The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has become synonymous with the phrase “building a culture of health”. Many of us working in public health are diligently pursuing the promises embedded within this phrase, such as equity, justice and well-being for all people. And yet, we cannot build a culture of health unless we first have a culture of empathy.
While growing up in rural Alabama, I had the great fortune of encountering life experiences that made me intellectually curious about the life circumstances and relationships that I observed. During this time, fundamental questions about rural people and places were formed and I have spent both my personal and professional life trying to answer them. My early career was focused on documenting and highlighting the lives of rural people, particularly those in the Black Belt region of the South. Not only was this region’s culture my own cultural heritage, it was also critical in the development of our country’s socioeconomic and political systems. So, while often overlooked, what happens in the Black Belt region matters, historically and today.
At Interdisciplinary Research Leaders, we stand in solidarity with the family of George Floyd and other families who have lost their loved ones to police brutality, with the protestors locally and around the world, and with all who are demanding justice and action to dismantle the systems of racial oppression that Black people face daily.
Prisons and jails are unhealthy environments under normal circumstances. A pandemic makes them even moreso. With people living in tight quarters and limited access to soap, masks, hand sanitizer and other basic supplies, it is no surprise that we have seen the coronavirus ravage many prisons nationwide. Our team realized that people leaving these spaces needed clear information on how to transition back home during this pandemic.
To pave the way for further interdisciplinary research for health we, Farrah Jacquez and Lina Svedin (IRL Cohort 1), have developed a book series with the University of Cincinnati Press. Each volume in the edited series describes silo-breaking research that partners with community stakeholders to do work that will lead to community benefit.
The convening was a wake-up call about the value of community-engaged research. As a local sector, we had not built the base of evidence in terms of what had worked, was working or not, and what change was happening…and for whom. An influential outsider defined what impact local efforts would be measured by instead of the neighborhood residents who had worked so hard to rebuild their communities. We needed stronger research partners and evaluation capacities–and a more comprehensive approach to community building and understanding of impact.