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We know that health is influenced by our families, environments, communities, and much more.
Health inequities occur when barriers prevent some groups from receiving access to healthcare and other resources that positively impact health.
Community power is an emerging method for marginalized communities to enact systemic changes that address social and health inequities.
What is Community Power?
Community power is people’s ability to create systemic change through a mutual agenda to achieve a larger goal.
“Building power is particularly critical for communities working hard to thrive despite generations of systemic challenges, including low-income and communities of color being excluded from decision-making on the policies and practices that impact their health and prosperity,” according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
Through this mechanism, communities will be able to work on issues directly affecting them.
“The connection between community-led strategies, place, and health is strong and research has shown that the people most directly affected by systemic barriers and inequities are best positioned to drive change in their communities,” according to RWJF.
Community power allows for people to better recognize their ability to enact change, according to RWJF.
“Research finds that building community power is not only instrumental to winning policy reforms and promoting equity, but fundamental, in that it transforms people’s ability to recognize and wield their own power in shaping the systems around them,” according to RWJF.
Building community power is also an avenue toward a cohesive society, which can address many disparities for Latinos and other minority groups.
“Social cohesion represents the capacity of a society to ensure the long-term physical and psychological well-being of its members. However, social cohesion has declined in the U.S., mainly due to deprivation and inequality experienced by those in poverty. Fortunately, an increase in social cohesion can create feelings of solidarity. This manifests as eagerness to help others, on an individual level, and enhanced social support systems, on an institutional level,” according to a Salud America! research review.
How Can Community Power Be Used to Advance Health Equity?
Many organizations utilize community power to advance health equity issues.
For example, Lead Local is an initiative founded by RWJF to empower communities of color.
“Lead Local is working to lift up how power is built in low-income communities and communities of color. They study how power shifts over time, what factors influence those shifts, and how grassroots organizations build community power to improve social and economic conditions that advance health, equity, and well-being,” according to RWJF.
“Xavier has worked with other advocates and community partners to combat sugary drink consumption by supporting community-led advocacy. He believes that long-term sustainable solutions should be community-centric, so a one-size-fits all approach will not work. For example, just because a sugary drink tax has worked in Berkeley, California, doesn’t mean that same exact approach would work for another city or town. He recommends that residents of the impacted communities should decide how to approach sugary drink consumption and beverage company tactics in their own community,” according to State of Childhood Obesity.
With a sugary drink tax, decision-making should be centered in the community, so that citizens will be empowered, according to Morales.
“Community and equity-focused decision-making power should extend to deliberations about investing soda tax revenues back into the community. Xavier has found that the Berkeley sugary drink tax revenue program, which is overseen by a community board comprising stakeholders and residents, is a great example of the difference a community can make when they have the opportunity to address health priorities,” according to State of Childhood Obesity.
Salud America!, a national program supported by RWJF and based at UT Health San Antonio, is also harnessing community power to drive grassroots change.
Through their Salud Hero stories and videos, Salud America! showcases real champions of change who drive policies and environments for health equity in families, schools and communities.
By featuring heroes from the Latino community, Salud America! can outline the steps they took to enact change in their environments. That helps build action packs, which give direct resources and toolkits to enable communities to drive change.
“Action packs allow you to get involved to build health equity for Latino and all kids and push for healthy changes in schools and communities,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of Salud America! and the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at UT Health San Antonio.
Another RWJF initiative on community power is tobacco policy change. They used community power to build coalition campaigns for tobacco control policies.
“In 2004, we funded Tobacco Policy Change, which worked intensively with low-income and Native American communities and with communities of color to build coalition campaigns for tobacco control policies. We sought out agencies that had credibility within their communities even if they lacked expertise in health, including groups that had worked on safety, Main Street redevelopment, and housing,” according to RWJF.
How Else Can We Help Latinos?
Latinos can benefit from community power that addresses health inequities.
Issues like childhood obesity and tobacco use that affect Latinos and other people of color can be addressed in more effectively when the community itself is involved.
Another way to activate a community and stand up for Latinos and other people of color is to help your city to declare racism a public health crisis.
Download the free Salud America! “Get Your City to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis Action Pack”!
The Action Pack will help you gain feedback from local social justice groups and advocates of color. It will also help you start a conversation with city leaders for a resolution to declare racism a public health issue along with a commitment to take action to change policies and practices. It will also help build local support.