As illuminated in the recent updated report Hard Facts, the most pervasive and unjust inequities in our region—including those related to children’s health—fall along the lines of race/ethnicity, and strongly intersect with those of poverty and income. Healthy and Equitable Futures’ focus on racial equity and associated capacity building and systems change strategies offer promising synergies with the Racial Health Equity body of work.
As emphasized by our Partnership value, the strategy is also in critical alignment with the expanding community-wide, collective impact work around racial equity, including the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI), the joint City of Rochester and Monroe County Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), the city’s Racial Equity and Leadership (REAL) Initiative, and the Urban League’s Interrupt Racism work, among other efforts.
The strategy focused on Black and Latino children ages 0-8 in Monroe County (equity in objective and outcomes) and is undertaking intentional changes to internal grantmaking and community engagement practices to better share power with parents and communities (equity in process). Our new approach places parents and families along with their children at the center of the strategy and with them being the guiding and driving force that leads to change. Additional key components include the Learning Collaborative, Parents Leaders and Parent Advisory Group. The strategy leverages grantmaking, convening, and advocacy across three levers for change: Family Leadership, Social-Emotional Supports, Representative and Inclusive Systems.
Healthy and Equitable Futures was developed through an extensive process of community and parent leader input—since expanded to a parent advisory board that will continue to help shape and implement the strategy. The strategy focuses on three levers of change:
In partnership with our grantees, parent leaders, community experts, evaluators, and other stakeholders, and through investment in collaborative learning, we are working to build organizational and community capacity, as well as effect systems and policy change across these levers. We are excited about this initiative and will share updates and learnings as the work progresses.
Health disparities arising from unequal social and economic conditions that systematically marginalize certain groups and communities are recognized to be fundamentally unfair and unjust, and consistent with an understanding of health equity as an ethical and human rights principle. Therefore, the inequities related to the social determinants of health in the Rochester area issue a strong call to action. The emergent impact of COVID-19 has unearthed and unveiled the pervasive, pre-existing and perpetual plight of the Black and Brown community. With these inequities on full display, the community is demanding a call to action to move beyond traditional programming and instead to address the systemic policies, practices and procedures that, if not addressed, will continue to sustain the status quo. Racial/ethnic minority children and families, and the Black/African-American community most of all, have experienced the burden of multiple social disadvantages resulting from the historical and continuing existence of structural and institutionalized racism—ranging from overt discrimination to implicit bias in housing, employment, education, criminal justice and health care. One of the most pernicious manifestations of structural racism is the dramatic economic inequality between Blacks/African Americans and Whites. For Black/African American and Latinx families, this inequality is reflected in dramatically higher rates of family and child poverty along with adverse health, educational and social outcomes in childhood and throughout the life course. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented strategies, solutions and measures that will result in disruption and dismantling of deeply entrenched constructs and structures that have resulted in centuries and decades of unconscious, implicit bias connected to deliberate, intentional barriers compounded by sanctioned, complicit beliefs.
Utilizing the Appreciative Inquiry Methodology, staff convened a series of community conversations and listening sessions over a three-week period with more than individuals and groups reflective and representative of the Black and Latinx communities including varying voices and perspectives, across many sectors. We posed the following question and received ample feedback, input, ideas and insights:
We learned it is not enough to have voices at the table, we must also ensure that the table is set in such a manner that encourages, elevates and promotes shared power and influence. This can be realized by valuing the lived and learned experience of the providers, partners, community, families and youth by allowing listening to be our position so that lifting, leveraging and linking can be our action. The critical call to action includes investments in and prioritization of the most pressing needs identified by the Black and Latinx communities with an emphasis on viable, visible and valuable solutions created by those in power as a vehicle for sustainable, systemic change. As a result of our community conversations, the following three focus areas emerged and are recommended components of this strategy: Capacity Building BIPOC Led Organizations, Leadership Development Pipeline and Advocacy.
Capacity Building was highlighted with a focus on strengthening and supporting BIPOC led organizations in their continued growth and development in the region. Based on the feedback received, BIPOC led organizations have often been under-represented, under-funded or not funded in capacity building efforts although they are viewed and upheld as the most trusted by the communities they are seeking to serve. An intentional focus in this area will bolster grassroots organizations through coaching, mentoring, organizational development and technical assistance and operational support.
Leadership Development is considered vital for creating intentional opportunities to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). With an increase emphasis on DEI in organizational leadership and board composition, we heard that working with existing leadership programs to further their impact was of importance. Investing in individual leaders as well as organizations is key to supporting pathways, building pipelines and creating pools for BIPOC professionals to move into leadership positions and roles through coaching, mentoring, fellowships, and other leadership development opportunities across several sectors including health, human service, business, faith-based and education.
Advocacy was elevated to support, uplift and equip community voices for systems change as a crucial step to address historical health inequities in the region. Structural, systemic racism, implicit bias and intentional policies have created barriers for Black and Latinx individuals and families leading to marginalization and discrimination of these groups. Many of the systems that have created discriminatory conditions are the result of discriminatory policies that can be reversed and/or replaced with supportive policies. As we remove barriers and begin to build bridges that lead to the creation of an equitable ecosystem that supports and uplifts the Black and Latinx community through systems and policy change. This effort would include training on effective advocacy, supporting community led movements to improve health, and work to address systemic barriers that have created inequity in the region. The structures and polices that have created inequitable outcomes happened over generations and the process to address them will require a long-term focus.
A culturally responsive, community-based wellness center will provide a space for healing and growth through support, education, and service provision. This Healers’ Village is a foundational component for the creation of an ecosystem, an environment that build capacity and leverages the connected resources that uplifts, supports and values black and brown bodies, minds are overall health. The Healers’ Village will include culturally appropriate, theory-based, mental health services, delivered by licensed and/or trained providers at a location(s) central to the focus neighborhoods. Complementary services would include community education, and health and social service assistance for referral needs in a variety of areas. This new endeavor is led by Melanie Funchess.
Community Engagement to Reduce Victimization (CERV), which began in 2019, is a community-based violence intervention program targeting dispute-related violence. The program is a collaborative effort between Rochester General Hospital (RGH) and three street-outreach organizations (Pathways to Peace, ABC Save Our Youth, and Rise Up Rochester). CERV aims to reduce victimization by enhancing the existing hospital-based violence intervention programs (HVIPs) at RGH and supporting collaboration between the organizations providing street outreach. The program strives to help safety net providers reach and intervene with gun victims before new victimization events unfold. This project is led and directed by Dr. Irshad Altheimer of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology)
The Black/African American and Latino communities identified an immediate need for the creation of an ecosystem that is designed to address the most pressing issues affecting the people within these groups. To support and uplift community members, BluSky, LLC will co-create a single digital platform in which community members, social activists, and service providers can convene to share information and provide local assistance and begin to close the gaps, needs, and threats facing its marginalized populations.
Our daily lives and the neighborhoods we call home affect health in countless ways. In healthy neighborhoods, we feel safe walking outside, can access green space for recreation and physical activity, and we can purchase and eat healthy, affordable food. Healthy neighborhoods are free of abandoned housing which attracted crime and are now places with trusted neighbors who can rely upon and support each other.
Over the years the Health Foundation has supported grassroots and asset-based efforts to improve the physical, social and economic environments of neighborhoods and promote new opportunities for healthy living. Grantees and their partners have launched their health improvement projects and engaged neighborhood residents, completed an asset-based assessment of their community, and carried out large and small-scale projects in their neighborhoods. Grantees have also received support from the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University.
Project STEPS (Seneca Towns Engaging People for Solutions)
This project takes place in southern Seneca County, including the towns of Covert, Lodi, Ovid, and Romulus. The residents in these areas recognized that the distance between communities can lead to isolating and sedentary lifestyles, especially for elderly and low-income individuals. Many residents have participated in Resident Health Promotion Projects in which they design and implement small-scale health projects themselves to improve some aspect of community health and well-being. Residents in Project STEPS have also organized around conservation of natural resources and wildlife. They have partnered with agencies such as the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency which expanded the South County Transportation Corps that provides rides for residents who need access to health-related appointments and destinations. Project STEPS has secured in-kind donations of more than $14,000 from local businesses for Community Garden Projects, and additional funding such as a Catholic Campaign for Human Development Grant of more than $2,000 to establish a Lodi Food Pantry in 2015.
Project SOAR (Strengthening Our Area Resident) Galen-Savannah Neighborhood Health Improvement Project
The Wayne County towns of Galen and Savannah, including the Village of Clyde and hamlet of Savannah, are the sites for this initiative. Project SOAR has empowered residents to work together and collaborate with organizations, businesses, and institutions to improve the health of the community. Resident-driven projects are helping to: improve social and physical health through increased access to physical activity; improve economic health through art, history and eco-tourism; and to create Healthy Spaces through Complete Streets and beautification of public spaces. In 2018, the Governors Empire State Trail initiative will begin work on the Galen-Savannah Erie Canal Trail section to help improve economic health through eco-tourism by attracting cyclists to downtown Savannah. This resident-driven effort has leveraged a $250,000 State grant to re-deck a bridge on the Erie Canal Trail gap in Galen.
Project HOPE (Healthy Outcomes through Participation, Education, and Empowerment)
In the Project HOPE neighborhood, a new resident-built playground, walking and biking trail, produce stand, and community garden are beginning to create a new context for health in Northeast Rochester. Residents both young and old are increasingly engaged in health-promoting activities in the public spaces they have worked so hard to transform. Here, abandoned houses are being demolished and block clubs are promoting neighborhood unity. Project HOPE has improved their neighborhood in collaboration with local churches, universities, agencies, and city government. Project HOPE was able to secure $184,500 in funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and $113,999 from other partners. The City of Rochester contributed $37,000 for the creation of Conkey Corner Playground.
Residents of the Village of Dundee and the Towns of Barrington and Starkey led a health improvement project that changed the physical, social, and economic environments of the community. Click here to learn more about this project.
Residents of the Bridges to Wellness neighborhood worked to create a fresh image for their Northeast Rochester neighborhood as a beautiful and welcoming place to live.
COACH worked to improve neighborhood health and safety and provide positive and healthy work/life opportunities for youth and adults.
Resident Initiative for Sustainable Engagement (RISE) RISE will take place in the Marketview Heights.
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