The Sentinel Surveillance to Monitor Progress toward Health Equity project aims to develop and implement a surveillance system to capture the information necessary to monitor progress towards health equity for health disparate populations. One key element of this project is the engagement of community members through a Community Advisory Board (CAB). Recently, Mrs. Leevones Fisher, a community activist and member of the CAB, shared a little about her reasons for participating in the CAB and the importance of continued investment in research.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I grew up in the Trinity Gardens community of Mobile, AL. My family of nine consisted of mom, dad, and six siblings. After attending school at Trinity Lutheran School and graduating from Trinity Gardens High School, I did undergraduate studies at Talladega College where I majored in chemistry with a minor in math. After receiving my degree, I moved to Atlanta, GA, to teach school for five years. I returned to Mobile when my mother fell ill with cancer. I started working in Alabama, married and had one son. I’ve been in Mobile ever since.
I stared the Bay Area Women Coalition (BAWC) in 1997 in response to the many problems with crime in the neighborhood. My brother had been murdered. The children of friends had been murdered. Crime in our community was bad at that time with police and service workers afraid to come into the neighborhood. As a result of the organizations advocacy and focus on improved housing, the crime rate has gone down. We’ve constructed 50 new homes and build two affordable housing subdivisions – with one made up of apartments for seniors. We’ve also renovated or repaired over 400 houses and are currently working with community gardens to improve access to healthy food.
How did you become involved with the Community Advisory Board for the Sentinel Surveillance Project?
It all started when I attended a workshop at Bishop State Community College 10 years ago. Dr. Crook and Dr. Arrieta came to the workshop to talk about health. I talked to them about health and how the university needs to be more involved with the community. The relationships shouldn’t be a one-way thing.
Why did you decide to become part of the CAB?
One reason I joined the CAB is I wanted to give my opinion on the neighborhood and what is happening as a community member. Being a apart of the group provided an opportunity to see things improve and grow; and I wanted to monitor the growth of the impact the project would have on the community.
Give us a few highlights of your time as a CAB member. Is there any one memory that stands out?
One thing that stands out is when I got the chance to go to the national conference and meet others from across the country and share during the poster session. It was an eye-opening experience to find out that so many people were interested in what we are doing.
What community needs are you most concerned about?
Health is a big concern, especially women’s health. Most of the women in our community are the heads of households and they are not in good health. When we don’t take care of ourselves, it means that we are not taking good care of our family.
How do you see the sentinel surveillance project addressing these issues in the community?
Poor housing is a big issue. But, I’ve learned that health is also one of the main issues. Poor housing and poor health go together. If people are not healthy, they don’t care about the housing part. They are just trying to get well. Health helps housing and housing helps health. The two go together. Poor health means that you can’t keep up your house.
Have you ever been involved in research before, if so how is this similar or different?
Yes has been involved in research before this project. I did a lot with with the College of Business, Dr. Semon Chang. He had us go door to door to do an assessment of the community, a housing assessment. With Dr. Ken Hudson, we tried to figure out why the housing and health issues were such a detriment in the neighborhood. Both surveys were done because we had gone out to find the information we needed to make a change on the housing issue. The impact was we learned that poor housing had an impact on health conditions. This led to trying to find out what could be done about health conditions.
What have you learned about research through this process?
It has to continue. When you start looking at one thing, you find something else that has to be addressed. We need to continue investing in research to address issues in the community with people. Housing work led to health research, and we learned that it is big and needs to be narrowed down to certain areas. There are so many issues with health, which is very different than housing. So we must continue researching to understand the issues and how they work together and how they can be addressed.
Has the experience changed the way you consider or approach research in other areas of your life?
Yes… keep researching looking at every facet from infancy to old age. Pick an age and you can research and find out so many fascinating facts about that age. Whether it is finance or spiritual needs, there is so much that can be researched. I used to think of research as trying to find a cure for cancer or something. But, it is multifaceted.
Would you encourage others people in your life to participate in or be a part of leading/shaping research projects as a result of your involvement with Sentinel Surveillance?
I would. I would like for them to be a part of it not just because they are receiving something; but, because they want to see a different in their community. We need to research how this could happen. I think of President Kennedy saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” This always resonated in my mind because most people when asked to participate in research want something in return.
Any final thoughts on research.
We need to keep the ball rolling because I don’t think the need for research will ever end.