Opening Remarks

Spring 2024

A quarterly e-newsletter in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Health Equity (OHE) shares news, perspectives and progress in the science and practice of health equity.

Leandris Liburd

Drafted by: Sarah Borah

Sometimes we have the good fortune to see innovative public health initiatives take root and flourish! Such is the case for the REACH program – an acronym for Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. This community-centered, culturally tailored health disparities program was launched in 1999 to address longstanding health disparities and health inequities in racial and ethnic minority communities. I had the good fortune to serve as Director of the program from 2004-2011. The original cooperative agreement was written to mobilize coalition-building and equitable decision making between community leaders, public health, and academic partners to create action plans to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities in selected communities. REACH was conceived from the standpoint that the collective genius of the community, health agencies, and subject matter experts in public health planning, implementation and evaluation could produce solutions to persistent health disparities. During my time working with REACH, I learned a lot about what it takes to be successful in reducing health disparities in communities of color. I observed bold, phenomenal, and cutting-edge leadership among the grantees. They knew how to get things done. For example, I saw “food deserts” transformed with full-service supermarkets. There were outcomes published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that included closing the gap in mammography screening among Black women living in rural communities in the South. School lunch policies were changed such that healthier meals were provided to thousands of students in a major city in the northeast. Infant mortality rates were significantly reduced in a mid-size city in the Midwest. REACH was so effective that the program garnered the attention of and ultimately partnered with Local Authorities in the United Kingdom to share lessons learned. I’d like to thank Dr. Ruth Petersen, Director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity (DNPAO) and the REACH Team for the invitation to be part of their celebration and be able to recognize the national impact of REACH for more than 2 decades. Despite numerous challenges, the program has prevailed, succeeded, and stands strong today with 50 grantees and a rich 25-year history!

I am having a second-generation experience of a very successful program supported by the Office of Health Equity which is the John R. Lewis CDC Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program! Now in its 13th year, this program exposes 2-year community college graduates, 4-year undergraduate college junior and senior students, and recent postgraduates to minority health and health equity topics; ideally, resulting in their aspiration to pursue a public health or health care career. In the first 10 years of the Lewis program, over 35,000 students applied to the program and almost 70% of Lewis alums enrolled in a graduate program in public health or other health-related fields including medical school. Our Health Equity Champion for this issue, Dr. Sade Richardson, is also a 2013 alumna of the program! She embodies the essence of the power and impact of the program, so be sure to read our highlight of Dr. Richardson! Lastly, but never least, kudos to our academic and Indian Health Board partners for establishing a winning program that is building a critical mass of diverse public health and health care leaders. They are the real brain trust behind the success of the Lewis Scholars Program! Thank you for all you do! We can hardly wait to meet the students when they come to CDC later this summer!

Let’s dig into the Spring 2024 issue of Health Equity Matters! Communication – and I should say, effective communication– is a cornerstone of good public health practice. Our health communication specialists provide principles for communicating about health equity in this issue. This is a very timely topic as there are misguided ideas and misrepresentations of health equity and its role and strategies in public health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we feature an innovative suicide prevention program focused on LGBTQ+ youth, “All in My Head.”   Recently released health equity resources, toolkits, and data are also highlighted in this issue, including the most recent focus of our Partner Webinar Series titled “Health Equity Science and Data for Action.” Every other month, we offer a webinar of interest to our partners that advances health equity science, interventions, and action. The webinars are open to all who are interested, so watch for the next announcement of an upcoming webinar and be sure to register.

The Office of Health Equity is making great strides in building both CDC’s capacity to lead the integration of health equity in an all-of-public health approach as well as in assisting state, tribal, local, and territorial departments of public health and others committed to optimal public health enhance their health equity work. You will see some of the extraordinary progress being made in the articles in this issue.

Summer is almost here! In Georgia, schools are closed for the summer.  Traffic is a bit (just a bit) lighter, and many of us are making vacation plans. I hope you get a moment to pause, grab an iced tea, and get started on reading this issue of Health Equity Matters. Be well. Stay safe.