More than 200 people attended the virtual Congregations as Health Connectors #HealthyMe town hall on Friday, January 29. This event was the first opportunity for faith leaders of the #HealthyMe Learning Community to share stories and goals about supporting health and wellness in the predominantly Black neighborhoods where they serve. Members of the media and others in the general public were invited to join the conversation.
Ten Marion County congregations have come together as part of this coalition since summer 2020, spearheaded by Professor David Craig and Reverend Shonda Nicole Gladden. Gladden, who is also the CEO of Good to the SOUL, says these kinds of public conversations can influence how community health partners address issues of health and wellness.
“We wondered what it would look like to build a coalition around congregations that did not have the same denomination or doctrinal beliefs, but had the shared goal of health and wellness, particularly for Black and Brown and impoverished communities,” said Gladden. “We began thinking about how we could accomplish that kind of connectivity.”
David Craig, who is professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI and a research affiliate with the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI), envisioned a learning community where participating congregations would share their local knowledge, engage to seek common purpose and act together. The two planned action goals were to educate local health care and public health care leaders, and to propose projects for future collaborations.
“We started with congregations sharing stories about how they support people’s wellness through their community, relationships and programs,” said Craig. “Beginning with the congregations’ health assets and their community health priorities means we celebrate the great work they are doing while building greater understanding and trust for a responsive partnership.”
After opening remarks from Rep. Robin Shackleford, who represents the 98th District for the Indiana House of Representatives, four Indianapolis faith leaders shared their unique experiences. Rev. Myrtice Macon, from Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, talked about how they reimagined their goals because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but are looking for new ways to emphasize good health in their congregation, such as hosting dental cleanings or other mobile health opportunities at their building. Rev. Aaron Hobbs, from United Methodist Church, became the church’s senior pastor last summer. Hobbs says they have hosted socially distanced get-togethers in the church parking lot, including a blood drive.
Robin Nichols, from Crossroads African Methodist Episcopal Church, says they took a strategic approach to break down their health issues into categories: chronic health conditions, behavioral health, and preventative health. She talked about how it is important to recognize the inherent distrust that exists in Black communities because of historic issues with healthcare disparities.
“Our church plans to conduct health fairs in the spring—outdoors, socially-distanced and masked, of course—as well as educational workshops to address myths, particularly around the COVID vaccine,” said Nichols. “We also want to take an active role in working with the community, planning education around nutrition, and creating an urban garden.”
Rev. Dr. Phillip James, from Mt. Zion Baptist Church also talked about dealing with systemic issues, which are larger than just one church.
Jake Christenson, MPH, who is a research assistant for the Indiana CTSI, also presented a video about how the congregations have come together to start this movement for change in connection with the Monon Collaborative.
The #HealthyMe Learning Community is convened by Good to the SOUL, LLC, and organized by the Monon Collaborative, an initiative of the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) with support from the Indiana University Health Values Fund. The participating congregations included First Baptist North Indianapolis, Mt. Zion Baptist, Allen Chapel AME, St. John AME, Crossroads AME, Bethel Cathedral AME, Purpose of Life, Witherspoon Presbyterian, and Broadway United Methodist.
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