Artists join activists at health summit

Activists and artists came together at Hostos Community College on Sept. 24 to discuss the impact that poverty has on health in communities like the South Bronx.

By Sean Shoemaker. Stephen Antony Bealey performs with Ruckus
By Sean Shoemaker. Stephen Antony Bealey performs with Ruckus at Hostos Community College’s “What Creates Health” summit on Sept. 24.

Activists and artists came together on Sept. 24 to discuss the impact that poverty has on the health of residents in communities like the South Bronx. The “What Creates Health?” summit was held at Hostos Community College to address ways to combat common diseases in poor neighborhoods across New York City.

The eight-hour event included workshops, panel discussions, lectures and musical performances. The organization that hosted the summit, the New York City Health Department’s Center for Health Equity, said it was the first time they have brought together community activists, artists, performers and local organizations to engage in a conversation about health.

“Artists have always been at the forefront of speaking about injustices and we think that the public health inequities that exist are also a social justice issue that needs to be taken on,” said Javier Lopez, the Center for Health Equity’s assistant commissioner. The organization was founded in 2014 to battle health disparities and improve health in neighborhoods with high levels of chronic disease and premature death.

The summit highlighted the challenges New Yorkers often face, including high poverty levels, limited educational opportunities, complex health care systems, lack of affordable housing and the prevalence of unhealthy foods. According to the Center for Health Equity, these factors often pose obstacles for health care providers trying to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The summit also included an interactive component where visitors could sit and create collages or color t-shirts. One visitor, Jordan McFarlane, 25, explained the meaning behind the collage he created. “Your personal story has a lot to do with your own health, or the health of those around you or the health of the community. So, I am making a true collage in the sense that it has many different elements that may or may not blend well together.”

Diabetes rates in the South Bronx stand at an alarming 16 percent per resident, double the national rate. Carolina Espinosa, a nutrition program coordinator with the nonprofit Bronxworks, said Mott Haven is considered what nutrition experts call an “obesogenic environment- where there is food but it promotes disease.”

Lopez said his organization will continue arranging summits to raise awareness about health concerns, and added that two neighborhood health centers are expected to open “in the next six to twelve months.” The new centers will provide a space for community based organizations and health department staff to work together to tackle common health care challenges.

“When we say let’s do something different, this is what you get – a different type of community activation,” Lopez said.