Thursday, April 5, 2018

Police Shooting Deaths Should be a Nationwide Health Equity Priority

**Triggers - Gun Violence**

This week is National Public Health Week (April 2-8, 2018) with this focus:

"Everyone deserves to live a long and healthy life in a safe environment."

It's also National Minority Health Month (April 2018), and while the current administration chooses to focus on "a time to learn more about the health status of racial and ethnic minority populations in the U.S. " (whatever), my friend/colleague/sis Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and  Director of the Office of Minority Health from 2011 - 2017,  chose to focus in 2016 on what many of us who work intentionally in health equity focus on:

"Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation, will promote the extraordinary efforts underway by HHS and the Obama Administration to reduce disparities, advance equity, and strengthen the health and well-being of all Americans."

Whatever to the term "minority,” ( but that's another blog.)

And then yesterday, April 4th, 2018, as folks were organizing and raising awareness around the murder of Stephon Clark, and commemorating the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr.,  Saheed Vassell was gunned down in the neighborhood of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, NY. His community. 

So here's the thing - there will be no tangible health equity, health justice, or end to health disparities without intentionally addressing the systemic racism that exists in the fabric of this country which includes the institutionally protected practice of killing Black people by police. 


The gun violence displayed at Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street in Brooklyn, NY on April 4, 2018 was mortal trauma to Saheed Vassell, and was traumatic to the immediate family and community and to 100's of thousands (likely millions) of Black people around the world.  Mr. Vassell's family and community have spoken out about their anger, outrage, and disbelief (and many other emotions).  Witnesses have described the sudden, "no warning" appearance of the NYPD and killing of the man with no attempt at intervention.  Organizers around the country have expressed outrage, exhaustion, and dismay at another Black body being gunned down by the police.  Adults are gearing up to have another round of "the talk" with the young ones under their care. 

We feel this. Black people have known for centuries that we are not in a mentally/physically/spiritually/economically safe environment by default.  And yes we have tools for resilience and pushing thru.  With grace and beauty. Loud and proud. Ugly when we need.

But damn.

At the least a "healthy life in a safe environment" should mean my heart rate doesn't spike and body doesn’t start down the "fight/flight/freeze/appease/disconnect" path every time I see a police car or what may be an unmarked undercover car within shooting distance of my body - because I’m actually safe.

For the thousands of health practitioners that serve Black communities and wonder why the diseases you are attempting to address (of which many are actually signs of or exacerbated by chronic and acute stress) are a challenge or fall in the the “Black people have more of” category - please see the previous paragraph.

And before one goes down the road of “no one is looking at this” just know that  there is so much good work that exists to raise awareness, propose solutions, connect folks, provide holistic health support and more.  There are SO many lanes to choose from.

We do not have deficit of ideas or data.  We have a culture and society that has intentionally and actively supported and gained from the lessening of Black bodies for centuries.  A culture and society that has positioned leadership to react to steps towards civil rights and justice with counteractive legislation and action to reverse those steps (see recently the election of #45; efforts to repeal the ACA; "right to work" legislation; gutting of the voting rights act; the "muslim ban;" defunding of public education, healthcare, and housing; restrictive voting practices and redistricting. . .)

So let's step up our game.  Be bold. Disrupting this insidious murderous cycle will take creative, bold inside and outside strategy in the streets and suites. 

There are many areas (lanes) to work in. Family, community, city, national and global. Politics, policy, organizing, advocacy.  Old and new. Proven and innovative.  We need all of it.  And more!

As we look at National Public Health Week and National Minority Health Month let's look at gun violence of police against Black bodies as a health equity issue to be prioritized. 

What is your step?

Here are some resources. (Please add resources in the "comments" section)

Why Police Shooting Deaths Are ‘A Nationwide Issue’ | AM Joy | MSNBC

Cure Violence

Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform

Justice League NYC

#BlackLivesMatter — A Challenge to the Medical and Public Health Communities

National Public Health Week 2018

Dr. Nadine Gracia, National Minority Health Month, Heart and Soul Magazine April 5,  2016

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

June 2017 Press Release: Interfaith Medical Center Brings Healing Therapy to Brooklyn Residents

One of my favorite recent projects! In 2017, Faith Bynoe, M Div and I in partnership with the IM Foundation and NYC Center for Health Equity facilitated "Healing Circles" in Brooklyn.  In addition to the ones listed below at Interfaith Medical Center and the Bishop Orris G Walker, Jr. Healthcare Center, we facilitated circles in local NYCHA Housing and the Brownsville Neighborhood Health Action Center.  We look forward to continuing and expanding!


June 16, 2017

Contact: Alina Agusti (212) 725-2378

Interfaith Medical Center Brings Healing Therapy to Brooklyn Residents

New York, NY -  While holistic healing methods are not exclusively tied to any one culture, it is true that medically underserved areas have less access to healers trained in traditional healing techniques such as yoga, mindful meditation, and reiki. However, on June 15th from 12:30-1:30 PM and June 14th from 12-1 PM, Interfaith Medical Center (1545 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11213) and the Bishop Orris G. Walker, Jr. Healthcare Center (528 Prospect Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11238), respectively, brought healing circles to the residents of central Brooklyn.

“Central Brooklyn is a culturally diverse community with many existing healing practices from around the world and it is my hope that these healing circles help residents integrate those practices into their everyday routine,” said LaRay Brown, President and CEO of Interfaith Medical Center. “Interfaith is committed to not just providing high quality healthcare to our patients, but also giving them the tools to take control of their health. These healing circles will further strengthen our bridge with the community, while creating safe and enjoyable spaces for residents who may not have had access to them in the past,” Brown continued.

The Healing Circle program, funded by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, aims to not only lift community-based, culturally-specific, and holistic practices that already exist in our neighborhoods and cultures, but to also help disrupt the idea that a person’s health outcomes are primarily impacted by institutions and individuals with MDs.

Healing therapies offered included Femme! movement, yoga techniques, discussion, meditation, reiki, music therapy essential oil therapy and more. The project is facilitated by Faith Bynoe M Div and Dr. Luella Toni Lewis.

“My work is dedicated to promoting health and spiritual growth, but I see it through a perspective that is centered around integration. Having worked to create more integrated yoga spaces nationally, I believe we can all reap the highest benefits when we are inclusive and bring these healing practices to medically underserved and diverse areas,” said Faith Bynoe M Div.

“The cultures in Brooklyn are rich with holistic healing practices, however many residents don’t realize how incorporating these techniques into their daily lives can benefit their overall health ,” said Dr. Luella Toni Lewis. “With these healing circles we are helping to reshape the conversation around traditional health care and alternative healing practices.”


Faith Bynoe M Div is a faith leader and philanthropist whose life mission is supporting the development of people as they strengthen their communities. She focuses on the intersectionality of integrative health and spiritual formation through a womanist and racial equity lens. It’s at this intersection that Faith believes people will optimize their health and focus on cultivating a just society. An integrative therapist (yoga and essential oil therapy, reiki and contemplative care) she created the yoga program and Healthy Living/Weight Loss Challenge at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church, and is a founder of Bending Towards Justice, a company creating more inclusive yoga spaces nationally, by educating yoga teachers on racial equity and inclusion.

Faith coordinates the Racial Equity in Philanthropy Group for Marga, Inc., bringing together foundations with over $2 billion in assets to improve their operations by integrating a racial equity and inclusion lens into their institutional policies. For the past 15 years, Faith has worked within the philanthropic sector working for and with grant making institutions, concentrating on the responsible redevelopment of communities through a racialized lens. During her tenure at the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Ms. Bynoe managed over $80 million in grants; advised partners on effective strategies for philanthropic investment; facilitated community meetings; and worked with nonprofit organizations and foundations to authentically and effectively work together.

In addition, Faith practices her own philanthropy while being active within her community. She is a founding member of the Black Benefactors, a giving circle focus on grant making in the Washington D.C. metro area. Faith is also a member of the Association of Black Executives (ABFE), Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, and a Masters Series of Distinguished Leaders fellow.

In her spare time, Faith loves to deepen her own yoga practice and hang out with family and friends.

Dr. Luella Toni Lewis has spent her life committed to social justice. From a very early age, she was taught by her family that service was the highest form of leadership and that all humans deserve justice, dignity, and respect. With their support, she pursued a career in social justice through medicine and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in sociology and a Medical Doctorate from Georgetown University.

In 2004, Dr. Lewis became a family medicine resident and a member of the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR/SEIU) -- the largest physician’s union in the Service Employees International Union. Dr. Lewis became very active with CIR/SEIU, working with unions and allies to advocate for the community served by the failing system. She served the members of CIR/SEIU in many capacities from 2006-2010, including roles from delegate to National President.

As the healthcare reform movement intensified in 2008, Dr. Lewis continued to work to raise the voice of healthcare providers and the communities they serve. Because of this work, in 2010, with support of her family, friends, patients and colleagues, she was appointed Chair of SEIU Healthcare and elected International Vice President of SEIU. Dr. Lewis has worked with SEIU in many areas -- including ACA implementation and health system transformation, global health, youth engagement, racial justice, disaster response, and political strategy. She seves on various boards and leadership committees of health and social justice organizations, including a recent appointment to the NAtional Advisory Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Leadership Program.

She is devoted to justice, especially health justice, for all communities. Dr. Lewis is a Family Physician, Geriatrician and internationally credentialed FEMME! Movement and Kinetic (African) yoga instructor.

Both Ms. Bynoe and Dr. Lewis reside in Brooklyn, NY. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Politics, Policy, Research And Racism: This Week's Food Conversation Is A Master Class

On February 7, 2018, the L.A.Times published an Op-ed by a doctoral candidate entitled "Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? Because junk food Is the only indulgence they can afford." There are SO many dog whistles in this article -- I started to put pen to paper on the harm that this type of work has done/can do. As I was musing, stories started breaking regarding 45's proposal in his 2019 budget for "America's Harvest Box." - a program to give poor people a box of (“shelf stable,” i.e., canned and/or processed) food in lieu of a part of their SNAP benefits.

And there you have it. When a society is built on the myth/concept that poor people or Black people or Indigenous people, or any marginalized people are of lesser value than others, institutions governed by those who benefit from this inequality will perpetuate those myths/concepts that maintain the inequity that keeps a few empowered and many marginalized.

How are these concepts being perpetuated here? What themes are there?
Myth/Theme #1 - It's not the system; it's the individuals' lack of drive, education, intelligence, money, understanding, or desire that keeps them poor, unhealthy, sick, or sad.  For decades I have given any research that draws this conclusion a serious side-eye.  This premise has been used for hundreds of years to excuse everything from slavery to defunding social programs.  When this op-ed states that "the verdict is in" (side eye to THAT) that it's not food deserts, it's poor Americans’ use of food for indulgence because "junk food is the only indulgence that they can afford" . . .what!?!?! is the only joy/indulgence that can be gained (what?!?!?!). That's toxic.

Myth/Theme #2 - Because "they" lack intelligence/drive/education, “they” can't possibly understand how to take care of themselves.  So, we, the smart people, should do it for them. This paternalistic/parachuting tactic of imposing one group’s thought or process negates the genius and resilience that exists in marginalized communities.

Myth/Theme #3 - Because someone says something is "research," it is automatically fact or true.  So many of our academic and healthcare institutions have had an under representation of diverse, equitable, and inclusive thought for hundreds of years. We must always be a little skeptical at conclusions drawn, especially when those conclusions reflect the myths described in #1 and #2 above. Creating and preserving a system, economy, policies, and laws based on those myths are exactly how this country has operationalized systemic and institutional racism.

So the master class I alluded to in the title of this post goes like this. . .

  • Research done surrounded in themes of “less than” and intelligence of another class
  • Policy makers and politicians seeking to maintain the status quo cite this research  to impose less value on the minds and bodies of marginalized people.  
  • Because this research says it doesn't matter what the system does, we should just provide them with a box. 
  • We'll save money and force people (to). . .

Enough of that. I call bullshit on the entire thing.

But that's how it's been done for 100’s of years.

Now, of course all cultures have some form of joy/food connect.  We got Soul Food (Film, 1997),  right? And Thanksgiving?  

It is absolutely true that wages and income have an effect on one's quality of life.  And yes, research matters.  But all of the social determinants of health are intertwined.  To attempt to prioritize one determinant over another, as suggested in the L.A. Times article, misses the complexity of everyday living, and completely ignores the overriding impact of marginalization and systemic racism in the US.

Organizations like the National Medical Association, conferences like the National Conference on Health Disparities, and departments like the NYC Health Department’s Center for Health Equity all share info on best practices that are centered in the resources and genius of resilience that exists in communities.  

To shift differences in nutrition/food/health injustice, we need to tackle the entire system. The politics and policy. The laws. The research and practice. The social determinants.  The racism.

Truth be told, and Ifeoma Ike, J.D., L.L.M. expressed it perfectly on the 2/13/2018 podcast of Politea.  ‘Our communities will find a way to get what we need for our families.  We will organize.’ We are shifting things.  

That’s the good news.

Please comment and lift your favorite food justice programs (like this! Black Panther Party and Free Breakfast Program).  Share our genius.