Public Health Newswire interviewed Diana Ross, Executive Director of the Mid-City Community Advocacy Network based in San Diego. Diana shares details on the APHA/California Endowment Summit at the APHA 2018 Annual Meeting & Expo, a half-day forum on Nov. 10 exploring how to build healthy communities. Learn more about the summit and how to participate.

Diana RossQ1: We’ve heard this forum is designed to share insights, strategies and lessons learned from the implementation of Building Healthy Communities. Tell us about your experience with this initiative.

Mid-City CAN has been a partner in the Building Healthy Communities Initiative for about eight years. The California Endowment’s long-term commitment has provided the community of City Heights with a platform to create change. The idea that health is impacted by where you live and the systems you engage with is new to most people, and the idea that you can change these systems by building power in a community is novel. But for us, building power through community organizing, leadership development and voter engagement have been the most successful strategies to ensure that systems are responsive and more equitable in building good health for everyone.

When you change a system you go beyond treating one person at a time in a clinic to changing health outcomes for large groups of people, as well as teaching people that they have an important voice. People move from passive participants to proactive decision-makers about what’s best for their community and themselves. Our biggest lesson-learned is that change takes time and building power can really challenge traditional modes of thinking. We’re looking forward to sharing our detailed experience at the Summit during APHA 2018.

Q2: Tell us more about the three “big ideas” that this event will focus on.

There are lots of big ideas! The most exciting and radical we’ll focus on is the idea of building power or “people power,” and how it relates to health. Mid-City CAN and The California Endowment believe that this is necessary to change the systems and community environments impacting health. Once a system is changed, you need power to fully enshrine that change and defend it. An example I like to use is that there is a big difference between one person asking city council for a park and 300 organized community members asking city council for a park. If your group is organized and engaged, elected officials are more accountable and more likely to work on behalf of community members.

Q3: What kinds of skills are you hoping public health professionals will walk away with at the end of the day?

My hope is that public health professionals will walk away with a deeper understanding of how health, specifically health equity, is shaped by environment, systems, and power. Our goal is that they will gain some concrete ideas and strategies from the summit for improving health by enabling community members to actively shape their environment, health policies and the systems that they are impacted by. For example, collaborating with grass-roots groups to address health access among immigrants and refugees, running a leadership academy to prepare people to serve a on a health board, or direct-action organizing to build a skate park.

Q4: The breakout sessions for the program range include justice, transportation, community media, youth leadership and more. Why these topics?

These topics really speak to the social determinants of health, as well as the strategies we use to build power and influence the systems that impact health.

As part of our power-building strategy in City Heights San Diego, we engaged residents in choosing which determinants mattered most to them, and which they wanted to tackle through our power-building efforts. Residents told us that transportation, specifically access for youth, access to Halal and healthy proteins in school lunches, disproportionate incarceration of youth, and park space were their primary health issues. Youth needed an affordable and healthy way to get around the city, to eat a healthy lunches, safe places to skate where they wouldn’t get hurt and to stay out of the juvenile justice system. By listening to residents we enabled them to choose what matters most.

We are really hoping to showcase how impacting these determinants through these strategies and tactics can really change a community and its health outcomes.

Q5: Is there anything else you want APHA members to know about the APHA California Endowment Summit?

This is a really great opportunity to hear from the people on the ground about how we are changing City Heights and advancing health equity statewide. You’ll hear from experts and elected officials, but also community residents of all ages who have worked as equal partners to get stuff done. We’ve made really cool things happen and made a big impact on health while improving the daily lives of diverse people!

Register Now for the Summit and/or APHA 2018, or, add the Summit to an existing registration record. APHA’s Annual Meeting and Expo is the largest annual gathering of public health professionals. Thousands of people attend, and thousands of new scientific papers are presented each year on every public health topic. APHA 2018’s theme, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Health Equity Now” puts health equity at the center of our field’s attention. Learn more and register to attend.