A Peacemaking Project by Malhaar A.
What is the injustice we are solving?
You don’t need to have lived in New York City for long to have been awed by the protests around the shootings of people of color by police. For every killing, however, there are 200 persons of color across the country who die from preventable diseases and cancers, a tragedy that remains largely unreported. Neighborhoods of color in New York City especially strain under the burden of lack of healthcare access and awareness of diseases that predominantly afflict their community, leading to higher mortality than other races. I am proud to fight these inequalities through my non-profit healthdisparity.org, which organizes forums in schools and community centers of color to inform students about the threat that health disparities pose to their friends and families and inspire them to take action to save lives. As a teenager, spreading awareness through peer-to-peer workshops is our core principle as youth are the most effective liaisons in bringing about change to their communities. Our workshops have introduced over 2,000 community members to public health research, as they share their struggles in accessing life-saving healthcare and get answered health-related questions that they were uncomfortable asking in a safe space.
Our Compassionate Solution:
To solve this injustice of Health Disparities
we will address lack of knowledge of disease predisposition in minority communities
by organizing workshops where students of color can learn about social and genetic determinants of health.
Our Project Plan:
- Host workshops for 5000 people of color (currently at 3500)
- Integrate the topic of health disparities in 3 school curriculums (currently at 2)
- Measure impact of workshop through distribution of Institutional Review Board approved survey to attendees (target of 200, now at 25)
- Partner with 5 different non-profits working towards a similar goal (currently at 3)
- Participate/host 40 workshops/posters throughout New York City (currently at 30)
We will increase my / our compassion by...
As we organize more events and interact with more student attendees, we will better be able to empathize with their struggles and develop a sensitive plan to provide attendees effective support in their healthcare needs. Speaking and partnering with community leaders will allow us to hear their experience in the field and bring those lessons to our workshops.
How will you show courage?
It certainly takes courage to enter into and interact with communities different from your own. For this reason, we invite members of underserved minority communities to join the non-profit and help sensitize our team to members of their community. For example, we have already partnered with a group African American cancer survivors from Flatbush, Brooklyn to inspire and educate us to speak about sensitive topics around healthcare with minority communities.
How will you collaborate with others?
We already have a diverse set of national partners ranging from healthcare centers, governmental organizations, community activists and researchers. However, we are looking to expand and partner with other organization to further our mission of educating minority students. To do this, we speak at conferences to share the progress our non-profit has made,. We have a robust social media presence, for example in the last 90 days alone we have received over 50,000 impressions on our twitter page @HDisparity.
How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)
We survey our attendees before and after our workshops using an Institutional Review Board approved survey to measure our impact. Guided by this feedback, we continuously make changes to increase our impact. Our initiatives have already received recognition from institutions like Brooklyn Borough Hall, which awarded us a citation, and New York Presbyterian Medical Center, Lang Youth Program. Our theory of change would be corroborated if we receive feedback from organizations that have hosted our workshops that they have changed their view towards health and have become activists in the field of health disparities. We would also like for researchers too to take the initiative to investigate genetic determinants of health disparities. Through our model of peer-to-peer workshops, students will feel empowered to speak to friends, family and community members about health disparities. As conversations around health take root in these communities, community members will begin tackling this injustice through independent initiatives like renovating cafeterias or reestablishing relations with healthcare professionals. We have already begun to see these projects blossom in the weeks and months after workshops. Our initiative with middle and high school medical internships will allow minority students to conduct health disparities research on their own communities. This groundbreaking experience will make students more passionate about the health of their community knowing the stark disparities present in incidence and mortality of cancer. Students create posters with their data that is shared with community leaders and healthcare professionals alike in their neighborhoods. This kickstarts further action to alleviate health disparities on the local level.
- Identify our audience (community centers, schools, after-school clubs, health fairs etc)
- Complete our 501c3 status (currently under review by IRS)
- Identify schools and administrators who will collaborate with us to change their health curriculums
- Create an online health disparities curriculum for our module with the University of Maryland Baltimore CURE Scholars Program
How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?
With the help of Peacefirst's grant earlier this year, our 501(c)3 has been able to kickstart a new initiative which makes our mission self-sustaining. Students who participate in our workshops and express interest in alleviating health disparities are given mentoring and materials to host workshops in their own communities, fostering bonds and connections between peers. Our team has grown to nearly a dozen students! Through our peer-to-peer workshops, our student leaders ask questions like, “has anyone declined to see a healthcare professional despite having disease symptoms?” or “do your families trust their doctors?” Our volunteers have found that many students, especially those of minority backgrounds, say they are afraid to seek treatment because they fear losing hair as, for example, their aunt did after receiving treatment for breast cancer. Other forum attendees are suspicious of pharmaceutical companies’ motives in seeking African-American research volunteers. For the last two years as we have conducted these workshops, we have learned from our experiences and continue to reshape them: our student volunteer leaders have added information on food choices as the students most often inquire about how to eat healthily. We have also evolved to be culturally sensitive and friendly in directing them towards helpful resources as we have seen students be more receptive to sincere conversation.
How did your community change as a result of your project?
In the spirit of learning and adapting, we decided last fall to quantify the impacts of our workshops through surveys (Institutional Review Board approved) measuring attendee knowledge of health disparities before and after workshops. Our latest results, with an average rating of 9/10 from respondents and significant improvement in trust of researchers and knowledge about health disparities after workshops is a testament to our model. The potency of youth as agents of change can also be seen through our impact at a community center in the Bronx where we had organized one of our first forums, whose students succeeded in adding healthy options to their cafeteria and building new organic vending machines. Similar student-led movements are revolutionizing their environments after our workshops across NYC. At another community center, after discussing the importance of early screenings for African-Americans, 7 fathers received screenings after our workshop and 2 were given treatment for a colon tumor. Inspired by their students, we have enlisted educators, through our Ambassador Program, to organize new programs like poster competitions or art contests and integrate public health into curriculums to encourage the well-being of their students and alleviate health disparities in their communities. We have also partnered with medical center internship programs for middle and high school students to integrate health disparities into their curriculums. Now, several of these programs have data-driven modules teaching students how to perform health disparities research on their own communities, ensuring that the healthcare workers of tomorrow have health disparities as a fundamental part of their early education. Notable programs in the past were done with New York Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center Lang Youth Scholars Program and University of Maryland Baltimore CURE Program. Students, inspired by our mission, have become health disparities activists and joined the non-profit. We now have a team of nearly a dozen students, many of whom had done little advocacy work in the past. In my own school, with a team of my peers, we organized our school's first health disparities symposium as a part of the annual Unity Week. Speakers included a Stage 3 Cancer Survivor, New York City Councilwoman and Professor from the SUNY system. This symposium was awarded a citation from the New York City Council for exposing nearly 300 students and faculty to the challenge of health disparities. Further, me and my peers were invited to integrate health disparities conversations into our school curriculum, which rolled out a few weeks ago. Successive classes of students at my school will learn about health disparities in the context of their personal health.
How many people were impacted by your project?
Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?
This number includes all of the attendees to our over 30 events in the past two years. These events include peer-to-peer workshops in schools and community centers, podium presentations at medical conferences and partnerships with hospitals for internships. The members of the non-profit, such as our board members and student volunteers are also included. Members of the Health Disparities Club at my school, which does activism around this topic throughout the year, contribute to this figure as well. Many student attendees have reached out to members of the non-profit to share that they have told their friends and family about health disparities and early treatment, however we did not include this in our figure. Stories of our non-profit has been shared and read over 100,000 times, both on social media and in print, but we chose not to include this in our final number. These stories can be seen on our website healthdisparity.org.
How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?
It is a priority for the non-profit to ensure that we share data-driven and evidence based research during our peer-to-peer workshops. In this pursuit, all of our student volunteers are learning to create statistical models of health disparities incidence and mortality data using the latest SEER database (Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results) run by the Centers for Disease Control. With this tool, we create individualized health disparities figures for each community, linked to risk factors, which we present so that we provide students with the best advice on how to move forward and address this challenge in their own community. Our research has been published in scientific journals like the Columbia Junior Science Journal and was invited last summer to be presented at the National Medical Association Annual Meeting. Further, the team ensures that presentations contain data from prominent healthcare researchers across the country. Some data points we include are: - According to The Center for American Progress, “Black children have a 260 percent higher emergency department visit rate, a 250 percent higher hospitalization rate, and a 500 percent higher death rate from asthma compared to white children.” - These inequalities are especially pronounced in the United States, as we rank 30 out of 32 countries in worst health disparities according to a 2017 study in Health Affairs. Our IRB approved survey provides us insight into the views of community members towards their health and the healthcare professionals which serve their community. This is an incredibly important tool our team uses to tailor our workshops. Beyond the numbers, we ensure that every student leader from the non-profit has genuine face-to-face interactions with minority students attendees during every workshop. At least half of our workshop is spent answering questions, and so we encourage a frank dialogue. As our student volunteer spends time leading workshops and answering questions, they develop a better sense of what conditions are like on the ground in communities afflicted by health disparities. Team members share their insights during our regular team meetings.
What did your team learn?
1. Students learn about health disparities best when in a group environment and do not feel that the presenter is talking down or obfuscating the truth. 2. Students often do not feel that their health is their responsibility, but rather the responsibility of their parents, teachers etc. 3. There are few opportunities for students in communities of color to talk about health related issues in a safe space. 4. Students do have a desire to live healthy lives, but are often without guidance on how to do so. 5. Students appreciate having presenters who are students just like them.
What challenges did your team overcome?
Communities of color often are not aware of the existence of health disparities. Instead, atrocities like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment are widely shared, which encourages cultural barriers for students and community members alike in putting trust in their healthcare professionals. Therefore, in nearly every workshop session, we are clear to demonstrate how the medical community has progressed, most notably with Institutional Review Boards, and why early treatment is important. We also stress that if communities of color are active participants in reforming medical environments, we can all ensure that abuse of power like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment never happen again. Another important challenge is the lack of awareness in the healthcare community about health disparities. Health disparities has only entered the mainstream for medical professionals in the past few years, so many researchers still hold misconceptions about the topic. This is why the non-profit has partnered with multiple medical centers across the Eastern Seaboard to make data-driven health disparities education a foundational plank in the education of the healthcare professionals of the future. We have worked to change their internship curriculums for middle and high school students. Further, during exposition days at these programs physicians have the opportunity to be exposed to health disparities research and understand the issue. We make health disparities awareness for students and medical professionals alike a priority on each and every one of these program partnerships.
How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?
I have worked hard over the past half year to use the resources provided by Peacefirst to make our mission self-sustaining. Now, we have a full team (10-12) of student volunteers, including middle, high school and undergraduate students, who regularly organize and lead workshops across the tri-state area. Further, we have an organizational structure with a board of directors including cancer survivors and public health professionals. Board members include Treasurer Lakia Maxwell, Masters in Community Health, and Secretary Diane Nathaniel, founder of Beat Stage 3, a non-profit that raises awareness about colon cancer in African-Americans. We have a Bylaws and are legally incorporated in the State of New York. I have also created a school club with over 20 members which regularly meets and organizes health disparities events throughout the year. Leadership of the club includes a Treasurer, Secretary and Vice President who take the lead in individual initiatives. Our most recent event was our collaboration with the school's health department to integrate health disparities awareness into health curriculums.
What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?
1. Consult Peacefirst's resources and share your thoughts with their team. They have informative materials which can help ensure the solution you are envisioning is effective. I personally frequently visit their "Manual" and "Choosing an injustice" guides 2. Consider collaborations. Try to connect with adults in the same field, be they community leaders, teachers, other non-profit founders, and see how you can partner with them to make your vision a reality. 3. Try to have conversations with the group you are trying to serve about how your project can make a difference. They can often see facets of the problem that are not visible to outside observers. For me, my conversations with minority students and healthcare professionals gave me valuable insights into the health disparities challenge and helped develop my model.
501(c)3 Application Submitted!Hey Guys!
A few days ago, we officially submitted our application for 501(c)3 status from the IRS. Thanks to the support of Peacefirst, we were able to cover the upfront application fee. With a 501(c)3 status, we will be able to attract resources and advance our mission throughout New York CIty.
We'll keep you posted on any updates!
501(c)3 approved + Other updatesHey Guys,
Just wanted to let y'all know that we got our 501(c)3 approved! Yay!
I just came back from Baltimore, where I went to the closing ceremony of a middle school mentorship program affiliated with the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the NIH. With funding from Peacefirst, I have been able to work with these students over the internet for the past few months and helped them create a video about health disparities. The students were so thrilled I was able to come down and hugged me for the non-profit's hard work. I'm so glad Peacefirst has supported Health Disparities!
Expansion of student volunteer programHey guys,
As we work to keep Healthdisparity.org self-sustainable, we have strengthened and expanded our team of student volunteers. Now, we have students ranging from Middle to High school who we have mentored in health disparities and trained to present to peers in their community. This will multiply our impact and encourage students that they too can join the fight against health disparities by being peer leaders!