Over the past 100 years, there have been many advances in public health in the United States. However, if we look at any of these victories, we see that their benefits are not reaching all of our communities equally. To increase the impact of public health initiatives, Praxis and our community allies believe that a new approach is needed—an approach that values authentic partnerships with the communities that are most affected.
At The Praxis Project, we believe that health and wellness are matters of justice and dignity. As many in the professional class of health and public health celebrate the last 100 years of the industry’s accomplishments, it is becoming normal that many African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander communities still have health statistics similar to those in developing countries. For many, this sense of normalcy obscures the darkest human experiences—such as homelessness, trauma and early death—that are still being felt in our communities. These statistics become even starker when combined with economic disinvestment within these communities.
At The Praxis Project, we believe that there are measurable ingredients that impact how healthy our communities can be. The presence or absence of these ingredients, also known as the social determinants of health, can give or take away health, give or take away days of life, and give or take away human dignity. The degree to which these determinants are robustly present or absent in a neighborhood or community is usually the result of historical and structural conditions that have extended privilege to some while withholding it from others. The underlying explanation for the availability of these determinants is typically discrimination based on race, ethnicity or other identity-related factors.
In our communities, to address health, we have to simultaneously work on multiple determinants. We believe strongly in an approach that emphasizes health equity.
Many localized, community-led efforts—which may not be on anyone’s list of “best practices” or “evidence-based” health interventions—are still effective because they have emerged organically from local wisdom in spaces with unique contexts. These local efforts also recognize the ever-evolving needs of communities and that these needs may change over time. Today we may have to work on food security, but next year our focus might be school suspensions or living wages. We recognize that by building power to address one issue, we are building our capacity to address other issues as well.
Praxis is sharing these community stories. Our community partners who are addressing local needs are heroes. Many of these initiatives are started by regular folks who are tired of reading about health disparities and how they disproportionally affect communities of color—regular community members who don’t accept this new “normal.” Their passion for their children, families, and communities is profound.