This blog is estimated to take 4 minutes to read.
Last fall, when I thought I couldn’t take on one more thing, I agreed to chair UNMC College of Public Health’s Only in Nebraska campaign. What? Why? How did I convince myself to do this?
The spark for me was the opportunity to learn more in community about the social justice college that is doing amazing research and education. I committed to hosting a series of events to highlight the work of the College of Public Health and how it fits into the social justice ecosystem of our community.
For me, this fit in with so many of the issues forefront of my mind and provided a path to connect with our grantees, community leaders, and others about issues like overdose prevention, cancer, mental health, and preparedness in a learning space. These events also provide some social capital and allow for authentic connections among community-based organizations, policy makers, academics, media content creators, and funders.
When LB 307, the bill that protects behavioral health workers who use harm reduction strategies, was coming to the unicameral, we brought Nebraska Aids Project and Overdose Witness Education Network to be a part of a panel with College of Public Health’s Alëna A. Balasanova, MD, FAPA. They spoke about what it takes to put a bill like this together, what is the impact it could have, where it falls short, and what we can do. Attendees wrote postcards to their state senators while they learned the many challenges of even collecting data on who dies of an overdose.
In April, having spent the previous six months with my uncle as he battled cancer, I wanted to know, does the College of Public Health do anything about cancer? Turns out we can prevent 50% of cancer if we pay attention to the screenings and recommendations of amazing doctors like the ones at UNMC. Additionally, not addressing environmental toxins is creating cancer in our populations. Issues of racial inequity go deep in this arena. Understanding when and how folks get recruited for medical research and what it takes for news about hazards in our environment to be taken seriously were informative for me.
I am so grateful for efforts by folks like Dr. Keyonna King who partnered with Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing to get colon-rectal screening kits to the community. Having the three-part documentary, Emperor Of All Maladies, shown at Film Streams provided a common starting place for conversation. Each session had public health doctors, physicians from the Buffett Cancer Center, and community members as part of panels to discuss how cancer is impacting our community. These conversations were powerful ways for me to process many of the issues that came up personally while my uncle defeated his cancer.
United Way of the Midlands’ Women United has taken on Mental Health First Aid to assist our community members in becoming effective members of the front line, listening and identifying for when and how to approach one another in times of need. In May, I took that training with a few members of the Urban League of Nebraska and International Council for Refugees and Immigrants, who both work with youth. We came up with ideas about how to provide additional support to other non-profits and community members. I also took the Region 6 QPR training with 20 other members of our community who are concerned about preventing suicide where different organizations who serve refugee populations connected.
What I was most inspired by thus far was when Anne Hubbard hosted an event highlighting the global, local, and policy work of the Environmental Justice team led by Dr. Jesse Bell. I don’t know that I have ever been so fired up (and that is saying a lot!)—what are we doing in Mead? What are we doing to protect our aquifer? Why are we allowing so many children to have pediatric cancer when we have known for 30 years about the nitrate levels in our water? Something must be done! I have asked permission to replicate this event so more community-based organization leaders, individual activists, business leaders, funders, politicians, media content creators, and more can have a similar experience.
While these events are not Weitz Family Foundation events in name, connecting people from different sectors is part of the relational aspect of our work. Learning together, engaging together, and sharing knowledge together makes us a stronger community. Taking on the College of Public Health campaign was less about the dollars we need to raise (but we will Dr. Khan! Don’t worry!) and more about the learning and relationships that would come along the way.
If you would like to know more about these events (a pandemic mystery dinner, a misinformation/big data discussion, a guardians of public health cos-play birthday party, etc.) let me know! Or, if you simply want to learn more about the awesome work of the College of Public Health and the role they are playing in any number of issues, I would be happy to discuss more and connect you to the folks doing the serious science and outreach.