A healthier Fulton; a people rising together

Moderated by Rick Badie

How healthy is your county? Well, Forsyth has been tapped as Georgia’s healthiest, according to a recent ranking that measures certain health factors of every county in every state. Metro Atlanta took four of the fop five slots in overall rankings. Accolades to Forsyth, Gwinnett, Fayette and Cobb. Fulton County, meanwhile, made substantial progress; today, a county commissioner explains how. In the other column, an Atlanta-based activist explains his international project, African Ascension.

“Health in all policies” in Fulton

By Joan Garner

In 2009, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners undertook a top-to-bottom makeover of its public health policies and services in the wake of a 2008 Health Equity report by the Georgia Department of Community Health. The report listed the counties with the best health outcomes for minorities and those in which minorities faced the “greatest health challenges.” Despite having spent more than $2 billion on public health services since 1975, Fulton found itself on the latter list.

Fast forward to 2015. The latest National County Health Rankings, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, shows Fulton is now in the top 15 percent of Georgia counties with the best health outcomes. The journey has not been easy, nor without setbacks, but actions to address health disparities and improve health outcomes have undoubtedly been successful.

The terms “health disparities” and “social determinants of health” are relatively new to the layperson’s lexicon. Social determinants are the social factors — gender, race, socio-economic status, educational level and where a person lives — that often negatively impact health outcomes. Health disparities refer to differences in the quality of health care and outcomes due to the aforementioned social factors.

Common Ground, the nationally recognized initiative enacted by Fulton leaders, addressed the “access to care” aspect of social determinants. It established a network of modern, family-friendly health centers to provide integrated care.

This “integrated care service delivery” approach has all public services — health (including primary care, dental and behavioral), job and career assistance, housing assistance, library, computer labs and the arts — in one location to address constituents’ needs. When clients come for one service, our clinicians assess and address other critical needs they might have.

When I joined the Fulton County Board in 2011, Common Ground had begun to bring about the changes we hoped it would.One of the early highlights for me was presiding at the opening of the beautiful new Oak Hill Child, Adolescent and Family Center in southwest Atlanta. Its 22-acre campus is a treasure trove of services for young people from infancy to age 21, embracing the integrated care concept. There are, of course, medical services, but also gardening, nutrition and cooking classes, games and exercises, with the goal of tackling a major national and Georgia problem: childhood obesity.

By now, my constituents know I solidly support “health in all policies” when envisioning, planning and implementing programs throughout the county. Currently, I chair the Healthy Counties Initiative Advisory Board for the National Association of Counties.

Last October, I hosted an all-day Building Healthy Communities summit that brought together national, regional and local leaders to brainstorm. I wanted to hear how they would improve public health and ascertain what resources they could bring to the table. Since then, I have attended a number of neighborhood health screenings, neighborhood planning unit meetings, and seminars and summits. I want to make sure the people of Fulton County know about and understand the services available to them and how these programs and services help us all to live healthy, productive lives.

Joan Garner is the District 4 Fulton County Commissioner.

Seeing Africa in a new light

By Joe Beasley

I have just returned from a humanitarian advocacy mission to Africa, intrigued by President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that he plans to travel to his father’s homeland, Kenya. He will participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the latest U.S. government initiative to facilitate participation of emerging markets in the global economy.

Although Western efforts to aid Africa have more than doubled in the last decade, African advancement is still constrained partly by centuries of psychological conditioning and economic deprivation. Only 50 years ago, centuries of racial segregation in the United States was halted by progressive laws that acknowledged the dignity of African people here. Across Africa in this same era, the imperial system of colonialism was shattered as many African nations burst into independence.

The benefits, however, of the civil rights era and the quest for independence were short-lived. Independence gave way to neocolonialism. The Civil Rights Act was transformed into “equality under the law” that ultimately restricted real restitution and equity for African people.

Recently, the World Bank’s Economic Outlook affirmed crises, like the Ebola outbreak and militant terrorism, threaten African progress. The widespread misconception, however, is that bad governance and endemic corruption are key factors that prevent development.

Brazil takes pride in engendering a racially colorblind society. This perspective only makes the Brazilian government blind to the deplorable conditions African people contend with there.

In Iraq and other west Asian countries, a substantial number of African people are held in enslavement. Indicated by unabated financial aid, U.S. foreign policy has been tolerant of African enslavement.It is within this milieu of African peoples’ struggle for self-determination that African Ascension is constituted. It’s a project that tries to link Africans throughout the globe so they can leverage social and economic strengths. With more than 1.25 billion African people in Africa and the Western hemisphere, we believe we can rise together to tell our stories in our own terms.

African Ascension challenges the world to see African people in a new light — one of truth that won’t allow anyone to cast a blind eye to historical injustices, a light that will inspire everyone to rise to the challenge of promoting African unity and empowerment.

The mission of African Ascension can be seen in the works we have accomplished for African people in many parts of the world.

Recently in Ghana, I met with officials of Cargill Inc. and challenged them to use their vast holdings to improve the quality of life for all Ghanaians. I am preparing to travel to Haiti, where we have already sent more than $1 million in medical equipment to a people still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

In Kenya, I established a learning center equipped with an online computer lab. This center also shares accommodations with a health clinic, made possible with the help of Bob Quattrocchi, president and CEO of Northside Hospital; Nell Diallo, vice president of corporate and international relations at MedShare, and Partners for Care founder Connie Cheren.

In Brazil, I was instrumental in helping establish the first college for Africans in Sao Paulo, and in 2014, I convinced the Coca-Cola Co. to make a $2.1 million contribution to five African-Brazilian institutions.

We have young board members like Mwangi Moses Mukami and Jumbe J.E. Tatum who have devoted their lives to African unity. Mukami founded Kenya’s National Youth Parliament and many youth advocacy organizations in Africa, while Tatum upholds the principles of Pan-Africanism in numerous Diaspora organizations.

As its president, I am hopeful African Ascension will raise my people to new levels of greatness.

Joe Beasley is the founder and president of African Ascension.


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