I first learned about community-based public health (CBPH) as a graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. I was on the health policy track in the Master of Public Health program in the Department of Health Management and Policy (HMP). I attended Michigan from 1997-1999 and I was one of a few Latinx students.
Community-based public health was a focus area in public health that profoundly called to me because it centered the intersection of community and public health policy and practice and it was upheld by the principles of advocacy and partnership. Most importantly, the true work of CBPH was driven by and rooted in the community.
In the HMP department, I was an outlier and I felt misunderstood most of the time because of this calling. I was not interested in pursuing a career in health care administration, government, or health care consulting. I knew that I wanted my career to involve working at the intersection of public health policy, practice, community organizing and advocacy. And, I knew that I wanted to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and strategies to intervene on systems, structures, policies, and practices that produced and sustained health disparities. Unfortunately, the HMP department at the time lacked faculty, especially faculty of color (in general), that could provide this type of education and training. So, I had to create my own.
I came to Michigan with a clear understanding of my identity. As a first-generation college graduate (1G), Latinx (2nd generation Puerto Rican), and as a lesbian, I was fully aware of the sociopolitical and historical context within which all of my salient identities existed. I also arrived at Michigan with a personal understanding that health is political. My personal analysis was that good and holistic health is only within limited control at the individual level and that the true determinant of sustained good and holistic health exists in all of the traditional “non-health” sectors such as but not limited to education, income, employment, and housing. My analysis also recognized that race is a profound organizing principle in this country. Race is present in every sector in American society as it organizes education, employment, housing, health, and communities at the structural and systems level as well as my own salient identities at the individual level.
In light of this, I just could not let go of the profound intersectional and complex nature in which structures, systems, policies, and practices in non-health sectors determined whether or not an individual, family, and or a community are the beneficiaries of good and holistic health. Hence, I was drawn to commit my professional career to work at this complex intersectional space, which for me, is the true work of CBPH. It was the perfect fit for me personally and professionally.
I pursued an MPH degree so that I could be equipped with the information, knowledge, and tools to strategically think, manage and plan, and intervene on this complex intersectional space for social good. For my required practicum, I sidestepped the rules of my department because I wanted a CBPH experience with a Latinx preceptor. Thanks to the School’s Department of Health Behavior and Education, I successfully arranged for a practicum experience that would forever change and reaffirm my professional mindset and direction.
His name was J Ricardo Guzman, MSW, MPH, the longstanding Executive Director of CHASS, Inc. (Community Health and Social Services), an established multiservice community-based organization located in Southwest Detroit, the heart of the Latinx community. Mr. Guzman was my master teacher. He taught me the hidden curriculum of the true work of CBPH. He taught me the theory of “the street” and equipped me with the mindset to navigate institutions like academia. He also never compromised his identity as a Mexican-American with a significant history of political organizing and activism. He was everything I needed at that point in my life – personally and professionally. He was also my precursor to CCPH. And as I reflect on my involvement with CCPH, Mr. Guzman exposed and trained me in the fundamental principles of partnership (POP!) – a cornerstone of CCPH’s body of work.
Thanks to Mr. Guzman, CCPH became my sandbox. I played in every corner of it – with communities, institutions, and academia. I also grew up professionally in CCPH because there was no judgement or resistance to development of my critical consciousness and desire to advance the work of CCPH towards the complex intersectional space of CBPH. I was nurtured, enriched, affirmed – it was and still is home.
Over the last two decades years, CCPH has studied, examined, engaged in, and evaluated what makes partnerships work, sustain authenticity, and achieve the change we want to see in our communities. Authentic partnerships best exist within a space that includes CCPH’s guiding Principles of Partnership (POP) which represent a synthesis of the experiences of seasoned community and academic partners engaged in partnerships and on the extensive work of CCPH since its first set of principles were released on 1998. Since joining CCPH, I have yet to encounter another organization like CCPH.
CCPH is unique and special because of its ability to remain authentic in its strategic direction to preserve the health and wellbeing of communities facing injustice. CCPH keeps the glue of its “peeps” from the ground to the system level intact because it is intentionally creating the space for community partners to engage with one another in any setting in a manner that distinguishes from other groups.
The time to achieve health equity and social justice does not take place in one solitary moment but rather it is an active process that takes place every day all day by all of us in the CCPH community. As members of the CCPH community, I declare that we commit to ensuring that each partnership we choose to participate in is one that makes the values of authenticity, equity, and transformation active, real and practical in the “thinking and doing” of health equity and social justice work; and mitigates against getting stuck in the “theory and idea” of these values which leaves action empty and meaningless for those most impacted by injustice.
The CCPH Principles of Partnership (POP) are not meant to be prescriptive or adopted verbatim but rather to be used for discussion or as a model for developing one’s own principles of partnership. Learn more about CCPH’s guiding Principles of Partnership (POP) – and continue the movement for authentic partnerships that lead to transformative experiences for healthier communities.
Ann-Gel S. Palermo, DrPH, MPH
Former Board Member, Community Campus Partnerships for Health (2011 – 2018)