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Health Equity Forum: Ethnic Partner Spotlight – March 2018

Black Life Matters: Our Health Must Be Our First Priority!

The California Black Health Network (CBHN) is celebrating its 40th anniversary by working with the African American community to build a blueprint for change called The California Black Health Agenda. In 2017, CBHN temporarily turned its focus from the California State Capitol to the streets—convening town halls in seven cities around the state to hear directly from African Americans about their health concerns.

“Advocacy begins in the community. If there’s no community support the fixes aren’t as effective,” according to CBHN’s Deputy Director, Dr. Angelo Williams, Ed.D. “We engaged with the community and asked them at a core level for 14 months, ‘What would a health system that serviced African Americans needs look like? What services do you need?’”

Almost 400 residents showed up at town halls in Perris, Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland, San Bernardino, San Diego and Los Angeles, culminating with a final conference in Los Angeles in February.

“The turnout surprised and delighted us,” says Dr. Williams. “We expected 75 people at the final convening, 200 people showed up, 1600 people watched live on Facebook. People want to be heard. There is a strong and very vocal interest by the African American community to get engaged on the advocacy level.”

The meetings included presentations from health departments, universities, mental health professionals, prevention specialists and healthcare providers as well as community advocates. The audiences responded enthusiastically; identifying behaviors, services, and strategies for health and well-being—both positive and negative. Many of the stories were heart breaking.

“A story repeated throughout the conference that we heard over and over again was the struggle of African American women and health. The myth of the African American superwoman sometimes finds Black women doing so much for so many, but not enough, as it relates to health, for herself. We don’t talk enough about women and heart health. My own sister Angelique died at 43 of a heart arrhythmia, which we didn’t know she had. Black women are dying in childbirth—even as infant mortality rates are going down. We need to do more to educate the community and Black women on issues of awareness and prevention. The medical community needs to do more research and ask more questions, too,” says Dr. Williams.

Town hall participants also reported a disturbing trend of African Americans feeling stigmatized in health care environments when using a Medi-Cal card. CBHN is concerned that this stigma could be a disincentive for African Americans to use health services, and a reason for stalled Medi-Cal enrollment in Black communities.

CBHN is using the California Black Health Agenda as a jumping off point for discussions about the health and well-being of the Black community.  The findings are broken down into four categories:1) Health Policy, 2) Community and Mental Health, 3) Oral Health, and 4) Economic Development, which will be rich topics for further discussion, research and advocacy. The next steps will be to connect the findings with budget and advocacy proposals. Dr. Williams notes there are numerous qualified and vibrant Black health and social welfare organizations with programs in place to address many of the issues that need attention in the community, so next steps are not about reinventing the wheel, but of allocating resources.

“We need to keep the momentum up, keep people engaged. We need letters coming to Sacramento, to school boards and city councils,” says Dr. Williams. “There’s some new energy, young people are involved, there’s a shift in demographics. We’re inspired by the numbers and the level of excitement. People are raring to go!”

Read more about CBHN’s findings at www.CABlackHealthNetwork.org