GUEST BLOG: Speaking truth to power

Mar 19, 2019

MAHA Exhibits at 40th Annual Minority Health Conference

By: Dorothy Rawleigh

2019 UNC Minority Health

“Speaking truth to power” was a befitting phrase heard throughout the 40th Annual Minority Health Conference with the theme of Advocacy for Change: Celebrating Past Successes and Planning for the Future. The conference honored past activist accomplishments and set the stage for how public health professionals can be more effective and engaging advocates for communities. Speaking truth to power happens when advocates for change are bold, persistent and believe deeply in what they say even when expressing an unpopular view means taking a risk.

At the MAHA exhibit table, Public Health Educator and MAHA volunteer, Dorothy Rawleigh spoke with public health students, community health workers, nurses and dieticians about the disparate health impacts that climate change and air pollution have on marginalized communities. Exhibit visitors learned how health professionals are positioned to be powerful policy advocates for not only clean air but also for environmental justice.

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian Muslim American and award-winning racial justice and civil rights activist, opened the conference with an impassioned and rousing keynote lecture describing the fear and oppression that many communities in America are experiencing right now. Sarsour called on the audience of public health students, academics and professionals to speak up to be effective advocates for change: “When I say to people to speak up, it’s not just because I want you to make some noise, it’s because people’s lives depend on it.”

During her lecture, Sarsour encouraged the audience to actively use the framework of intersectionality in order to be effective advocates for change. “Intersectionality is the idea of working at the intersections of oppression,” she said. “It’s about allowing people to come forth and work in a movement that doesn’t separate gender justice from climate justice from racial justice from economic justice and from all other justices…There is no way to win if we don’t all win.”

The conference included a tribute for Dr. William Carter Jenkins, alumnus and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Dr. Jenkins was a leader in health disparities research and a lifelong advocate for minority health who worked tirelessly to combat racism in society. Quotes from colleagues were shared during the tribute, including one from a former student who said,  “His impact is worldwide. Everyone should know his name. From him, I learned how words and data can be a tool for social change.”  

Conference sessions included topics on effective advocacy techniques for environmental justice, legal reforms, increasing access to health care, ending sexual violence in marginalized communities, immigration policy, food justice and sustainable farming.