A new grant will help reduce disparities in healthcare through a unique new training program led by Carle Illinois College of Medicine’s Ruby Mendenhall. The programming will create a culture of innovation that centers around the health and wellness of mostly Black and Latinx (a gender-neutral form of Latina/Latino) high school students and young adults living in Chicago.
With the $500,000 MacArthur Foundation grant, Mendenhall and her research team will create programming and wellness tools, including art, to foster healing from racial trauma such as police killings, gun violence, and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths.
“It is our hope to have this culture of innovation so embedded in the young people’s lives that it permeates all areas of their health and well-being and fosters community healing, especially in neighborhoods with high levels of violence,” said Mendenhall, professor of sociology and African American studies and associate dean for diversity and democratization of health innovation at Carle Illinois.
Mendenhall’s project addresses the harmful eﬀects of structural racism which creates limits to Black and Latinx students’ access to careers in medicine, nursing, behavioral sciences, and other health-related ﬁelds. “Due to structural racism in the U.S., communities of color often have higher rates of multigenerational poverty, unemployment, educational challenges, residential segregation, criminalization, precarious and toxic housing, incarceration, and health disparities,” Mendenhall explained.
The programming will help prevent racial trauma by developing a holistic and trauma-informed ecosystem for youth that supports a third reconstruction (social justice policies and implementation) and Chicago Renaissance (intense artistic and intellectual activities). The initiative will work primarily with Black and Latinx youth to co-create a Community Health Worker training program that includes designing innovative low-and high-tech wellness toolkits in partnership with the University of Illinois Siebel Center for Design.
The program will extend its reach through collaboration with a broad range of 50 community-based, government, and university organizations, including faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern University. The program will also reach out to community colleges and other minority-serving institutions. “We are going to co-create the training with 50 individuals, but the long-term goal is to train as many young people as possible in and around Chicago, the state and globally. Our community health workers will be trained to innovate in ways (e.g., socially, economically, psychologically, technologically, etc.) that foster health equity,” said Mendenhall.
The grant also will fund a non-partisan policy exploration clinic with the University of Illinois System Institute of Government and Public Aﬀairs (IGPA) to teach students about policy development and implementation, and to train the next generation of Black and Latino policymakers.
In addition, Robin Wilson, director of IGPA and Mildred Van Voorhis Jones Chair in Law, and Mendenhall will extend their current project, “Citizen Scientist Journaling on COVID-19: Documenting the Impact of the Pandemic and Oﬀering Solutions.” The citizen (community) scientist project captured the lived experiences of individuals across the state through journaling during the pandemic.
The Citizen Scientist and Community Health Worker programs will also serve as a pathway program to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Chicago in all disciplines. The College of LAS wrote about the project in spring 2021.
Mendenhall is also working to develop what she refers to as Communiversity Science™. Communiversity Science™ involves many departments in a university working together in specific communities to bring unprecedented resources to solve problems together. It also involves working with other universities and agencies to accomplish similar goals. More information on Communiversity Science™. can be found in a lightning talk featuring Mendenhall here.