“We are our brothers’ keepers”
Camden residents demand community investment at “Take Back Our Health” rally
One year ago, Rosita Randolph found herself struggling to breathe and was rushed to the hospital. A longtime smoker, she had been facing some serious health challenges–COPD and diabetes, among other things. While at the hospital, our enrollment staff offered her an opportunity to enroll in our Care Management Initiatives program. Rosita began working with Camden Coalition nurses, social workers, and community health workers shortly after being discharged. “When I was finally out of the hospital, they sent me home with this oxygen machine,” she recalled. “Maritza came to my house and she sat down with me and asked about my goals. We worked together to write a health plan. It was my plan. It wasn’t somebody standing there saying, ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that.’ I set the goals and I made the plan. And because they were my goals and it was my plan, I was able to stick to it and get better.”
One of her goals, she told Maritza, was to be able to get up and do the Cupid Shuffle again. She had no idea she would be leading the popular line dance in front of a crowd a year later at our Take Back Our Health rally in front of City Hall. Now a graduate of our program, Rosita is able to manage her chronic conditions, has lost ten pounds, and quit smoking. She spoke onstage with pride about her experience as a participant, and how the Coalition staff provided her with the structure and support she needed to improve her health and wellbeing.
By organizing Take Back Our Health, a city-wide day of action held on October 7, we wanted to initiate a change in the health care debate–from one confined within the four walls of the hospital to a broader conversation about how our neighborhoods and the conditions in which we live, work, and play impact our individual and community health.
Nancy Pope-White, president of the Coalition’s Community Advisory Council, emceed the rally with Soley Berrios, college success coach at Hopeworks ‘N Camden. “In order for our community to flourish, we have to start with health because we can’t function without being healthy,” said Nancy. “We want to ask our leaders to invest in the community and give us the resources we need to take control of our health.
“We want clean parks for children so they don’t worry about stepping on needles. We want fresh food options. We want stable, safe places to live. We have to be a voice for the voiceless and those who need a better quality of life. Say to your neighbor, ‘I matter.’ We are our brothers’ keepers,” Nancy said.
Also at the rally was City Council President Frank Moran, who presented to Rosita a proclamation from Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd declaring October 7, 2017 Take Back Our Health Day. “The city of Camden is rebuilding. We have beautiful structures, but the most important component is building lives,” he said. “We have to get healthier care for ourselves, care about our neighbors, and have access to all the fresh produce and opportunities nearby cities have. My commitment to the Coalition stands firm. Let’s continue to work to improve quality of life.”
Dr. Wendy Ellis, project director of Building Community Resilience at The George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, delivered the keynote address. Wendy focuses her research on building support networks to promote resilience in vulnerable communities by aligning community-based partners with health systems and other agencies. Building resilient communities is within our reach, said Wendy, but we must commit as a community to provide “the means to not only bounce back, but to bounce forward.”
“Adverse community environments make it harder for individuals who are trying to do the right thing to make a great environment for our kids,” said Wendy. “While we can do things as an individual to improve our health and access those resources that improve our wellbeing, the key is to pull together multiple systems—our educational systems, our health systems, public health, law enforcement, public safety–to take responsibility for what our community looks like.”
After the rally, residents from across Camden headed from City Hall to their own neighborhoods for activities designed to help them get active and build local leadership for a healthier Camden.
“The people of Camden are the working poor,” said Nancy, who has lived in Camden for 35 years. “We are working two to three jobs and want to feed ourselves, have a roof over our heads, and enjoy time with our family. We are also college-educated with advanced degrees. This is a time for us to come together, build on our neighborhood pride, and advocate for our community health from the ground up.”