Gardening for Health: SILC Project Cultivates Wellness in Deep South

Gardening for Health: SILC Project Cultivates Wellness in Deep South

Across Alabama and Mississippi, the Stepping into Lifestyle Changes (SILC) project is flourishing, proving that the simple act of gardening can yield far more than beautiful landscapes. With just a bit of soil, a handful of seeds, and a commitment to nurturing growth, SILC is demonstrating the profound ability of gardening to enhance lives beyond aesthetics. As we celebrate National Gardening Month, SILC embodies the remarkable power of community, innovation, and deep-seated dedication to promoting health and well-being.

Seeds of Change: SILC’s Journey

At SILC’s core are stories of personal growth and collective empowerment. Charlotte Love, the project’s study manager, recounts a particularly inspiring tale: “A participant started the program feeling discouraged and unhealthy. Over the course of the six months, the participant committed herself to ‘Stepping into Lifestyle Changes’. This included balanced nutrition and regular exercise. As a result, the participant lost 20 pounds and experienced a remarkable transformation in her overall well-being. She also established a network of support among the other participants.”

SILC represents an innovative approach to foster wellness in rural communities in Mississippi and Alabama. Monica Baskin, Ph.D., the project’s lead, says, “This study builds on prior research that demonstrated improved health behaviors and outcomes from a vegetable gardening intervention with both cancer survivors and persons living with other chronic conditions (e.g., heart disease, hypertension, diabetes). The study focuses on learning what factors are important with implementing and sustaining these type programs in community settings.”

Cultivating Health Locally

SILC’s success is largely due to its embrace of local culture and knowledge. Training community members as Master Gardeners sows seeds of change where most needed. “It goes beyond gardening,” Baskin states. “It’s about fostering a health culture rooted in local tradition.”

Despite its successes, SILC faces challenges, especially in engaging ample community-based master gardeners and navigating logistics of delivering gardening supplies to rural communities. However, the project’s resilience turns these obstacles into opportunities for learning and growth. Specifically, through collaborations with local Cooperative Extension Program offices, SILC has grown the number of community members that have become Master Gardeners. Certification as a Master Gardner involves completing an 8-week training and over 40 volunteer hours.

Witnessing SILC’s direct impact is a rewarding experience for Baskin. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to see participants sharing their successes — from weight loss to enjoying their harvest. It reinforces my belief in the power of community-engaged research.”

Seeding Future Policies: The Broader Impact of SILC

As the SILC project continues to bear fruit, its potential to shape health policies and community programs is immense. Baskin reflects on this aspect with optimism: “Findings from this study could inform community-based organizations and federal programs such as the Cooperative Extension Program on the factors that support the implementation and sustainability of evidence-based community-based gardening programs like this one. By demonstrating the health benefits and community engagement success of the SILC project, we hope to influence broader strategies aimed at reducing cardiometabolic diseases, making a case for integrating similar programs into public health initiatives across the country.”

Harvesting Hope for the Future

As SILC progresses, its effects are just beginning to bloom. “I hope our efforts inspire others to continue this work, spreading the benefits of community gardening and healthy living,” Baskin expresses.

In the spirit of National Gardening Month, Love and Baskin offer gardening wisdom rooted in personal and project experiences. Love suggests, “Plan early, be flexible,” emphasizing the importance of adaptability. Baskin shares her family’s gardening journey. “My now 20-year-old daughter got my family interested in gardening when she was in middle school. She was part of an ecology club where she learned how to start a container garden. We have since had one each year and have been thrilled with the outcome: delicious bountiful tomatoes, peppers, basil, thyme, and other delicacies have made it into our family recipes and have led to great memories for me and my family.”

As gardens across the country begin to flourish this National Gardening Month, the SILC project reminds us of the deep connection between our health, environment, and communities. Whether through a container garden or a community plot, each plant grown marks a step towards a healthier world.

Forge AHEAD Center Announces Third Cohort of Scholars

Forge AHEAD Center Announces Third Cohort of Scholars

The Forge AHEAD Center (FAC) is pleased to announce the latest recipients of its pilot funding for the third cohort. Four early-stage investigators were selected for their innovative research aimed at improving outcomes for cardiometabolic diseases across Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This new cohort investigate pressing health challenges like obesity, diabetes, and hypertension in communities that are often underrepresented in research. Pilot and feasibility funding is a cornerstone of FAC’s mission to push forward health equity by providing research that makes a real difference in people’s lives.

We celebrate the Cohort 3 Scholars for their commitment to important health issues. Their projects are critical to the Forge AHEAD Center’s mission to reduce health disparities and promote healthier communities through research.

We’re honored to recognize the following awardees:

  • Jennifer Caldwell, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center – Project: “Linking GAINS: Linking Genetics and Improving Nutrition in Scotlandville”
  • Kaylee B. Crockett, Ph.D., assistant professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham – Project: “Adaptation and Initial Feasibility of a Primary Care-based Dyadic Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Intervention: ‘Heart Care Pairs'”
  • Lama Ghazi, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham – Project: “Post-Emergency Department Discharge Clinic Telehealth Program for Patients with Uncontrolled Hypertension”
  • Amber W. Kinsey, Ph.D., assistant professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham – Project: “An integrated cardiometabolic intervention targeting physical and financial health: A pilot study”

To support their research journey, scholars will receive both strategic guidance and mentorship, empowering them to conduct research that’s impactful in their respective domains. This funding underscores Forge AHEAD Center’s dedication to funding projects that have the potential to make a meaningful contribution to reducing health disparities, fostering sustainable, community-focused health initiatives.

We’re eager to see the positive impacts these scholars’ projects will have on advancing health equity and enhancing the well-being of individuals throughout the South.

For more insights into the scholars and their work, please visit the Forge AHEAD Center website.

The next cycle of funding is open for applications. We encourage early-stage investigators who qualify for pilot award funding to apply. Letters of Intent (LOI) are due June 25, 2024. You can find more details about the Pilot Award Program and RFA timeline here.

Our Scholars’ stories: Gazaway empowers high-risk CKD patients with ownership of medical journey

Our Scholars’ stories: Gazaway empowers high-risk CKD patients with ownership of medical journey

Shena Gazaway, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family, Community and Health Systems in the UAB School of Nursing, explores how to empower high-risk chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients and their caregivers in healthcare settings through her project “Impart multi.”

The project goal is to engage with high-risk patients and their caregivers who progress through kidney disease at a greater rate because of risk factors such as uncontrolled blood pressure and diabetes, says Gazaway.

Black/African Americans with chronic kidney disease and uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetes face a higher risk of developing severe cardiovascular disease and their kidney disease getting worse more quickly than other racial demographics.

Many factors contribute to this risk, such as socioeconomic barriers. Gazaway’s study specifically focuses on the barrier of access to supportive, informative resources. Healthy outcomes require two-way quality communication between medical teams and the patient or caregiver.

Gazaway says all her work, which has historically focused on end-of-life decision-making, is guided by a group of community advisory members: two who are living with chronic kidney disease, two who are care partners of someone with chronic kidney disease, and one who has experience as a social worker in a dialysis clinic.

While their work has previously focused on end-of-life decision-making, Gazaway says the team expressed passionate interest in taking that concept upstream and finding ways to equip patients and caregivers earlier in the disease timeline. Because of Forge AHEAD Center’s funding mechanism, they can explore this new path with the same concept of decision-making.

Gazaway’s why

As a caregiver to her grandmother-in-law who later died from CKD, this work is deeply personal. “We grew up in a rural setting,” she says, where access was limited.

“Even though we are not in a rural setting in this study, patient activation and conversation are important. Patients and families need to be the drivers of conversation. Patients who are minoritized are often not the drivers of their clinical conversation,” Gazaway says.

“You are the owner of your medical journey. You are the owner of your healthcare experience. I don’t think our health care system does a good job of reminding people of that,” she states.

Her work seeks to change the way many Black/African American communities experience health and healthcare.

Encouraging ownership over medical journey

“Impart multi” consists of education sessions with patients on communication, social support usefulness, or a combination of both. The team wants to understand how educational sessions empowering patients and caregivers can impact decision-making and how patients or caregivers receive support from their medical team.

To teach this personal empowerment, the project focuses primarily on coaching patients and caregivers on how to ask questions. Correspondingly, patients and caregivers learn tactics of how to advocate for themselves in the medical and healthcare setting.

“I want people to know they have permission to ask questions. In some of our pilot work with end-of-life or serious illness, we see people forgetting—when they are in the medical space—that they have the permission to ask questions.”

Educational sessions are delivered to 32 Black/African American adults with stage 3 or 4 high-risk CKD by a lay coach navigator through telehealth or telephone, directly “in the community in people’s homes.”

“We are teaching coping activation, education, and decision-support skills designed to help patients enter an appointment empowered, to talk about what they need and to get the resources they need…We want to enhance communication and the ability to self-manage and enhance self-advocacy at the medical appointment.”

Building momentum

Gazaway says her team plans to share results scientifically and in the community.
She envisions giving patients a one-pager with must-ask questions that help them feel they deserve quality care and will empower them.

Ultimately, the foremost goal is to learn what components of this intervention have the most impact. After the study concludes, Gazaway says they hope to take the most active components to apply for more funding.

Empowering Communities: Dr. Tiffany Haynes’s Innovative Approach to Health Equity

Empowering Communities: Dr. Tiffany Haynes’s Innovative Approach to Health Equity

The Forge AHEAD Center was honored to host Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D., at the University of Mississippi Medical Center this week as part of our scientific seminar series. Dr. Haynes, associate professor in health behavior and health education at the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, engaged with FAC members in Jackson, sharing her experiences and insights, further enriching our understanding and commitment to health equity.

Dr. Haynes shared her enlightening presentation, “Fostering Health Equity for Black Men: Insights from the Barbershop Talk Project,” to a hybrid crowd Wednesday. The project, part of the Center for Research, Health, and Social Justice (CRHSJ), is a testament to the innovative approaches required to address health disparities among Black men, focusing on stress management and the reduction of unhealthy alcohol use. Situated in barbershops across Arkansas, this initiative leverages these community hubs to offer early detection and intervention for unhealthy drinking behaviors, tackling significant health risks like cardiovascular disease and cancer. Dr. Haynes emphasized the distinct challenges Black men encounter, stating, “This is important and necessary,” to highlight the vital need for support mechanisms beyond alcohol in addressing the unique stressors faced by this group.

Throughout her presentation, Dr. Haynes imparted lessons learned from implementing the Barbershop Talk project, emphasizing the importance of social justice and community engagement. She candidly shared, “This is not work for the faint of heart,” acknowledging the challenges of navigating a healthcare system not originally designed for such community-centric work. The success of the community-informed SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment) model demonstrated the profound impact of tailored, culturally sensitive interventions on individuals and families. Echoing the broader influence of this initiative, a community advocate and supporter of the project shared in a video, “Since I’ve stopped drinking, I’ve had friends and family members looking at me. And older guys saying ‘Man, you still sober? I’m trying to get there.’ To have these older guys looking at me – that says a lot,” highlighting the ripple effect of positive health behaviors within the community.

In alignment with the Forge AHEAD Center’s mission to reduce health disparities and foster equity, particularly in the Deep South, the Barbershop Talk project serves as a shining example of the type of innovative, community-driven research and interventions we aim to support. Dr. Haynes’s approach of incorporating health education and interventions within community settings reflects Forge AHEAD’s commitment to empowering communities toward improved health management. “The model of going to where people are is one that we should use,” Dr. Haynes remarked, advocating for accessibility in health promotion efforts. By spotlighting transformative projects like Barbershop Talk, the Forge AHEAD Center continues to advance its mission, not only enhancing health outcomes but also empowering individuals and families toward a healthier, more equitable future.

View the recording of the presentation below.

Join us at our next seminar in April, where we will host Seth A. Berkowitz, M.D., MPH, associate professor in the Division of General Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. He will share about “Food Insecurity, Diabetes, and Distributive Institutions.” For more details and registration, please visit this page.

Our Scholars’ stories: Karlson empowers next generation of youth who have Sickle Cell Disease

Our Scholars’ stories: Karlson empowers next generation of youth who have Sickle Cell Disease

Cynthia Karlson, Ph.D., vice chair of Pediatric Research at University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), is leading a study to promote wellness through exercise and physical activity for adolescents with Sickle Cell Disease.

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is the most common genetic condition in the world, affecting over 100,000 individuals, predominately Black/African American individuals, in the United States. It is a chronic, disabling, and life-threatening condition.

“Sickle Cell FIT: Increasing Physical Activity in Youth with Sickle Cell Disease” aims to examine the feasibility and safety of strength-training exercise in youth with sickle cell disease, says Karlson. The study works to prevent future cardiometabolic disease correlated with obesity.

“We also aim to gather information from the sickle cell community regarding barriers to physical activity.” Those barriers may include social determinants of health, such as poverty and access to education and health care.

Combatting a concerning trend

Nearly 25% of children and adolescents with SCD are overweight or obese. The increasing rate of obesity in youth with SCD deepens concerns for future cardiovascular disease, pain, metabolic syndrome, and Type II Diabetes.

Karlson explains that the project works directly with adolescents and young adults with sickle cell disease to conduct an exercise trial and monthly wellness group.

The Sickle Cell FIT program includes two arms: Warrior FIT and Community Outreach.

The Warrior FIT 8-week intervention is based on research that suggests moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and low-strain muscle training are most effective for individuals with SCD. The study enrolls 40 patients 12-21 years old into the 8-week pilot feasibility and effectiveness intervention program. Warrior FIT teaches safe exercises that youth can do at home through a combination of in-person and telehealth visits.

Regarding the Community Outreach program, Sickle Cell FIT partners with the UMMC Pediatric Sickle Cell Program and is working to create educational materials on the risk of obesity and benefits of safe exercise.

Additionally, Karlson says, “We will work with community members that work with individuals with sickle cell disease. Community groups include parents of youth with sickle cell, the Mississippi Sickle Cell Foundation Board, the Mississippi State Department of Health, and UMMC Center for Integrative Health.”

Early insight, lifelong impact

When asked how this project impacts the community, she says, “We hope to demonstrate that strength-training is safe, effective, and beneficial for youth with sickle cell disease. We also hope to gain important knowledge regarding the barriers to physical activity within the sickle cell community in Mississippi.”

Karlson’s “why” surrounding her work is to promote better health through exercise and physical activity for this at-risk population. Serving a patient population that has been historically underserved by both the medical and research communities is central to this study.

Ultimately, the research aims to educate the health care system, policymakers, community, and patients regarding the risks related to overweight/obesity. Knowing and sharing the benefits of safe exercise in individuals with SCD can greatly contribute to reducing health disparities in this vulnerable population.

Birmingham Promise interns work with Forge AHEAD Center for the Spring semester

Birmingham Promise interns work with Forge AHEAD Center for the Spring semester

Forge AHEAD Center is proud to host two interns from the Birmingham Promise for a 2024 Spring semester internship, which began on Jan. 22.

Mariah Beamon and Jermya Norris are seniors enrolled at a Birmingham City School. Each has a passionate goal of making a difference in medicine and science after graduation. Interning with Forge AHEAD Center offers the students support, experience, and early preparation for their respective fields.

A promise to youth in Birmingham, Alabama

The Birmingham Promise program provides up to four years of tuition assistance for graduates of Birmingham City Schools to attend any public two-year or four-year college or university in Alabama. UAB, the first academic partner of the program, is committed to supporting the Birmingham Promise by facilitating a scholarship for students who are admitted to UAB as first-time, full-time freshmen in the academic year following high school graduation from a Birmingham City School. Announced in 2020, the program has provided $3.4 million in tuition assistance and other support to 800 Birmingham graduates.

A unique aspect of the Birmingham Promise is its internship program that allows Birmingham City Schools seniors to earn $15 an hour while getting job experience and building professional networks.

Paving the way for the future of health care

Mariah and Jermya spend their internship hours on UAB’s campus several days per week. Each says their time with Forge AHEAD Center has helped build connections and learn about research faculty and staff’s education and work. So far, they have met with Kristen Allen Watts, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Heersink School of Medicine Division of Preventive Medicine, and Samantha Hill, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University’s School of Medicine, to discuss career trajectories and experiences.

Both seniors have internship projects dedicated to a topic surrounding health disparities. Mariah, who attends Ramsay IB High School, is focused on a project that researches maternal health and mortality rates in the Deep South. She is pursuing a career in OB/GYN.

Jermya’s project focuses on researching HIV prevention in adolescent populations. During her internship, she met with an HIV researcher and learned about PrEP. A George Washington High School student, she wants to pursue a nursing career.

During the internship, professional development sessions have covered seven core competencies, focusing on aligning passions with future goals. They have spent time aligning their passions with their future goals. They worked with former Community Engagement Core Program Director Adrianne Marbury to create systems that organize their to-do list using the GTD methodology.

The Spring internship lasts until April 19. Forge AHEAD Center, in partnership with the Birmingham Promise Program, is committed to ensuring a positive internship experience to inspire students to pursue careers in public health and contribute to their hometown community.

Get to know our new communications specialist

Get to know our new communications specialist

Forge AHEAD Center is proud to announce Chris Campos has joined the Forge AHEAD Center team as communications specialist.

Campos role is based on UAB’s campus. Prior to his new role, Campos worked at Legacy Prep Charter School in Birmingham where he managed district technology and communications, focusing on student recruitment and data management. Prior to that, he worked for Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

“My roles at Legacy Prep Charter School and Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School were pivotal in developing my expertise in brand promotion, strategic planning, and community outreach, enriched further by my skills in graphic design and data analysis to support marketing campaigns and organizational growth,” Campos says.

Campos says he enjoys the many complexities of communications work. From disseminating a groundbreaking initiative, explaining a complex solution, or making information accessible, “the success of these endeavors hinges on effective communication.”

“What I love most about working in communications is the fundamental role it plays in bridging connections between people and the resources or information they need.”

In the realm of health equity, Campos believes effective communication is essential. “It’s about ensuring that vital health information and services reach those who need them most, without barriers,” he says.

“To me, communications is not just about transmitting messages; it’s about fostering understanding, facilitating access, and ultimately, knitting together the fabric of a community by ensuring everyone is informed, involved, and empowered.”

When asked why working in health equity is meaningful to him personally, Campos replies: “Working in health equity is profoundly important and meaningful to me because it aligns with my lifelong commitment to serving the public and engaging in work that makes a tangible impact on communities. My background in non-profit settings, the public utility industry, and public education has instilled a deep appreciation for initiatives that strive for equity and access for all, particularly among underserved populations.”

Campos says the industry transition from public education to the health equity and research represents a natural extension of his desire to advocate for fairness, leveraging his experiences and growing knowledge in public health to contribute to the critical task of addressing and reducing health disparities.

“This role not only resonates with my values, Campos says, “but also offers a compelling opportunity to apply my skills in new ways, supporting efforts that ensure everyone, regardless of their background, has equal access to healthcare services and the opportunity to lead healthy lives.”

Campos, who’s native to Texas but lived in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama, says his roots run deep in the South. “I love to spend time with my wife and two-year-old son. Being a father is one of the most life-giving things I’ve ever experienced. Also, I am a distance runner and involved locally with the Birmingham Track Club. I ran my first marathon last Fall and already planning for the next. I love coffee (I’m one of those that does a pour over every morning) and spending time outside.”

We are glad to have Chris on board and welcome him whole-heartedly to the team.

Community Advisory Board member spotlight: Brooke Floyd

Community Advisory Board member spotlight: Brooke Floyd

Since January 2022, Brooke Floyd has served as a Forge AHEAD Center Community Advisory Board member, representing Jackson, Mississippi. For over 20 years, Brooke has worked in the Jackson community ensuring children are able to receive a quality education and the support they need to be successful.

Brooke is director of the JXN People’s Assembly, a program in the People’s Advocacy Institute, where she engages the community through education on issues, providing access to information and resources, facilitating People’s Assemblies, and helping the community bring proposed solutions to elected officials.

“Through People’s Assemblies true change is possible, for our communities, giving our children a fighting chance,” Brooke says.

The Forge AHEAD Center communications team sat down with Brooke to get to know her and better understand her role as a Community Advisory Board member.

Q: Tell us about your background and current work.

I worked in children’s education for over 20 years. I taught elementary school, HeadStart, and directed a children’s program at a local non-profit in Jackson called Stewpot Community Services. The program provided a free after school and summer camp for children in Jackson.

Currently, I am the Director of JXN People’s Assembly Initiatives which is a part of People’s Advocacy Institute. JXN People’s Assembly aims to increase community access to information, to government, and to increase community engagement and voice in government decisions. We hold People’s Assemblies with community to provide residents a space to receive information, discuss the issues relevant to them, and to develop solutions to solve the issues. The solutions can then be made into programs (almost all of People’s Advocacy Institute’s programs were developed through People’s Assemblies) or if needed taken to the appropriate government level to try and be made into policy.

Q: How does your work with the People’s Advocacy Institute and Stewpot align with the work of Forge AHEAD Center?

I think all three are working to help alleviate the gap between those that have and those that don’t. People’s Advocacy Institute aims to create a more just society by building community capacity and governing power through helping those who are often most harmed by an unjust system. Stewpot cares for people by providing their most basic needs, food, clothing, housing, and most importantly love.

The Forge AHEAD Center focuses on the health disparities all the groups of people PAI and Stewpot work with and provide services for. We may be in different subsets, but we are part of a much larger purpose, to help people in our area that are constantly left out of the equation. We all want to ensure that everyone is able to not only live but thrive.

Q: What excites you most about working with Forge AHEAD Center?

I love learning about the research and the potential outcomes. I am excited to see what can happen, when the right people, minds, and resources work together for the greater good.

Q: What are some of your goals within the Jackson, MS community for 2024?

There are several issues I am working on, but one main goal is to have a public water system that includes community input and supplies Jackson residents with clean drinking water.

I am also looking forward to our Youth Action Initiative which will help to train young people around the issues that are important to them and get them involved in the electoral process. Of course, I always have the goal of engaging more Jackson residents, keeping them informed and helping them to become part of the electoral process.

Community Coalition spotlight: Seven Star Academy

Community Coalition spotlight: Seven Star Academy

Seven Star Academy, Inc. a non-profit organization located in New Orleans, Louisana, is a Forge AHEAD Center Community Coalition partner.

Founded in 2018, Seven Star Academy, Inc. aims to increase the health and wellness of local communities through health literacy and education, participation in research, and healthy program enrollment.

Nelson Lemieux is the executive director of Seven Star Academy, Inc. and says that the partnership between Forge AHEAD Center and Seven Star Academy will ultimately increase the impact of their efforts. He and Dr. KiTani Lemieux, who is also a Forge AHEAD Center Community Advisory Board member, direct and manage Seven Star Academy, Inc.

Health literacy as an avenue for justice

“Seven Star Academy, Inc. works with partners that are like-minded in their missions,” says Nelson Lemieux. “Forge AHEAD is committed to improving health equity in the Deep South. Seven Star Academy is committed to addressing health disparities with a social justice lens.”

Lemieux explains that Seven Star Academy, Inc. diligently seeks like-minded organizations to partner with, and they seek social justice through health equity for those who are underrepresented in the biomedical community.

They engage underrepresented communities in science and research by enrolling participants in the All of Us Research Program, offering educational events on research participation, hosting vaccine awareness events, and more.

“Our grassroots approach in providing health literacy information and education has heightened awareness for wellness in the communities that we serve,” says Lemieux.

Looking towards the future

Increasing Seven Star Academy’s visibility and expanding reach with additional resources for community education efforts is essential to the organization.

Both Seven Star Academy, Inc. and Forge AHEAD Center are excited about the shared community partnerships. “We want to be a part of a community-driven solution that is sustainable,” Lemieux says.

Visit their Facebook page for more information.

LEAD Early Program hosts successful meeting with Birmingham partners

LEAD Early Program hosts successful meeting with Birmingham partners

 

Forge AHEAD Center recently partnered with the City of Birmingham Dept. of Youth Services LEAD Early Program to support community leaders as they discussed national and local solutions to close disparity gaps in maternal and child health.

The cohort of community leaders, educators and health equity champions were energized and inspiring, sharing personal stories, triumphs, and opportunities in pursuit of equitable, healthy and thriving communities for all.

Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) Director, Cynthia Jones, delivered the keynote address highlighting social determinants of health and the mental health implications for children and teens.

Forge AHEAD Center scholar, Dr. Camille Schneider Worthington, discussed her pilot project: utilizing meal delivery services for expectant mothers to reduce cardio metabolic disease.

Community Advisory Board member and JXN People’s Assembly Director, Brooke Floyd, shared her passion for providing equitable resources and advocating for families in Jackson, MS.

And, Dr. Felicia Fortune, CEO of KidsXpress Urgent Care, discussed the importance and access to routine care for children.

Rauslyn Adams, MSW, and Lorren, from Chocolate Milk Mommies, and Dalia Abrams, with Birthwell Partners discussed their work supporting expectant and breastfeeding mothers.