Policy, peer connections and public health: A June events recap

PAI/HCCC Workshop

June 30, 2022

June has been a busy month for Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge grantees. While the two-year grant initiative is winding down, HCCC communities finally had the opportunity to engage outside of the virtual space through two in-person events. 

The activities started off with grantees attending APHA’s fourth annual Policy Action Institute in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of public health professionals spent the day learning about necessary policies to improve public health from a diverse group of leaders. Speakers and panelists addressed COVID-19, the prevalence of dis- and misinformation, and health equity. 

During the event, Jacqueline Ayers, JD, senior vice president of policy, campaigns and advocacy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, detailed the impacts that banning abortions can have on birthing individuals across communities nationwide, predominantly in communities of color. According to Ayers, banning abortions will cause immediate harm to up to 36 million birthing individuals in over 26 states. “We deserve bodily autonomy,” Ayers said.

Four youth advocates also shared their incredible stories, lived experiences, and work at the forefront of their communities. Sheylin De Leon, a first-generation college student working to decrease health disparities in Oakland, Calif., touched on the intergenerational circumstances of food insecurity. She stressed engaging youth as a key to transforming Oakland's food system. 

“Youth are extremely powerful voices,” De Leon said in a followup interview. “Don't underestimate them and allow them to be in spaces where their voices will be valued…Many communities are heavily impacted by food insecurity and youth have been able to reflect their struggles onto powerful movements that create generational change.”

De Leon shares the same vision of many HCCC leaders: “I hope that youth continue to spread awareness on food apartheid and educate and empower their communities to start changing the norms around what should be tolerated…Everyone deserves the right to a long healthy life.” 

After an inspiring day at the Policy Action Institute, HCCC leaders developed and adapted their own policy and advocacy processes during a day-long workshop held at APHA’s headquarters. Grantees engaged in multiple rounds of peer consulting with HCCC project team leads, community members and partners. 

Sarah de Guia, JD, CEO of ChangeLab Solutions and an HCCC advisory council member, , kicked off the workshop with a discussion around the foundational elements of policymaking . De Guia urged HCCC organizers to work alongside community members when creating a long-term vision, prioritizing community needs, and developing policy recommendations. 

The workshop ended with some heartfelt moments of reflection. HCCC leaders candidly shared their experiences battling against white supremacy, challenges posed by the pandemic, and gratitude for the opportunity to engage with their peers in-person. Ultimately, the group acknowledged that even after two years of hard work, there is a long road ahead for their communities.