Poor on Paper, Rich in Experience

People may not be aware that they are in poverty if all they have known is struggling”-overheard at our community presentation in Cleveland, MS

These words bounced around in my brain, hitting all the right notes, as I scribbled quickly trying to capture the nuggets of information shared at our roundtables. I was pleasantly surprised by how willing the community members, were willing to be open and honestly engage in dialogue with each other in front of me, an outsider. This was shocking to me because of the horror stories I’ve heard around helicopter research, where people would come into the communities, get what they need and leave. I knew a helicopter researcher is not who I wanted to be.

As an outsider, my goal was to present the data and leave it to their interpretation. However, it is often difficult to separate yourself from the data. I found myself wanting to delve more into the data. For example, when I saw discrepancies in the male population, I wondered how that was impacted by police brutality, crime and incarceration, or poor health outcomes. However, these were not things I could present to the community, as our goal was to just present the numbers.

Nevertheless, there is something profound about community members being able to take charge and speak about the issues in their communities. These people living and working within these communities are the experts. I think this is a goal of public health, especially in Community Based Participatory Research. This experience has had a significant impact on me during my time in Mississippi. It causes me to think about the work I may do in future communities and how I would engage community members. I came into this community to engage the community around data, and I will leave having a greater understanding of how to engage new communities.

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