“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business;
we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Gwendolyn Brooks
Chicago poet & first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize


Community-Campus Partnerships for Health (CCPH) serves as a best practice and as a home to community and academic partners who share a commitment to health equity and social justice through partnership. A core component of equity is centering and elevating the voices and leadership of communities most experiencing inequity. More than I’ve seen in any other organization focused on community-academic engagement, CCPH has valued and practiced steps to ensure partnerships and its governance not only include, but are driven by community priorities and community members themselves.

Ensuring change is community-driven and doesn’t just happen at the level of individual community-academic projects and partnerships, but must also be at the systemic, institutional, and structural levels. Those of us who are at academic institutions must be honest with ourselves about how the academic research enterprise itself may contribute to deepening and widening health inequities and consider the ways that racism and other forms of oppression may be perpetuated in research and health institutions and practice.

As CCPH member, Consuelo Wilkins, discusses in a recent Medical Care journal article, the onus of change for these issues of trust and inequity must shift from the community to research institutions. What is the role of the research enterprise in considering and changing who serves as narrative shapers and determines how we establish facts and reach conclusions? What if academic institutions made faculty hiring decisions and submitted federal research center grants to intentionally address community-identified priorities? How will the research enterprise support a culture that is inclusive, mutually respectful, and that centers and elevates community leadership?

One key piece of this builds on CCPH’s strategic goal to leverage the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of communities. Changing our academic institutional practices and policies should include community voice and leadership. The organization I direct, the Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC) at Northwestern University, has been working to further reflect on how we as a program and how our and other universities can more actively and intentionally support community partners who are already leaders in their own fields to also be supported as leaders in the field of community-campus partnership at local and national levels. This may include:

  • Capacity building through supporting training, peer support, mentoring, and supporting their identity formation as leaders;
  • Fiscal support to attend and participate in local/national conferences and serve on local/national governance bodies (e.g. university advisory and decision-making committees and boards of directors for organizations like CCPH), hiring more community partners as consultants, staff, or adjunct faculty, and adopting institutional compensation guidelines that acknowledge and support community expertise and contributions; and
  • Advocacy to include and create community leadership roles in existing governance bodies at universities, health institutions, academic disciplinary and professional associations, journals, funders, etc.

I share some of ARCC’s initial thinking on this topic in one of our recent posters. Please reach out to me if you want to continue to explore and discuss this together.

Because it provides a home for this type of reflection but more importantly action, CCPH has served as a cornerstone for me personally since early in my career. After years of working in many parts of public health, from environmental justice to youth sexual health to immunization and from grassroots community organizations to county, city, and state health departments, I went to graduate school to learn more about the theory and practice of community health. I was disappointed at how many of my courses seemed so disconnected from the work and issues and priorities of communities I was working with. So when a CCPH partner and CCPH former executive director, Sarena Seifer, spoke in one of my courses about something called community-based participatory research (CBPR) – a research approach whose definition included the words ‘social justice’- I was hooked! My thesis focused on a CBPR project and not long after I finished school, I joined CCPH staff as Program Director focusing on our increasing work in CBPR. It was a dream job to meet and work with so many CCPH members on projects like the Developing & Sustaining CBPR Partnerships Skill-Building Curriculum, the first CBPR intensive training institute held in the mountains of Washington state, and the Commission on Community-Engaged Scholarship in the Health Professions. I moved back to the Midwest to work with former CCPH Board Chair and my friend and mentor, Cee Barnes-Boyd. Then it was my turn to try to implement what I’d learned from CCPH and CCPH partners as co-founder of a new program at Northwestern University. Building on CCPH values, tools, and colleagues, we formed a community-academic steering committee to develop and lead what would become ARCC. Eleven years later, ARCC continues to thrive by leaning on the support, partnership, and leadership of CCPH and our local partners.

Join CCPH and contribute your own ideas and passion to forging the future work and of the organization to achieve our shared mission of health equity and social justice!

Written by:

Jen Brown, MPH

Director and Co-Founder, Alliance for Research in Chicagoland Communities (ARCC)
Lecturer, Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine
Northwestern University
Former Board Member, Community Campus Partnerships for Health (2011 – 2018)