Thoughts on Equity

Communities improve with vision and leadership

July 9, 2021

Thoughts on Equity is a blog series presented by the Kansas Health Foundation to feature written, video and audio content from multiple KHF contributors. Through this blog, KHF will discuss issues of equity, systemic racism, health disparities and how Kansans have the opportunity to shape a more equitable and inclusive future.

Communities improve with vision and leadership

The Kansas Health Foundation has done wonderful work over the years to address the needs of individuals and families. Historically, we have focused our efforts on more downstream interventions, like access to health care services. Then, like many health foundations and other organizations, we recognized the impact social determinants of health have on a person’s overall health. Whether someone has a job, access to healthy food or affordable housing has a much greater impact on their health than what happens in a doctor’s office or a hospital. Our KHF partners have done some incredibly important work, particularly during the pandemic, to address these essential needs.

However, moving forward we want to get further upstream beyond individual impact and focus more on community impact. How can we help improve the conditions in a community so all members of that community can thrive? This means focusing our attention on the causes of health disparities we see today, including the unequal distribution of power and resources, and structural inequities like systemic racism.

My travels across Kansas have provided me the wonderful opportunity to meet with people and organizations working to improve their communities. I want to highlight a leader and an organization that really stood out to me in terms of community impact – Ariel Rodriguez with Empower Evergreen in Wichita. I am proud that KHF supports Empower Evergreen because they are taking a multi-system approach to truly transform Wichita’s North End. Historically, this area has had a large Latino population, and it continues to grow. Ariel understands the strengths of his organization, but perhaps even more importantly, the strength of having partnerships with other local organizations. From addressing health and food needs, community development, education, workplace readiness or small business development resources, he is intentionally working with local partners and taking a holistic view to create needed change and to empower this community.

I think Ariel’s leadership of Empower Evergreen is a perfect example of work being done to truly make an impact on a community. He has gathered over 30 community partners and is building upon the efforts of many, including leaders from the City of Wichita. Kudos to former Wichita City Council member Janet Miller (District 6), who worked for years to support the Evergreen neighborhood. When the City of Wichita sold the Hyatt Hotel, proceeds were distributed to each council district. Former Council member Miller identified Evergreen Center as the $1 million recipient for District 6 to pay for facility renovations and community engagement, and later another $650,000 was supported by council member Cindy Claycomb (District 6) and approved by the Wichita City Council for the project. Additionally, community leaders and philanthropists Gene and Yolanda Camarena provided their own investment support to sustain the Empower Evergreen nonprofit. I am so excited by this strong, collaborative public-private partnership that will truly empower folks in the North End to continue improving their beloved community.

It takes a village. No one organization, regardless of its size, can tackle the enormous challenges facing communities across Kansas alone. It takes all of us, coming together, working together, to create the systemic changes necessary to truly improve conditions in a community. With the strong foundation others have built over many years, Ariel continues to bring partners together as the powerful village to transform the Evergreen neighborhood. I am excited to see Empower Evergreen’s impact, and I am anxious to meet with other leaders like Ariel who are working to create transformational change in communities across Kansas.


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