On October 7, the Camden Coalition will host Take Back Our Health Day, a citywide day of awareness, empowerment, unity, and mobilization around health. We know that the conditions in which people live, work, and play account for as much as 40 percent of all health outcomes, and that Camden residents are at greater risk of chronic illness and other health problems than people living anywhere else in South Jersey. With Take Back Our Health Day, Camden residents will engage in advocating for better health— for themselves and for their communities.

Take Back Our Health Day will start off with a rally at City Hall at 10 am, and then attendees will head back to their neighborhoods for an afternoon of activities and events, including yoga, meditation, zumba, and line dancing. A mobile van from the city’s health department will visit the neighborhood sites to provide blood pressure and cholesterol testing, as well as free flu shots.

Leaders from our Community Advisory Council (CAC) and Faith in Prevention program are taking the lead in planning the day. Jared Hunter, Program Assistant for National and Consumer Engagement, says that bringing these two groups together was part of the impetus of Take Back our Health Day.

“They are both such powerful, vocal, and important groups with deep roots in the community,” Jared said. “We knew that combining them to lead this event would help effect citywide change.”

Bishop Gus Swain of New Life Church Ministries is a longtime member of the CAC, and his congregation was one of the first participants in Faith in Prevention. “I’m always excited when people come together for a cause,” he said. “We want to build up a little community pride… When I was a child, you had very strong and positive community leaders, very strong and positive community attitudes— we wanted our street to be the cleanest, wanted our neighborhood to be the best, wanted our schools to be the best. Hopefully, on this day, we can take that back.”

To help tailor the activities in each neighborhood to the specific health disparities found there, CAC and Faith in Prevention leaders used data from the 500 Cities Project, a Centers for Disease Control initiative that provides Census tract-level health data for the largest 500 cities in the United States.

Bishop Swain is helping to plan the activities for Dudley, a neighborhood in East Camden. In East Camden, only around 60% of adults with high blood pressure are taking medication, and 40-60% of adults have no leisure-time physical activity. Activities planned for Dudley include a Family Feud-style relay race, blood pressure testing, and a chef-led cooking demonstration.

Better community health also requires better awareness of the impact of structural factors on health. In the weeks after Take Back Our Health Day, we will hold a screening of Unnatural Causes, a 2008 PBS documentary series that explores racial and socioeconomic inequalities in health.

“Take Back Our Health Day is about building leadership capacity in the community,” said Jared. “As the Camden Coalition is sparking a field and a movement for better care, how do we innovate and adapt alongside community members? With this event, we’re hoping to start a larger conversation.”

Take Back Our Health Day is made possible by the generous support of our partners, Get Healthy Camden, the American Cancer Society Team HEALE Camden, and Virtua. To find out more about the Unnatural Causes screening, please contact Maritza Gomez at mgomez@camdenhealth.org.

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