Community and the Power of Using Your Voice
MPH 2023 Epidemiology Graduate
I haven’t known about public health for a long time. I stumbled upon a Public Health 101 class my freshman year of undergrad, and was hooked pretty quickly. From that first class, and through every subsequent class I’ve taken since, we always talk about things like community, social determinants of health, barriers to access to things such as transportation, healthcare, health insurance, internet, and more. In my head, I always understood those things. They made sense to me and I accepted them as fact, as an inherent aspect of public health and the work we do. But it wasn’t until I came here to Texas that it really became clear to me.
It’s a lot different to know something in your brain, or to read it on paper, than to actually see it and talk to people who experience those barriers, are faced with their social determinants of health everyday, and who rely on their community to fill in those gaps. This week I helped facilitate three focus groups and got to speak to about 20 community members. They gave us two hours of their time, and told us about some very vulnerable experiences that they have had. I am so grateful to them, not only for that, but for inadvertently reminding me why I do the work that I do. Public health, from the epidemiology research that I do, to the education and policy decisions that my peers do, is at the end of the day about community.
I also learned about using your voice in a powerful way from the community members. During our final presentations, there were community members present (some who had been in the focus groups), people from the South Central Area Health Education Center and the Community Engagement Research Alliance (our partners in Texas), and people who had participated in other ways this week. When the community members knew that they were in a room with people who had the power to enact change, they spoke up. They used that platform and opportunity to speak their minds, and they shared things that others had not considered before.
In public health, we can sometimes be of the minority opinion. Being in that position, it is hard to still persist and hold fast to your values, especially when speaking to people in a position of authority. But I think we could all learn something from the amazing community members that I got a chance to speak with this week: your voice is a powerful thing. It can open people’s eyes, improve the lives of those you care about, and eventually enact real change. In fact, I think that in public health, our voices are the most powerful tool we have.