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Our Journey to Health Justice

Feb 27, 2023

Currently our region lags the nation in how long and how well we live. In some communities, the average lifespan gap can be up to 26 years between neighborhoods located just a few miles from one another.[1]

Many people assume that health care access, genetics or race cause the vast difference in lifespan. But the main reason is policies and systems that have advantaged some communities over others: urban over rural, white over black, wealthy over poorer.

We can–and must–do better.

That was our call to action to the partners, advocates, believers and doers who joined us at our Journey to Health Justice event at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Feb. 21. There, Interact for Health kicked off a new era of community-led health initiatives focused on closing longstanding gaps in lifespan and health in the Greater Cincinnati region. The event served as the launch of our new strategic plan and marked our 25th anniversary.

As a community, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about achieving equity—that is, providing services and support to address inequities—but achieving equity is not enough. Ultimately, our collective aim should focus on achieving health justice: removing the systemic barriers that create inequities. This is the vision that we are all called to think about… and wrestle with. We are called to ask, “What are our barriers and how can we work to take them down?”

Under our new strategy, we have identified a few priority areas where we feel we can make both short- and long-term impacts. These include a strong focus on mental health, investments in policy and systems change, and building community power. Across our work—and especially in our community power efforts—we will be focused on people and communities who are: Black, Hispanic, rural and low-income families.

Policies and systems
Our first priority area is policy and system change—because if we do not change the rules, we will not change the outcomes. At Interact for Health, we are focused on policies that are proven to improve overall health and to reduce inequities within our region. In our new strategy, we aim to support jurisdictions and communities that want to advance policies focused on improving overall health and reducing disparities. We will work to elevate community voices, especially among our priority populations, and change common narratives to focus on the root causes of inequities.

Community power
A stronger society can only arise when community members work together to address problems and identify solutions. That’s why the second priority area in our strategy is community power building. We recognize that those closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. Our role as a funder is not to come into a community and dictate what is needed. Instead, our approach is to support communities to solve the challenges that they know better than any of us, to encourage and support “people power” such as increasing agency, voice and civic participation. This lesson is reflected in a 2020 report by the California Endowment on Building Healthy Communities, which found that “plugging the voice of community into the right kind of political power grid will do more to create health and wellness than any other single intervention.” 

Mental health and well-being
Since our inception 25 years ago, Interact for Health has taken on some of the most pressing issues of the moment, lending our voice, grant funding, and ability to convene and collaborate to address these issues. Mental health and well-being are that issue today, especially among youth. In fact, it was the top issue that came back when we asked for community and partner input into our strategy last year. That’s why we’re aiming to improve mental health and well-being by strengthening systems and supports for young people and removing systemic barriers in mental health overall.

To that end, we’re thrilled to announce $2.6 million in funding opportunities to the community. Visit our Open Funding page to learn more and view current requests for proposals, which include:

  • $1.5M for partners working in either policy and system change, community power or narrative change.
  • $750K to support those working in mental health to increase the cultural competence of their workforce and programs.
  • $400K to amplify youth voice in developing solutions to address the youth mental health crisis.

And this is just our first wave of investments in these areas. We expect to announce more RFPs in the months to come—so be sure to stay tuned to our website, social media channels and, of course, our Health Watch Newsletter to stay in the know.

While large-scale, long-term change to advance health justice seems daunting, progress is possible. It is hard fought and takes time, but it begins with individuals coming together to tackle challenges that are bigger than any one of us. We look forward to being on this journey with you.

[1] SOURCE: National Center for Health Statistics, USALEEP, 2010-2015

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