As I begin to wrap up my summer internship and reflect on the work I’ve done the past few months, I think about the influence taking initiative has had on my experience at the Color of Health (COH). I am given considerable freedom in my work and have found that, especially when working independently, taking initiative can make all the difference in your experiences and the opportunities you have. In social justice work, there are constantly issues that need to be addressed and this can be extremely overwhelming. The members of COH each work on a different project and regularly have their hands full. My supervisor is the CEO of the organization, and I was continually looking for ways to help with administrative tasks. By offering to be involved in these processes, I had the opportunity to get a more comprehensive look at how nonprofits operate while also working on a project of my own. I was able to learn new skills, build upon others, and create more experiences for myself in the process. I learned that by expressing interest and taking initiative, more opportunities are likely to come your way.
One aspect I love about COH being a small nonprofit is that every program can have an impact, and I am excited to be leading the first research project the organization has conducted. I have designed a study that will allow us to examine provider prescribing habits related to HIV PrEP for Black women. While COH has multiple healthcare providers on the team and serves as a health education organization, they have not led any studies or collected data. This is something my supervisor has always been interested in and I am grateful to have this opportunity that hopefully paves the way for future studies.
During my time at COH, I have adjusted how I organize my work several times and tried to find the best method. As I am frequently switching between tasks, it is very easy to lose focus of what needs to be accomplished. I wish I had known when I started the best approach for staying organized. Through trial and error, I have determined an effective system that allows me to manage and organize all my documents, lists, and modes of communication. This has been a game-changer when it comes to productivity.
Working for a nonprofit, you learn that burnout is real, but you must stay focused on what motivates you. I have had the privilege of being a part of COH for over a year and, wow, has it been a crazy one! As we have seen from thousands of healthcare providers, the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the healthcare system, and not only is COH an organization that addresses public health issues, but it also fights for racial justice. Last summer, in the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, the members of the organization shifted their energy to join their communities in fighting for racial justice. The team members were exhausted and the planning of many of our projects took a pause. Energy was low as we focused on other things. Getting started again was difficult but we reconnected later in the summer and reexamined our reasons for why we do what we do. Talking about and reflecting on our passions and motivations allowed us to resume work with a new energy and enthusiasm. While this situation was unusual, I learned early in my training that in the nonprofit world, employee burnout is real. It is difficult to avoid, but my advice is to always keep your reasons for doing this work in mind and to let that motivate you.
At the beginning of each semester, the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) conducts a training for the coordinators of the Waltham Group. The training I received during the spring semester of my sophomore year was only a few days before my interview with the Color of Health (COH). This session was led by Dr. Allyson Livingstone, the previous director of DEI Education, Training, and Development. Dr. Livingstone discussed topics including community engagement and community mobilization. The purpose of this training is to provide students with the tools and skills to help move toward equitable outcomes for those in our community, as well as those in the ones we serve. The lessons I learned about community engagement and mobilization have been extremely relevant and valuable for my work at the COH.
One thing I learned in this training that has been reinforced in my anthropology and HSSP classes is that community engagement in public health is imperative for successful initiatives. Public health project agendas are primarily determined and set by outside organizations, and the community members these initiatives are trying to serve are often marginalized and left out of the conversations and decisions that impact them the most. Community engagement is a process that seeks to better engage all members and groups affiliated with an issue being addressed. Doing so will achieve more long-term and sustainable outcomes as the processes are sensitive to the context of the community. Each person who is affected by the issue that impacts their community should be involved in the decision-making process.
Similarly to community engagement, community mobilization engages the larger population in a community-wide effort to address a health or social issue. In addition to creating a space for collaborative efforts, community mobilization empowers individuals and groups to take action and lead efforts to facilitate the change they want to see. This may include mobilizing resources, disseminating information, and fostering cooperation across the community.
The goal of the COH is to mobilize the communities of color in NYC to take control of their health and to feel empowered in doing this. Health empowerment encourages people to gain greater control over the decisions affecting their lives and health through education and motivation. This can be a great way to enhance health and improve community health in a sustainable way. Prioritizing community engagement and community mobilization is something I think about consistently when contributing to the development of public health programs in the organization. As someone who is not a member of the communities we serve, I prioritize ensuring effective communication with the populations to maximize our impact.
Community mobilization informs my work at the COH as it makes me wonder how we can better use our resources to bring members of the community together to share their experiences, concerns, and suggestions. Additionally, we center our programs around health education and discussing how community members can manage their health at home and what they can do to feel empowered when seeking care.
Each time I meet with my supervisor to discuss my project regarding increasing the uptake rate of HIV PrEP among Black women, I ask and think about how we can make our work more inclusive in order to improve engagement. This includes providing a space where people can make their voices heard and can engage in dialogue to feel connected and empower each other.
This summer I am continuing my internship at the Color of Health (COH) as the Public Health Research Director. COH is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in New York City that seeks to provide access to culturally-competent health education, resources, and initiatives to communities of color in the city. The organization aims to mobilize and empower these communities so that they are able to reach optimal health and wellness.
I have been working at the organization for a little over a year now and have found the experience to be inspiring, educational, and fulfilling. I was interested in joining an organization that was committed to addressing health inequities among communities of color while prioritizing the populations’ needs. It is clear that the members of the organization understand that when designing and implementing public health initiatives, the most effective outcomes are produced when the community’s needs are truly heard and prioritized. At Brandeis, I study Health: Science, Society, and Policy, Biology, and Anthropology, and I wanted to find an organization that had an interdisciplinary approach to their public health programs. As an Anthropology minor, I find it important that those implementing public health interventions have a connection with the target communities and make them feel heard and validated. The public health initiatives created by COH are uniquely tailored to each impacted community, with the goal being to mobilize, inspire, and advocate for culturally-competent health care. I have really enjoyed watching how each board member takes lead on their projects with such excitement and passion. The connection they have to their communities is evident in their work.
When I began the internship, my mentor gave me the opportunity to choose a project I would be interested in contributing to. During my time at Brandeis, I have become very interested in exploring the social aspects of infectious disease and why disparities exist among populations. This interest aligned well with my mentor’s expertise in sexual health, so I proposed a project aimed at addressing the disparity in the uptake of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (an HIV prevention medication) among Black women. I am now developing a workshop targeted at healthcare providers to raise awareness of the low uptake rates that exist. I will also be expanding upon this project to further understand why disparities exist in healthcare provided to Black Women in regards to sexual health and HIV.
Another role I have as an intern is contributing to the organization’s social media presence. This includes creating posts and sharing relevant information and content about health-related topics that affect communities of color.
This summer, I hope to apply and integrate what my courses at Brandeis have taught me about public health and the role social determinants have in it. My goal is to use what I have learned to implement a public health campaign that will have a sustainable, positive impact on the community. Through this work, I also anticipate that I will gain a deeper understanding of the scientific process as it relates to research in the social sciences. Overall, I believe my experience at COH will continue to strengthen my resilience and build upon my problem-solving skills, as I expect to be met with obstacles throughout my work. I have found this work to be so meaningful and am loving every minute with the organization.