By Gary Gunderson
On Sunday afternoon, November 11, a humble Winnebago will pull away from parking lot of the American Public Health Association meeting in San Diego and head for Loma Linda University—then over to Phoenix, Dallas, Little Rock, the Delta, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Cherokee, Asheville, Winston-Salem, Raleigh, and finally the Atlantic Ocean.
But we probably won’t make it out of San Diego before we have to stop to avoid missing one of the glimmers of hope that will catch our attention—and feed our spirit—all along the way. Our premise: What if everything you hoped for was already happening? Right there in the open for all the world to see. Wouldn’t you go look?
And what would you want to see? I want to see the opposite of the pervasive fear, friction and disconnection that is literally sucking the very life out of us. To see that, you have look away from your glowing screen and go look at what is actually happening. So that’s what we—Stakeholder Health—are going to do. A Winnebago helps.
The idea started about the kabuki dance of the grant-writing model of social change that forces us to pretend that: a) nothing is happening, b) but the world would change, c) in three years, d) with two national meetings, e) a website, f) a book, g) technical assistance to a group of otherwise hopeless people h) who will become exemplars that will then i) be replicated everywhere. I’ve written those grants, but blurted this out, “If I got in a Winnebago in Wilmington, North Carolina, I could stop every hour all the way to Venice Beach on the other ocean and show you something amazing that’s already happening. We have to stop starting things, and finish growing what is already alive.”
So off we go, except in the opposite direction due to Soma Stout, who recommended starting with the annual gathering of 100 Million Healthier Lives which is meeting the same weekend as APHA, both kicking off a wave of events all around the nation focused on health equity.
The map is not final, and we definitely need a little helping filling in the 1,060 miles between Phoenix and Dallas. You know someone who knows someone or something right in there for us to see. But you may notrealize how important it is, how significant a witness it is.
Stakeholder Health is renting the Winnebago, but you can help plot the course and the contacts. What specifically would you want to see? Whowould you want us to have coffee with along the way?
Four themes frame our curiosity:
- The community as healer, generically called “community health workers” (CHW) but are actually a very creative variety of roles emerging: Promotores, Peers, Faith Community Nurses, Supporters of Health and Connectors. It’s quite an ecology, each with powerful stories of healing.
- Community as one people. This trip is part of a month-long national array of events focused on equity. After a bruising political season, it will be good to see communities that are finding ways to include everyone in practical ways to make lives healthier.
- Community-scale collaboration among healthcare, public health and community health assets. Sometimes this arises from the official Community Health Needs Assessment process. But we suspect the most creative things go way beyond, lifted by the convergence of local leadership finding their purpose and possibilities.
- Communities of Spirit and those leading inspired by the possibilities of mercy and justice. We think we’ll see a lot of creative and hopeful energy and intelligence; so expect to meet with clergy and faith networks all along the way. We’ll begin with an interfaith blessing in San Diego and end with Rev. Dr. William Barber at Shaw University in Raleigh, so you can expect some Spirit to move.
We need your help!
You probably know people and places where we could see this happening. But not blowing by at 70 miles an hour, or from 35,000 feet in an airplane or 10 minutes on a panel in some national meeting. It would take a conversation in a small enough group to give and take, ask and probe. I like a Winnebago precisely because it has a kitchen table just the right size for that.
Others are helping find our way: Tyler Norris and his Well Being Trust, Bobby Milstein of ReThink Health, Kevin Barnett’s expansive vision from the Public Health Institute, Leslie Mikkelsen with Prevention Institute and many of the minds of the National Academies of Science Roundtable on Population Health. It’s not about Stakeholder Health or any of these national lights but the witnesses of hope much closer to the ground. Maybe a public health director quietly building a web of collaboration with local clergy, ranchers and the ED director at the local hospital and community health center.
No big deal; except that’s how the world changes. There, right out in the open.
What could be more fun than three thousand miles of such people? But this is also as serious as life gets at a time when it looks like all the wheels are coming off democracy.
Martha Nussbaum writes in The Monarchy of Fear, about the fear permeating every crevice of our public life. A philosopher who has earned her global reputation for precision of thought, she notes,
…the America for which they are nostalgic never existed, not fully; it was a work in progress, a set of dynamic aspirations put in motion by tough work, cooperation, hope and solidarity over a long period of time.” She continues, “This present moment may look like backsliding from our march… but it is actually a time when hope and work can accomplish a great deal of good. On both left and right, panic doesn’t just exaggerate our dangers, it also makes our moment much more dangerous than it would otherwise be…
This is not the time to panic, but to stand on the witness of people giving their lives to life.
It is said that there are two wolves within us constantly competing for our lives, one of fear and one of hope. The one that wins, is the one you feed. The See2See Road Trip is a moveable feast for the fierce hopeful wolf within us.
Some have asked if we’ll be filming for broadcast later. Not anything beyond what an IPhone can post to Facebook or Instagram. But we will be tweeting, blogging, podcasting all along the way so folks can travel along with us. And we’ll probably do a bit of preaching, too, maybe sharing some readings from our new book or one of the earlier Stakeholder Health works. The main point is seeing and listening. We don’t need a crowd for that, we need the kind of conversation that isn’t distorted by a microphone and an audience of strangers. You can help introduce us, open that door and set the table. You can even join us, if you’re in the neighborhood.
This road trip is a part of the Pathways to Population Health (P2PH) initiative sponsored by IHI’s 100 Million Healthier Lives.
Beyond the inspiration, we expect to learn a great deal about people like you and me are investing their time, credibility and energy in practical work advancing health, mercy and justice in their community. If you’ll help us see just that, I’d be grateful.
If you have any ideas, email Maureen Kersmarki (Maureen.Kersmarki@gmail) the member of the Stakeholder Health Advisory Council who is helping translate a continental-sized idea into a daily itinerary.