It is December 2021. I keep checking my calendar, because it feels unbelievable that we are a mere two weeks from the new year.   

In a year that seemed impossibly short and yet filled with an overwhelming amount of change, marking milestones in time can remind us of how far we have come and to situate ourselves in the present. Many of our lives are very different than they were a year ago – this past spring, COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in the United States and changed the trajectory of the pandemic. While we still feel the impact every day, much of the country has settled into a tenuous new normal. Even as we mask, test, and hold space for those who continue to be touched by illness and loss, we are spending holidays with loved ones again, returning to our workplaces, and living in community in a way that felt impossible a year ago.   

This fall also marked the end of the second year of BUILD’s third cohort. It was a season of movement – advancing conversations around equity and justice, gaining traction against the challenges of upstream work, supporting community leaders, and advocating for others to do the same. BUILD collaborative partners stepped into the spotlight as leaders, building new relationships, centering residents, and speaking out for bold change. While the ways that BUILD awardees contribute are innumerable, below is just a small selection of examples of how they are changing the conversation: 

Community collaboratives are having an impact 
  • Vallejo, CA: In a podcast with the team from All In: Data for Community Health, Melissa Jones and Cristal Little of the BUILD Vallejo team discuss their housing justice work, including aligning equity throughout decision-making and consistent community engagement – which recently led to a $2M commitment from the State of California to establish a community land trust. (Link
  • Cincinnati, OH: Jodi Cunningham, PhD, a partner in the BUILD 2.0 Cincinnati initiative, joined the Equity Matters podcast to discuss the impact of deepening relationships with community, promoting intentional and authentic interactions, and using power to influence decision-making with community voice at the center. (Link
  • Kerrville, TX: Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) profiled BUILD Kerrville partner A Light on the Hill for their work using data to better understand where community support services were needed and where they were having an impact. (Link
  • New Brunswick, NJ: BUILD partner New Brunswick Tomorrow was recognized for their work to strengthen and enhance critical efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates through partner collaboration and community health ambassador connections with a $100,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (Link
  • Gastonia, NC: After the launch of the RAMS (Really Amazing Food with Soul) Kitchen, the BUILD Gastonia team were profiled by a local paper for their innovative approach to expand healthy food access throughout the Highland community. (Link
  • Cleveland, OH: A BUILD 2.0 Cleveland partner, Environmental Health Watch, was recognized in a pair of articles on NPR for their work to improve housing quality and advance climate justice in Cleveland. (Link, link
BUILD communities are moving the field forward 
  • Breastfeeding-Friendly Cities: What does a breastfeeding-friendly city look like and why is it important? Victoria Williams, of the BUILD New Orleans collaborative, explored the importance of breastfeeding, maternal health in communities of color, and building an equitable future for mothers and families to thrive, in a session with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. (Link
  • Shifting Power to Community: Donyel Barber, of the BUILD Gastonia team, led a panel conversation hosted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on listening to and elevating the voices of members of their communities as they work to align sectors. (Link
  • Good Governance Across Sectors: Josie Williams, of the BUILD Greensboro team, joined other leaders on an Aligning for Health panel discussing how they’ve found success in governing cross-sector relationships when power dynamics, community voice, trust, and other factors are at play. (Link
  • Understanding Medical-Legal Partnerships to Address Social Determinants of Health: BUILD DC partner Tracy Goodman contributed to an article in Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action that explored strengthening the evidence base surrounding medical-legal partnerships by developing standardized evaluation tools in the areas of community health, health system savings, and learner outcomes. (Link
  • How Food Banks Can Address Food Insecurity and Related Health Issues: The BUILD Dallas team’s approach to addressing food insecurity by building strong relationships with residents and improving access where they live was spotlighted as a success in an article in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy. (Link 
BUILD is listening, learning, and catalyzing change around the nation – and within BUILD as well 
  • BUILD’s Listening Tour: Dozens of BUILD awardees participated in BUILD’s Listening Tour – an effort we embarked on with awardees and funders to learn new ways to address racial equity, center community members, and strengthen cross-sector partnerships to drive systems change. The resulting findings include five key strategy recommendations supported by learnings from the field, testimonials from community leaders, and how BUILD is reimagining the future of community health. (Link 
  • Our Journey to Advance Health Equity: Equity is at the heart of BUILD’s mission, and its role has evolved and reshaped the BUILD model as we’ve grown. Earlier this year, we paused to reflect on our equity journey and shared key learnings and strategies useful to anyone working to center equity and create change. (Link)   
    • Looking for more on health equity? We also shared a report out from BUILD’s Racial Equity Summit, including ways that communities can address the root causes of health inequities. (Link)   
  • Profiling Leaders in Public Health: To recognize the contributions of our public health partners – particularly during a global pandemic – we interviewed four public health practitioners participating in BUILD collaboratives to share insights from their work, their aspirations, and what role public health can play moving forward. (Link)   
  • Advancing the National Conversation Around Health Equity: The American Rescue Plan launched a historic level of investment in public health – providing a stunning opportunity to advance equity at a variety of levels. BUILD detailed five tactics to guide the long-term strategy towards health equity for Invest Health. (Link)   

We are only featuring a few public highlights here, but we look forward to sharing in-depth stories from all 18 communities over the coming months. Stay tuned for more in 2022! 

As we look forward into 2022, the truth is that we don’t know exactly what will happen, globally or locally – the last two years have proven true the adage that the only constant is change. However, we do know that BUILD partners will continue to respond to these changes in ways that support the people in their community, to hold all of us accountable in how we exercise our individual and communal power, and to counter fear of the unknown with hope and movement towards for a better future for all. In a recent letter to awardees, my colleague Emily quoted author Luvvie Ajayi Jones: “People and systems count on our silence to keep us exactly where we are… In a world that wants us to whisper, I choose to yell.” Here at BUILD, we are getting loud.