(2) Community Engagement and Empowerment in Public Health

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.

Health education series about managing diabetes at home.

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. 

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