Addressing social determinants can seem like a daunting task. Where do you start? Visit our Facebook Page to join the conversation. Change starts with us:
Listen. How are you actively listening to people outside of your social circle and immediate community? Attend lectures, community events, and religious services that expose you to ideas outside of your worldview. Follow a blog by someone with life experience different from your own or who cares about issues you are less educated about. Intentionally seek opportunities to spend time with people of different socioeconomic statuses. Listen to their stories, and when confronted with your personal biases and prejudice, listen even harder. Most importantly, when you are trying to help, first listen to those you seek to help. People know what they need.
Diversify. Take steps to increase your interactions and relationships with people who are not just like you. Meet people whose race and culture, religious view, political viewpoint, educational status, and socioeconomic status are different from your own. Consider joining a community organization or book club where you can hear from people who do not look or think just like you. Seek friendships built on mutual respect and benefit. Next, foster diversity within the lives of those in your social network. Host a dinner party, parent group, Facebook group, or an event where people can meet and exchange ideas.
Tell stories. First listen, but then tell your story and create spaces where others can tell theirs. Use whatever platform you have to provide a public space where others can share their experiences, particularly welcoming those whose stories are most often not heard. Share your personal experiences with local leaders and legislators. Detailed data charts, well-designed studies, and thorough analysis are often unable to communicate what can be said in a single effective story. We learn through the stories we tell one another. Social media can be a powerful storytelling platform, but stories can easily change from vulnerable and convincing to ranting. Accompany your stories with examples of positive action, and maintain enough humility to listen to the voices who have experiences different from your own.
Invest. Locate the low-income neighborhoods in your area and invest in them. Find a local organization that has a meaningful impact in that community and donate to them.Shop in the community and support local businesses. When local decisions about transportation,school zones, or voting districts are being made, ask first about the impact of those changes on low-income neighborhoods and commit to advocating for decisions that strengthen those communities.
Volunteer. Find an organization with deep roots in the community you hope to impact and ask them what they need. Structure the way you volunteer around the needs of the organization, laying aside what might feel or look better for you. Commit to long-term support, recognizing that the needs of the organization may change with time. The faithful commitment of a long-term volunteer is a significant asset to a service-oriented or nonprofit organization.
Encourage. Seek to better the lives of people through encouragement. Model kindness in interactions and be present when given the opportunity to listen or walk alongside someone in life. Presence does not require a shared lived experience or even understanding. Yet when you are present with others you may find a commonality you would have otherwise missed. Particularly invest in young people. Find opportunities through mentorship. Support early childhood education and public education with your voice and your vote.
Work. Consider pursuing a career that enables you to contribute to healthier communities. You might consider working in local government, like the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice, to affect policy change. By working for a foundation or university, like the Virginia Commonwealth University or the Kaiser Family Foundation, you can supply the data and reports needed by advocates and policy makers. You might run a youth-mentoring program or develop a thriving business that employs individuals leaving prison. Your skills, interests, and livelihood can promote health equity.
Engage. Change cannot happen without individuals engaging in policy decision-making. Engagement in policy making does not have to be political. Start by attending neighborhood association meetings. Follow your city council meetings and attend forums and town hall meetings as much as possible. Evaluate change through the lens of health equity: Will this decision make my neighbors, particularly those in low-income communities, healthier? Save the contact information for your city council members, district legislators, and state legislators in your phone and start with a goal to call once a month to advocate for something you care about. Finally, talk to your friends and family, post on social media, and encourage someone else to join you.
Step aside. Recognize your limitations within any service you are delivering or change you are trying to ignite. Sometimes you are not the best person to fix the problem,but you can create the support systems and opportunity for the people who are.Listen to those who are most affected by disparities, inequities, and systems of oppression, and then identify your role and get to work!
Let’s go make #healthyneighborhoods!