Director's Blog

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Be There San Diego Director of Community Engagement it is my privilege to introduce you to the Southeastern San Diego Cardiac Disparities Project and welcome you to our work.

Ours is a story of partnership—the faith community coming together with the medical community to address one of the most pressing health issues of our time: cardiovascular health disparities in the African American community.

Our goal? Improve the cardiovascular health of African American adults in Southeastern San Diego through increased healthy behaviors and the management of risk factors to end heart attacks and strokes in this historically underserved region of the city.

Ours also is a story about shining the light on truth and seeking health justice. The truth and justice that can only come when the work is grounded in our community’s reality: Race matters. Place matters. Historical and cultural contexts matter. Policy Matters.  This is the @SDheartjustice Movement!

The leaders of 19 faith-based organizations guide our work. As it evolves, through this website you will come to know these faith-based “CEOs”—knowledgeable members of the clergy who are also distinguished business men and women, community advocates and in some instances, healthcare providers. Most importantly, you will get to know the members of their congregations—the community at-large, whose heart health journey inspires our work.

The faith leaders thoroughly deliberated the proposed work of the Cardiac Disparities Project. Understandably so. Throughout the years the residents of Southeastern San Diego have frequently been misled—some would say have fallen “prey” to “outside” individuals and/or organizations seeking to benefit from the community with no reciprocity or transparency of intent. Frequently cited were grantees bringing forth projects and seeking to integrate into fragile neighborhoods without engaging stakeholders in decision-making and most importantly, without transparency. Also cited was a deep-rooted mistrust of the medical community.

Histories cannot be undone. Every conversation about this project has been hard-fought. Historical and current complexities of race, place and culture are dealt with head-on.

An additional complexity: project directors that are not African American and a priority population that is. Every meeting—big or small—has become an opportunity for candid conversation and about how seemingly very different people can come together and work toward a common goal. And we pray.

We openly talk about policies that historically have disproportionately affected racial and ethnic populations negatively— even now.

And we talk about the burden of cardiovascular disease decimating African American communities. We talk about prevention and the community-clinical linkages that are so essential to reducing and preventing cardiovascular disease.  We talk about the imperative to act now!

There were non-negotiables.

The faith organizations participating in the project required that they have the freedom to co-direct its implementation as full partners. These faith-based “CEOs” required unfettered access to project “CEOs.” They required full transparency in all aspects of implementation and reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the project’s funder.  The work had to belong to the community.

Today, nothing less is in place.

Participants share decision-making authority and stakeholder ownership guides all work. This is a learning community that is a safe mentoring space for all participants—including project staff. Our approach is unique: equal parts history lesson, civic engagement and hard work to improve the cardiovascular health of our community.   

The participating faith-based organizations represent diversity in denomination, size of congregation and approach to how they will implement their own sustainable “Heart Health Plan.” Meetings began for education and resource sharing in June of 2015. These meetings are a safe space that allows for the development of plans that build the collective strength of the congregation and are tailored to meet the unique needs of each faith-based organization. As organizations join the project they are folded into the conversation and mentored by other more seasoned participants.

A key factor of success is the sustained participation of the leadership of three of the most influential San Diego faith-based clergy associations: Pastors on Point San Diego, Southeastern Ministerial Alliance and Muhammad Mosque #8.  The demands of these leaders are great. Their full engagement in discussions about preventing cardiovascular disease, community-clinical linkages and the development of sustainable heart health action plans speaks to the commitment and accountability of all partners and the trust that has been fostered. This level of engagement could not be possible without the United African American Ministerial Action Council (UAAMAC) serving in the role of liaison to the faith community and our “Faith-Based Heart Health Champion In-Chief.”

And our newest learning community just launched: The Heart Care Champion Program, the clinical component of the project that will complete the community-clinical linkages “circle of healing.”

Stay tuned and see you at “The crossroads of community, medicine and justice,” the @SDheartjustice Movement!