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What it Takes to Build a Healthy Community

Jul 17, 2023

What it Takes to Build a Healthy Community 

By Ashlee Young 

At Interact for Health, we are challenging unfair policies and systems that not only make life tougher for some members of our community but also make their lives shorter— up to 26 years between neighborhoods. [1] That’s why I felt led to speak at Cincinnati’s 2023 Neighborhood Summit, which was centered around the theme “Building Healthy Communities”. 

I asked the audience, “How do we get there - to this better place we all imagine?”  

We’ve been asking the same question here and we are investing and elevating the following strategies: 

People Power

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines people power as the ability of communities most impacted by inequity to act together to voice their needs and hopes for the future and to collectively drive structural change and hold decision-makers accountable. 
This means knowing and owning your role. Dr. Tiffany Jana defines these roles as the following: 

  • Expert: People with lived experience of whatever issue is trying to be addressed. 
  • Ally: Someone who supports the concept of equity and justice in theory. 
  • Accomplice: Someone who actively works to dismantle existing systems of oppression.  
  • Co-Conspirator: Someone who has, seeks and creates meaningful relationships and works alongside the communities they support. 

At Interact for Health, we’re identifying co-conspirators to support the experts already doing the work in their communities.  

Changing the Rules

There is an unseen infrastructure for health-related policies and systems. Proximity to and cost of healthy food options influences what we eat and drink. Public transportation, housing and schools dictate where we can live, work and study. Access to green space affects how our children play and breathe.  

Changing how these systems work is the best way to cultivate healthier and more just communities. Interact for Health is engaging community experts to change the rules at their workplaces, schools and neighborhoods. 
Changing the Story and Who Tells It

Changing the narrative is critical to building interconnectedness and equity. In fact, it is a necessary first step on the Journey to Health Justice. Individuals and communities all have a story to tell. Sometimes, these narratives are not ours to tell and have been dictated by those not impacted. This is why we must ask regularly:   

  • Who’s telling the stories? Is the story as true and hopeful as we need it to be? 
  • Whose reality do stories represent? Do they represent my neighbor’s reality? 

What has to change so that we can tell the true story about our community being healthier and more just?   
These strategies are helping us tackle the root causes that have made our communities inequitable for far too long.

We have an opportunity to become a region that was able to close the gap in life expectancy of up to 26 years from neighborhood to neighborhood. We are only as healthy as our least healthy neighbor, and it will take all of us to build the healthy community we aspire to be.  

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

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