To Improve Health in Harlem, a Fellow Joins the Community

Forget “veni, vidi, vici.” A Colin Powell Center Partners for Change fellow explains that before you can help change a community, you must become part of it first.

colin powell center partners for change service harlem
Rebecca Moore at a health fair attended by the Partners for Change health care fellows. Photo: Sophie Gray

Before having the opportunity to be a Colin Powell Partners for Change health fellow I had never truly recognized the health crisis facing the Harlem community. I knew it existed, but before I was given a chance to meet the community and discuss the daily lives and activities of people past whom I have walked on the streets for the three years I have lived in Harlem, I did not know how complex and deep rooted these issues were.

This also served as my introduction into Community Based Research. I never knew the implications that this type of research had for a community in need, and how it could not prevail without aid from volunteers. This is the support that the health fellows provided this year, and the eye opening experience that being a Partner for Change has given me.

The Importance of Gaining Trust

Harlem is a thriving neighborhood that is booming with knowledge, community outreach programs, schools, and medical facilities, but without people to take advantage of these resources, they cannot do the jobs that they were put in place to do. Harlem is an extremely tight-knit community where trust of outside individuals is not granted easily and must be earned. Therefore, residents oftentimes do not use the resources that are at their disposal, as an outsider would imagine. Without gaining its trust, it is impossible to change the Harlem community’s attitude and eventually its beliefs about health. This is the obstacle that Community Based Research must overcome if it is to change the attitudes and eventually beliefs of the Harlem community.

From my interactions with the Harlem community I have come to see a wealth of knowledge regarding health, but it will be an extremely long road before Harlem residents are able to internalize, believe, and act on outsider health recommendations. It is not necessarily education that residents need, but familiarity and trust. Harlem residents need to be able to trust the information they are receiving and be given options that will reasonably work with their current lifestyles, so they can comfortably transition to healthier habits.

colin powell center partners change service
Moore at a health fair in May. Photo: Sophie Gray

Without cooperation between the Harlem community and outsiders, Harlem’s current health crisis will continue to grow.  We must begin a collective effort to use Harlem’s assets to our advantage, educate, to alter attitudes and eventually beliefs.  For example, Harlem has the most medical resources in all of New York City, many children’s organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, and many community gardens open to the public.

Working for a Healthier Future

By working to change Harlemites’ beliefs towards their health, we can be sure that in future generations, Harlem’s health crisis will cease to exist.  Outsiders need to be patient and work to understand the complexities of Harlem in order to officially integrate themselves into the community.  Harlem residents have the knowledge and motivation to recreate a healthy society. – Rebecca Moore

Rebecca Moore is a former Partners for Change health care fellow. Read more about her and our other contributing authors here.

How do you feel about the role of outsiders in improving communities? Let us know in the comments, via Twitter and on Facebook!

More on Harlem and health care:
Center Fellows Reflect on the Meaning and Challenges of Service (Part I)
Two Doctors Save Lives with Talk Therapy and Hip-Hop

Author: Colin Powell School

"Social Thought with a Public Purpose" The Colin Powell School houses the activities in the Social Sciences at the City College of New York, connecting education and research to critical public concerns. Rooted in the Harlem community, the school is global in its diversity, outlook, and reach.

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