31 Years and Counting — Minority Health Conference hits a home run!

Building Community in the Age of Information: fighting health disparities in the modern world

cochairs-copy.jpgThat was the title and theme of the 2010 student-run minority health conference, held February 26 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill.  The Minority Health Conference is the longest-running, largest graduate student-led conference in the US. Besides the in-person group at UNC, students and others participate at a growing number of universities around the US. It’s awesome each year to watch students take on the very daunting job of mounting a large conference. Yet, each year, they succeed. They do everything from pick a theme and identify keynote speakers to handle logistics the day of the event. Kudos to Aprajita Anand and Emily Brostek, graduate students in Health Behavior and Health Education, who co-chaired the meeting.

Over the last 10 years, there’s been a huge increase in the number of Americans who go online regularly. With the exception of American Indians (54%), every major race-ethnicity group is over 60%, and African Americans and whites are now very close in percent online regularly (70% and 76% respectively). Hispanics are at about 65%. That’s not where we student-peeks-use.jpgwant to be, but it’s a dramatic increase. All over the world, more people now are plugged in. They’re using smartphones, PDAs, netbooks and computers, kiosks and internet cafes to get online.

When I asked the 500+ people in attendance how many went online, had Facebook pages and communicate with family using social networking sites, the majority raised their hands. audience.jpg

Research done at our school and elsewhere shows that use of the internet can be lifesaving, heartwarming and can help people change unhealthy behaviors, find healthcare information, spur social advocacy and so much more.

I was delighted that Chancellor Holden Thorp welcomed the group and spoke to the importance of diversity.

Robert Fullilove gave great keynote!

Here was a man who spoke without Power point slides and had the audience in his hands. He told us about growing up and fullilove-1.jpgthrough the civil rights era, a time when Blacks taking buses had to get in line and pay their fares in front and then go to the back of the bus to enter. If whites wanted their seats, Blacks had to get up. The sheer ludicrousness of demanding such a behavior boggles our minds today. He pointed out that while everyone credits Rosa Parks with refusing to give up her seat, at the time, there was a large effort to get people to say “enough.” Parks wasn’t the only one who sat her ground.

Fullilove said we’ve come to expect living in real time, using information from many sources expertly. A consequence is that we are less aware of history as an important force. He cautioned us to remember that history is about context, and that when we lose that, it becomes only heroes, and we lose the complexity of situations and forces.

In talking about his experience as a community organizer, he said the failure to engage communities is a major gap in public health today. We need people to go into communities and spend time working with the people in them to understand their wants and needs. When we do that, our capacity for change could be unlimited, and what we’d create would be a sustainable development.

wait-copy.jpgFullilove is a charming man, and judging from the questions people lined up to ask, and the many people waiting to talk with him afterwards, he hit a home run. He sure did with me!

I love that at a relatively “mature” age, I still can go to a lecture (not often), become completely captivated and walk out feeling that something about my life changed in a positive way. Isn’t that the best part of education!

Happy Monday! Hard to believe it’s March already. Barbara

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