Reflections from the 2022 OCG Summit: The Intersections Initiative

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Advancing Health Equity and Racial Justice: Conversations and Case Studies from the Intersections Initiative

“What if we were to ask ourselves not only ‘what did we do?’ in any given initiative or project, but more importantly, ‘what did we build?’? We might transform the way we look and invest in our communities.” – Jason Lacsamana, Director of Programs and Partnerships, St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund.

Picking up on the morning’s “How Good Data Can Advance Equity” session’s call to action to use data for equity-centered policy and power change, the late morning speakers shared candid reflections on their Intersections Initiative experience and what they were able to build during the four-year project.

The Intersections Initiative, funded by the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund and co-designed with Prevention Institute, provided four years of flexible funding and technical assistance to community-based organizations and coalitions exploring the roles healthcare and health system partners can play in upstream community-level prevention efforts. Intersections supported partnerships in seven California communities served by Providence-St. Joseph Health System hospitals, with three based in Orange County, to advance health equity by addressing the community conditions that shape health, safety, and wellbeing.

Joining Jason on the panel were Cesar Covarrubias (Executive Director, The Kennedy Commission), Maritza Bermudez (Parent Leader and Community Organizer, Orange County Congregation Community Organization), and Christy Cornwall (Director of Community Health Investment, Providence Mission Hospital), with Sandra Viera (Associate Program Director, Prevention Institute) as moderator. The session’s conversation focused on surfacing the realities of upstream, health equity efforts:

  • Policy change is key in addressing root causes of inequities: while there are urgent, pressing needs to support in our communities, focusing on policy, resource distribution, and systems change remains important. Four years is often not long enough to see policy change and ensure proper implementation, but it can serve as one big step in the right direction to reduce the need for services in the first place.  Efforts in Anaheim and Central Orange County’s Intersections sites targeted education and housing policy to support immediate needs as well as long term shifts.
  • Partnerships are critical: policy change is hard to make happen in a few years but partnerships between non-profits, advocates, resident leaders, healthcare actors, and philanthropy can be built to continue the hard work of system transformation. For Intersections communities, the tables of partners assembled and grounded in the big, audacious goals of advancing health equity and racial justice are investments in sustainability.
  • Progress isn’t linear: “three steps forward and two steps back is still progress”. This work is complex and ever-changing, and initiative partners must remain flexible and agile to face challenges. Funders can support this by working alongside non-profit partners in adapting plans and revisiting what success looks like. Asking the key question “what are we building?” can help guide all towards new ways of community transformation.

The work of the Intersections sites in Anaheim, Central Orange County, and South County continue on, including as part of the Equity in Orange County Initiative launching later this year. Learn more about the Intersections Initiative communities, the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund, or Prevention Institute or contacting Sandra Viera via email ([email protected]).

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How do we build a compassionate and inclusive America in an age of distrust? WAJAHAT ALI knows from personal experience that when we come together to be the superheroes of our own stories, we can create honest social change. The beloved TED speaker has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic about our urgent issues—immigration, politics, parenthood—with boldness, hope, and humor. His memoir Go Back to Where You Came From, one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year, follows his life as a Muslim Pakistani-American on a surprising, emotional, and challenging quest for the good life. Iconic journalist Katie Couric says that “we are all so fortunate to be on the receiving end of his intellect, his humanity, and his heart.”

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“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.” — Mara Gay, New York Times

Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”

In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”

Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.

As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.