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.
These past few weeks, I’ve been getting out of the office with some incredible learning and listening opportunities. I would describe the various people and groups I’ve met with as passionate, committed, informed, tenacious, visionary, courageous, and working tirelessly to improve the quality of life, specifically in Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties, and more broadly, through systems change in Kansas.
In Wyandotte County, we were able to spend three full days (and evenings!) learning more about community organizations doing important work for Communities of Color. These groups focus on criminal justice reform, housing, youth activities, environmental justice, reducing health disparities, advocating for people in poverty and promoting civic engagement. These meetings were incredibly helpful as we get a sense of the landscape in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas (KCK). One of the most impactful parts of the trip for me was driving around some of the neighborhoods in KCK, including census tracts with the highest poverty and greatest minority population. Brennan Crawford, executive director for Community Housing of Wyandotte County, was kind enough to give us a tour of some of the neighborhoods in KCK. When you look at the pictures we took as we drove around, you can see just how much need and opportunity there is in these neighborhoods. These experiences with community leaders are really helping us to better connect data with the potential of how KHF can help make meaningful change in these areas.
Not long after our time in KCK, we held a listening session with youth from Wichita’s Destination Innovation. This was an incredibly powerful opportunity to hear directly from young people about their biggest challenges, the barriers they face in their neighborhoods, what they would change in our community and their dreams for the future. We heard some things that many of us take for granted – like wanting access to food, affordable housing and having places to go for activities and safe spaces in their neighborhoods. These youth indicated a need for culturally-appropriate mental health services, through programs like art and music therapy and coping with conflict. They also talked about affordable educational opportunities that provide “hands-on” learning (rather than traditional lecture courses). They appreciated being asked to the table to share their views and ideas. This takeaway was so enlightening and a great reminder to all of us about how critical it is to engage young stakeholders in defining their future.
Finally, last week, I participated in the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice meeting. I so appreciate the work of my fellow Commissioners, and the leadership of Dr. Tiffany Anderson and Dr. Shannon Portillo, in listening, learning and creating recommendations for advancing equity in Kansas. I had the privilege of sharing some data we have been using to describe areas with the lowest life expectancy and greatest health disparities – in census tracts in Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties. There was so much thoughtful discussion! All of these meetings are available for public viewing. You can find the latest meeting here and previous meetings on Governor Kelly’s YouTube page, here.
As I just celebrated my six-month anniversary with the Kansas Health Foundation, I realize both how much I have learned and yet how much more I still need to understand about how we address the greatest health disparities in our state. I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to every person and organization that has given their time, expertise and learned experience to help me better understand the Kansas landscape and the opportunities for change. Thank you for caring about Kansans and making our communities stronger!
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