Center for Health Equity Newsletter
In this newsletter:
Greetings from the Center for Health Equity
Message from the Director
CONNECT: Connecting community members to reduce infant mortality
STRENGTHEN: Cultivating equity champions through internal council
AMPLIFY: Guest writer Camille Cyprian
Greetings from the Center for Health Equity
Our mission at the Center for Health Equity is to connect, strengthen and amplify health equity efforts within MDH and across the state of Minnesota. In this May edition of our newsletter, you’ll find stories of how we’re living that mission, whether it’s through connecting and supporting community leaders, cultivating health equity champions within MDH or amplifying the voices of community leaders at the forefront of justice and healing. You can learn more about our work on our About Us page.
Since our last newsletter, we also brought together more than 70 grantee partners for an Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative gathering at the Neighborhood House in St. Paul. A huge thank you to the three state legislators who joined us for the gathering and to all the grantees who made the day energizing, inspiring and meaningful!
Message from the Director
And in the blink of an eye, a year went by. I am astounded that it has already been 12 months since I began as Director of the Center for Health Equity. In this newsletter, I’d like to highlight some of my learnings from this past year and the opportunities that lie ahead of us.
We are stronger together.
Shortly after I started in May 2017, I led CHE through a strategic planning and visioning process. As many of you know, we are a relatively new team stepping into a rich history and legacy of both the Office of Minority and Multicultural Health and the Center for Health Equity. It was important for us to identify our core values as individuals and as a team and to ensure that we were reflecting and upholding the values and priorities that the community has consistently told us are important. This led to the launch of our new CHE mission, values and approaches, which we shared during our April webinar (slides available, recording forthcoming). This shared framework is helping ground and guide our work as we strengthen ongoing initiatives and imagine new directions.
The strategic process also allowed us to identify and clarify that our role within MDH and the community is to connect, strengthen and amplify health equity efforts. CHE staff spent significant time this past year providing coaching and training within and outside of MDH and developing structures to strengthen MDH capacity to advance health equity. At the same time, I have gained much knowledge and insight from my colleagues within and outside of MDH who are working to advance equity and address systemic barriers. This shared learning and partnership is a critical component of equity work.
We are hungry for connection.
My favorite part of my job is being out in community and learning about both successful strategies and the challenges to advancing equity. Early on, I observed that so many people were coming to CHE to talk about equity, but few were talking to one another. This is the impetus for our Health Equity Leadership Network. We want to create a platform where groups can come together from across sectors and issue areas to strategize, share resources and create a brain trust for how we can collaboratively advance health equity. Our call for applications for our bushCON cohort garnered over 100 applications from health equity leaders from across the state, which goes to show that we are hungry to connect with one another and to elevate our efforts toward equity. We have much to learn from each other and none of us can do this work alone.
I look forward to continuing to learn from and build with all of you in this messy, beautiful work of advancing equity.
Director, Center for Health Equity
We are a network hub – leading, connecting and strengthening networks of health equity leaders and partners across MDH and Minnesota communities.
Connecting community members to reduce infant mortality
The numbers are appalling; the infant mortality rate among U.S.-born African Americans is more than three times higher than whites in Hennepin County. To address this inequity, our team at CHE has been working with community members on an infant mortality project that we launched publicly in June of last year. The project is built on a community engagement model that brings together the perspectives and understandings of the community about the factors that create and sustain these disparities, and that supports the community in addressing these factors through a cross-sector approach.
To begin this process, we worked with community partners to host two rounds of community co-learning sessions on health equity and social justice from September 2017 through April 2018. The sessions were designed to help deepen the community’s understanding of the structural determinants of African American infant mortality. The sessions also helped motivate participants to take action to change the policies and systems that perpetuate the inequity.
The project leadership team, referred to as Community Voices and Solutions (CVAS), played a key role in planning and implementing the co-learning sessions, including identifying co-learning topics and guest speakers. CVAS members also recruited participants from the community who are passionate about maternal and child health to participate in four co-learning cohorts:
- health care professionals/paraprofessionals (doulas, midwives, and community health workers) and administrators
- social service providers
- youth and young adults
Over the course of several months, the cohorts tackled a variety of subjects and learned about models for addressing infant mortality that target social determinants of health, or the conditions in which we live, learn, work and play. CVAS then brainstormed strategies for addressing infant mortality through these root causes, from which co-learning participants selected mini projects to undertake over the coming years.
The projects they selected are:
- Develop an enhanced community health worker (CHW) curriculum and practicum with an expanded maternal and child health section and that is more culturally-specific to African American health (group project from cohorts 1 and 2)
- Initiate homeless shelter policy reform to better serve women and children (individual project from cohort 2)
- Develop plan to build maternity homes – a place with doulas, midwives, CHWs, doctors, nurses and advocates providing services in a holistic setting, including 6-8 weeks postpartum care and care with father involvement (group project from cohort 3)
- Create a community coalition/collective/network of African American organizations to work together to find economic development and grant opportunities (group project from cohort 4)
- Design a school curriculum on promoting healthy babies targeted to 6th through 12th grade students (individual project from cohort 4)
“We are excited to learn of the ripple effects of the co-learning sessions,” said Helen Jackson Lockett-El, the lead CHE staff on the project. “One participant shared the healthy pregnancy information with 25 to 30 people in a parenting class, and another participant shared a video shown in class with her sister who then shared it with her church in Memphis.”
Motivated by the co-learning series, another participant conveyed her desire to pursue a master’s degree in public health with a concentration on maternal and child health.
According to Helen, leading locally to address infant mortality means making community assets a priority and being on the ground working collaboratively to utilize each other’s strengths to maximize impact. For more information about the project, visit the the Infant Mortality Among African Americans Project webpage.
We provide leadership in advancing health equity and cultivate health equity leaders within MDH and across Minnesota communities.
Cultivating equity champions through internal council
A central part of our commitment to advancing health equity is in strengthening the work of others through the cultivation of health equity leaders within MDH and across Minnesota communities. One of the ways this is happening at MDH is through our Internal Health Equity Advisory and Leadership Team Hub (I-HEALTH), launched in February 2018.
The purpose of the I-HEALTH is to:
- oversee the implementation of the strategic plan to advance health equity within MDH,
- streamline coordination of health equity activities, policies and projects across the agency, and
- foster greater collaboration amongst MDH divisions and offices around health equity.
One representative and one alternate from each division and office within MDH participate in I-HEALTH. Representatives attend monthly meetings, where they provide guidance to MDH and share what their programs are doing to advance health equity in the areas of community engagement, programming, data, grant making and more.
Christine Smith, from the Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiative (OSHII) and Sara Chute (CHE), are the 2018 council co-chairs. They work closely with Health Equity Planner Shor Salkas, who coordinates both I-HEALTH and HEAL (MDH’s external health equity council), to ensure that health equity efforts are coordinated and that cross-pollination occurs between the two advisory groups and with critical internal and external stakeholders.
“I-HEALTH is an exciting step forward for MDH to embed health and racial equity across the department,” said co-chair Christine Smith. “It provides a mechanism to ensure we are all on the same page and have access to the same information and tools, and that we are working toward the same goals and using the same metrics.”
For more information, contact Shor at Shor.Salkas@state.mn.us. Shor’s pronouns are they, them or their name.
We amplify the work of communities most impacted by health inequities and support them to drive their own solutions. In this issue, we share a story written by a partner and guest writer.
I burned out in 2009.
I was early in my career – just two years out of college – and having poured the entirety of my being into an election cycle, I was energetically spent! And it wasn’t just me; I bore witness to other brilliant young leaders I worked with “crashing” too.
We’d been labeled “young invincibles” – the millennials who didn’t care about health or healthcare because we thought we’d live forever. Being a black, queer woman, health statistics illustrated that couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I viscerally understood our mortality, as symptoms and diagnoses of physical and mental ailments reverberated in my networks. Ailments I now know were manifestations of traumas and toxic stress.
Over the past decade, I have gained experience and expertise on the impact of trauma and toxic stress. I have worked to bridge self-care, traditional/cultural healing modalities, and ancient methodologies with my expertise around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As a result, I have identified two frameworks that are central to having the impact I intend to have in moving equity forward.
The first is healing justice. I center healing justice because being a DEI practitioner is exhausting and emotionally laborious. It necessitates intentional self-care and healing as a part of sustaining the work. Additionally, I center healing justice in my equity work, because I view the work of equity as systemic healing. For me, equity is actively healing the various systems of oppression that facilitate social disparities.
This brings me to the second framework that I center in equity: intersectionality. Intersectionality is a framework developed by activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Wiliams Crenshaw. She defines intersectionality as the ways in which oppressive institutions (i.e., racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. My interpretation is that if they cannot be examined separately, then we should not attempt to solve them separately.
The late, great, Audre Lorde – self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.”
I find her quote particularly poignant, because my experience has taught me that to be truly effective in doing the work of equity, we must first understand that we all hold a number of identities. Some of these identities come from oppressive social institutions. Collectively, they impact our lived experiences, our access to systems and our ability to navigate those systems. Therefore, when we are creating systemic interventions to achieve equity we must bear in mind the complexity of intersectionality as we seek to understand how these systems interact and play off of each other to create the inequities people experience.
I was able to share the importance of using an intersectional framework in a recent workshop with nearly 300 health equity leaders from across the state. In honor of National Minority Health Month (April), the Center for Health Equity co-hosted the Health Equity Leadership Institute on April 27 with the Department of Human Services and the UMN Program in Health Disparities Research. My colleague Lulete Mola and I facilitated a session on intersectionality and its relation to the work of equity. I look forward to seeing where an intersectional framework can continue to be used to address health disparities and achieve equitable health results in our state.
Camille Cyprian is the Founder and Principal Healer of a transformative social equity firm, Centered Spaces LLC. She is a DEI practitioner and serves on the MDH Health Equity Advisory Leadership Council (HEAL Council).
Want to learn more about the HEAL Council? Member Va Yang and her involvement in HEAL was recently featured on the Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota blog. Va is a community outreach specialist at Blue Cross and has deep experience working directly with Minnesota communities facing inequities.