Masked up and eager to reconnect in-person, awardees of The BUILD Health Challenge (BUILD), as well as funders and partners from across the US gathered in Philadelphia over two days in June for the first convening since the fall of 2019.

The meeting aimed to strengthen the BUILD network and connect stakeholders with one another; share opportunities to learn from one another and advance the group’s knowledge on issues critical to improving health for all; assess where we all stand in our communities and in the field of community health—and chart our path forward, together. Last but not least, we came together to celebrate the tremendous learnings and growth achieved by the 18 communities that made up BUILD’s 3.0 cohort.

Through networking, workshops, and panels, members of each BUILD cohort took inspiration from their peers and leaders in community health. Here are four takeaways from the convening that we hope will help to inform your own journey in the field of community health.

 

Get Local

With a nod to the convening’s host city, representatives of BUILD Philadelphia (2.0) and Camden, New Jersey (3.0) kicked off the event with lessons learned from their respective initiatives on improving asthma outcomes related to unhealthy housing and increasing access to fresh, nutritious produce. Presenters discussed adjusting their initiatives during a turbulent period, recognizing how COVID-19 and anti-racist social movements have shifted their perspectives on health equity.

In Philadelphia, the confluence of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd compelled members of the Home Preservation Initiative for Healthy Living to more intentionally center community voices in their work. This reflection led to the development of a homeowner advisory council, which has helped people more effectively advocate for themselves and decisions involving their homes.

The Roots to Prevention team in Camden had a similar experience in determining how to support community members suffering under racist oppression and the compounded stress of the pandemic, as they sought to become more empathetic listeners and partners.

 

Look Toward the Future

As BUILD 3.0 ends this summer and awardees transition to a new phase in their initiatives, their colleagues from the first two cohorts offered guidance on how to chart a more equitable path forward.

Creating trust within collaboratives is essential to this process, especially considering the historical and current abuses within health care, according to the Thrive18 team in Pittsburgh. The collaborative underscored the need for patience in developing trusted relationships, and sticking together even through disagreements.

In Cincinnati, members of the Avondale Children Thrive Initiative have found success through bringing nontraditional partners into the fold, encouraging fellow BUILD awardees to pursue innovative solutions with unexpected allies. Business leaders especially can be advocates for policy and system changes, as the collaborative has discovered.

 

Reclaim Communities

 

As a real estate developer and urban revitalization strategy consultant, Majora Carter is demonstrating how talent retention and passion can help low-status communities thrive. In her book, Reclaiming Your Community: You Don’t Have to Move Out of Your Neighborhood to Live in a Better One, Carter offers a vision for developing the kind of communities where people want to stay. She pushed back against the harmful notion that success is dependent on how far one is removed from their low-status community, instead focusing on the value that people bring to their communities that have been dismissed and underappreciated.

Born and raised in the South Bronx, Carter seeks to bring increased opportunity to where she grew up, through initiatives such as launching the community-owned and -operated Boogie Down Grind Café in the Hunts Point section of The Bronx. (Read more and watch clips from Majora Carter’s session.)

 

Make the Invisible Visible

Systems change is part of the BUILD model, but achieving meaningful change within an organization or a community requires deep reflection. In an interactive panel, Jennifer Torres of the Michigan Public Health Institute walked attendees through several exercises to engage in meaningful systems change work, such as recognizing mental models that can hinder progress.

Torres also guided participants in a discussion of the leading equity-centered systems change by addressing the visible components like policies and practices, and the invisible ones, including relationship building. She encouraged attendees to contemplate how they approach community needs, shifting their mindsets to consider the invisible aspects of systems: the relational and the transformative.

 

On balance, the health and safety precautions along with the virtual option for those who could not participate in-person, provided the most meaningful takeaway—Connections with One Another Hold Us Together and Make Us Stronger. It is this network of peers that will help us all move forward together and make our work possible in support of better health for all.

This article was contributed by Julia Haskins, Communications Associate at the de Beaumont Foundation.