We have had community organizers in the field in Pueblo and Fort Morgan for 15 months now, talking with community members about health equity and getting to know their stories. When I joined Center for Health Progress in the summer of 2016, our country, our state, and this organization looked really different. My position was a new one—there had never been a director of community organizing at Center for Health Progress before, and I am the first director of color the organization has ever had. It didn’t take long for me to realize that radical shifts were going to be required to push the organization to redefine itself and support a new approach to our work. We didn’t just need to hire staff and find funding, we had to completely revision our work inside and out. Were we working for the community or with the community? Who were we accountable to and who were we taking our direction from? We spent many months overhauling our entire approach in community and across our entire organization so all our work lined up to this new focus. We’ll still be making some big changes over the next few years, but I’m proud to share we’ve made some headway out in the field and this is only the beginning.
As we move away from our 20-year history of being a historically-white, mainstream, grasstops, Denver-centric institution, the brand new community organizing department was asked to talk to people about who we were becoming and what we care about, and then see if they wanted to co-create projects and work together to achieve health equity. Being charged with changing the face of our organization, coming up with new strategies, and pushing the Center for Health Progress culture forward was and still is no easy task, but we have had a lot of important accomplishments already.
Much of what we’re doing cannot be captured in bullet points. We’re moving beyond one-off focus groups that extract knowledge from the community and never return with meaningful change. Instead, we’re working with local grassroots leaders to build relationships and a solid foundation for the future. Through our work we’ve brought people together who don’t speak the same language or share the same culture, and watched them sit at the same tables and learn from each other with real authenticity. We’re hearing local leaders talk about how proud they are of the work they’ve done together, and feeling the goosebumps when they say they’re inspired by their collective vision for their community—a vision they developed themselves. For me, this is what the work is really all about. It’s about how we live and work in ways that are fulfilling our commitment to health equity, which centers and supports community leadership, builds grassroots power, and makes systemic policy changes that begin to dismantle white supremacy in health care.
In 15 short months we have:
- Made contact with almost 500 new people across the state
- Collected 150 surveys from Puebloans about their health needs and barriers to accessing health care
- Recruited 35 community members to attend local trainings and meetings about health equity and advocacy
- Organized and hosted a panel on how air pollution affects our health with over 50 people in attendance, including local elected officials, and numerous media outlets
- Participated on the planning committee for Cinco de Mayo in Pueblo, an event that attracted over 2,000 people
- Organized a local committee of eight immigrant leaders in Fort Morgan, who named themselves the Morgan Health Connectors and meet monthly to learn about the health care system, organizing, and policy changes to improve the health of immigrants and their families
- Responded to calls of immigrants being detained, through our participation in Colorado’s Rapid Response Network
And there’s so much more to come this summer! From reporting survey results in Pueblo to offering a slate of trainings in Fort Morgan, now that our fledgling department has found its footing, we’ll be keeping the momentum going.
Check out our Annual Report to read more about what we accomplished in 2017, and stay tuned for more events, and updates from the field as we take action and build people power for health equity!