Two authors discuss what community means to them and describe an opportunity to apply for the Culture of Health Prize which honors communities that foster health and wellbeing for all.
Katrina: Looking back on my childhood, it’s clear that my community shaped my happiest memories, cradling my family and friends in safety and security. We had each other's backs. I’ll never forget the feeling of freedom I had as a 10-year-old riding my bike to town, past protected forests and neighborhoods on the outskirts of town. We had one car that my dad drove to work. Now I understand that without the early rails-to-trails bike path, my rural community would have been isolated. But then all I thought of was the joy of riding, the thrill of independence. Although the people in my neighborhood were on a journey out of poverty, the land trust we lived on meant eviction wasn’t an issue. When harder times hit, families leaned on each other instead of banks or predatory lenders. We each contributed to and built a community loan fund that helped ease the hard times. Now, I might call this the conditions of place. But then I just called it my community.
Ana Maria: Orlando, Florida, is filled with people who work all day and night making restaurants, theme parks, and hotels run. My family immigrated to a neighborhood that was full of others like us who’d come from the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Central America.
I learned early on that the magic of community is far greater than what you might find in a theme park. Immigrant communities know what it is to care for each other and fill in the gaps systems left in place. As a kid, everyone knew the uncle you’d go to when you needed help with math homework, or the auntie who had her driver's license and could give you and your mom a ride. We followed the smell of spices toward dinner at any one of our neighbors' homes. We translated for our elders, paid friends’ bills when things were tight, and cared for each other’s children. Today I hear about mutual aid and think: we’ve always done that. At the time we just called it taking care of each other.
Celebrating Communities That are Prioritizing Health Equity
In the 10 years since it launched, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize has celebrated more than 50 communities across the country that are at the forefront of advancing health, opportunity, and equity for all. This year, we're relaunching the Prize with a focus on celebrating community-led solutions that are breaking down the barriers to health and wellbeing caused by structural racism and other forms of discrimination. Prize winners join a network of incredible alumni who are truly building a Culture of Health across the country.
Partnership within communities is at the heart of the Prize. Rather than award a single individual the honor, the Prize recognizes diverse, cross-sector partnerships that center people who are most affected by local or regional health inequities and the opportunities they see to improve health and wellbeing.
We award the Prize to whole cities, towns, tribes, reservations, counties, or regions. Places like Drew, Mississippi, the hometown of Emmett Till, where communities are addressing the lack of safe and affordable housing by tearing down deteriorating buildings and rebuilding new, accessible homes. Or National City, California, where residents are championing efforts to ensure their neighbors, regardless of their immigration status, determine the city’s growth. Dozens of community partners and hundreds of residents helped shape the city’s new Paradise Creek apartments and park complex, which brings food, transportation, and environmental justice to a part of the city where many people had felt left behind.
The Prize serves to inspire change and highlight community-led solutions for advancing a Culture of Health where everyone can live their healthiest possible lives. The work of past Prize winners shows us that identifying and removing barriers to health and wellbeing is critical to creating community conditions that advance health equity. Communities are best positioned to define for themselves the solutions they need in order to make health equity a reality.
Applying for the Prize
As such, the updated Prize selection criteria intentionally focuses on the journey—including strategies and other guideposts of progress—as much as the results that communities have achieved together and the indicators they are tracking. The Prize recognizes communities that are:
Addressing structural racism and other structural injustices in order to create conditions that advance health equity.
Committing to sustainable policy, systems, environmental and cultural changes.
Working alongside partners across sectors, and elevating the expertise and solutions held by people with firsthand experiences of health inequities.
Engaging in cultural work that envisions and advances a more just future.
Making the most of available community resources and fostering sustainability.
Measuring and sharing qualitative and quantitative indicators of progress in culturally relevant ways.
Can the story of your community’s work inspire others to take action and create a healthier future for everyone?
The Prize is accepting applications until March 29, 2023. Winners will receive a range of resources and supports including a $250,000 award.
About the Author
Katrina Badger is a program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focusing on efforts supporting work building healthy, equitable communities.
About the Author
Ana Maria De La Rosa, is a managing co-director of Healthy & Equitable Communities at Health Resources in Action. Her career is rooted in supporting communities that historically have been oppressed and marginalized through grantmaking, organizing, technical assistance, and capacity building.