CEI 2017 1Dr. Errol Crook focused on the importance of health equity at CEI 2017.On Friday, Oct. 6, the 2017 Community Engagement Institute (CEI) drew a large crowd, both live and virtual, interested in sharing best practices at the nexus of health, environmental renewal, and civil inclusion and empowerment. From the opening keynote speaker to the final networking session, the call for health equity resounded, creating a strong sense of connection and shared purpose among the diverse attendees.

The theme of the CEI 2017 was “Community Health from Engagement and Environmental Renewal (CHEER) for Civil Inclusion and Empowerment.” More than 125 attended in person at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center (BJCC), with dozens more participating at the sister event hosted by CCTS Partner University of South Alabama (USA), which conducted its own breakout sessions in between the livestreamed keynotes from the BJCC.

CEI 2017 2Dr. Errol Crook’s presentation addressed the link between access to health care and better health outcomes across the lifespan.Opening key note speaker Dr. Errol Crook, Abraham A. Mitchell Chair, Professor and Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, University of South Alabama College of Medicine, set the tone with his inspirational personal journey from a basic scientist to a “multi-focused health disparities physician investigator.” He shared how he realized during his medical training that a patient’s background includes important information that wasn’t taken into account but had tremendous bearing on health outcomes “and [social determinants of health (SDHs)] is now a burgeoning field of science.”

Crook highlighted the key ingredients that constitute a healthy community: walkable, easily navigable; safe; good jobs; good educational opportunities; healthy and trusting relationships with neighbors; access to all the necessities of life nearby; low stress; no exposure to environmental toxins; able to make decisions regarding its destiny. The latter, he said, was often overlooked but critical to health. The “opportunity to participate in society” reflects a “difference between being poor and being impoverished,” with impoverishment rooted in a lack of education and a voice as well as income.

CEI 2017 3Ms. Bell McCoy shared insights from her journey as an activist committed to eradicating systemic racism in America.The challenge and opportunity for academic-community partnerships is “how to give greater voice to those communities whose voices are most ignored.” Crook stressed the most important ingredient for the success of such a partnership is “respect.” He described the current health care disagreement as a debate between those who see health care as a right versus those who see it as a privilege. He challenged the audience to move past this to instead imagine a nation that has achieved health equity. “Are all Americans empowered to make the decisions that will insure good health over their lifetime?”

Ms. Diane Bell McCoy, the second keynote speaker, also shared a personal journey of finding her voice and learning to use it to dismantle systemic racism by working within such systems. Her story was at times painfully raw, underscoring the link between racism and its negative mental health impacts, such as depression and suicidal ideation. She described the difficulty she faced in getting culturally relevant mental health services as a young college student, struggling to find an African American therapist who “helped me find my gift and apply it to the world around me.”

CEI 2017 4The CEI 2017 posters echoed the theme of health equity, showcasing research, programs, and concepts addressing health needs in disadvantaged communities.

Bell McCoy is now the President and CEO of Associated Black Charities, a public foundation credited for its work as a catalyst for statewide advocacy, policy design, and innovative transactional strategies as they relate to the impact of structural racism in depressing the economic and health outcomes for the African American community. She explained her approach is grounded in “the Ps”: the intersectionality of Policies that support the racial distribution of both health and wealth; the Process of community engagement; changing Programs not just People (“lives can change, but if systems do not, racial inequities remain”); and keeping it Personal. “This work takes courage…there can be a shared vision, but you have to get past language barriers and establish trust, build relationships, before you can discuss the issue of privilege,” she said.

CEI 2017 5Breakout sessions featured local initiatives, such as the workforce development programs offered by Innovate Birmingham, the Dannon Project, and Central Six Alabama Works.

The CEI breakout sessions differed this year depending on attendee location. In Birmingham, the sessions focused on a university-community collaboration to increase wellness among Alabamians with disabilities, the human rights argument for including marginalized communities in urban development planning, and the important role workforce development programs play in the health of newly released prisoners. In Mobile, the breakout sessions explored research apprenticeships as an emerging model for inclusion, how to involve the community when planning the dissemination of research results, and the importance of listening in community-university collaborations focused on advancing community health.

This year’s poster session featured a mix of research findings, program evaluation, and conceptual frameworks. CCTS applauds all of our poster presenters, including our Best Poster award winners who are listed below.

Research Category
Jermaine Mitchell, University of Montevallo
Barriers and Facilitators of a Community Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce CVD in Rural African Americans
Shervonne Poleon, UAB-Vision Science Graduate Program
Social Media as an Instrument for Improving Health Literacy and Health Behaviors in Glaucoma

Advocacy Initiative Category
Amy Badham and Tessa Graham, UAB Office of Service Learning and Undergraduate Research
Bridging the Gap between Water Resource Education and BAMA Kids

Conceptual Framework Category
Emily Blejwas, Gulf States Health Policy Center
Building Community Based Research through Community Coalitions

New this year, CEI ended with a networking session called “Cookies and Conversation.” CEI 2017 Chair Dr. Doug Moellering encouraged everyone to “talk about what we’ve learned here, now and when we return to our communities, taking with us with our new goals and connections.”

CEI 2017 was sponsored by the CCTS and its community engagement component, One Great Community; the Center for the Study of Community Health; and UAB. The CCTS would like to thank the CEI Planning Committee, including OGC Program Director Dr. Shauntice Allen and Dr. Moellering, and CCTS USA Site Lead Dr. Kimberly Littlefield and Shannon Shelley-Tremblay, program director for the USA Center for Healthy Communities, for their efforts in organizing the sister event at USA.

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