCMU:
- Community is the table: Natalie pushed those of us at the conference to reframe and rethink our language around community. If we are going to authentically make change towards eliminating health inequities, we must look to affected populations for leadership, rather than just ensuring that there is “a seat at the table” for community. At CCMU, we are building out our community organizing and leadership development programs for the real experts—the communities themselves—to drive change for health in Colorado.
- Health is a production of society: When we look at the differences in a number of health outcomes in Colorado, it’s evident that factors like income or race play a huge role in determining a person’s opportunity to lead a healthy life. At CCMU, we are exploring the root causes of health inequities, like with our new graphic novel, Waiting for Health Equity, so we can work together to change them.
- To do nothing is evil: As leaders and individuals working towards health equity, we have to take action. We need to reflect and examine our own privileges. We need to organize and connect. We need to learn and challenge the power structures and institutions at play. Only then, can we create a society in which race, income, and ZIP code don’t determine health outcomes. As an organization committed to health equity, we are dedicating resources to taking action, including a detailed collective liberation plan that provides ongoing opportunities to learn about our privileges, have tough conversations, and organize for change.
Lately, I’ve felt inundated by news of hate and divisiveness, but this conference was a much-needed reminder that people can come together, celebrate the diversity of our communities, and work toward lasting change. I am excited to continue partnering with and learning from communities to work towards health equity in Colorado. We hope you’ll join us, too.