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Forward, Together: Voices from the Multisector Partner Group

By Phylicia N. McCalla, DrPH, MPH, Director of Operations
Dec. 15, 2022
The Multisector Partner Group with AAMC Center for Health Justice staff, October 2022
The Multisector Partner Group with AAMC Center for Health Justice staff, October 2022
Photo credit: Tasha Wood

At the AAMC Center for Health Justice, we describe our health justice framework as “grounding one foot in community wisdom, the other foot in a research-to-policy action agenda and using both feet to walk the path to health justice.” We recognize that creating health opportunities in our communities is not the exclusive job of medical care and public health domains. Instead, our goal is to create a space to come out of our silos and connect across sectors to reach health equity: giving every community equitable access to the vital conditions we all need to be healthy and thrive. To this goal, the center assembled the Multisector Partner Group (MPG), an inaugural group of ten paid consultants representing sectors that encompass those vital conditions of health.

It has been a privilege to have had a hand in the formation of the MPG. Through their applications in February, our first virtual convening in April, and our inaugural in-person meeting in October, each member has demonstrated a unique perspective. I have enjoyed getting to know the members personally, as well as appreciating the group’s dynamics. It took very little time for me to realize how valuable and vibrant each of the ten members is, bringing their diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and lived and work experiences to the group. Collectively and individually, members have used their expertise and leadership to contribute to the center’s strategy and agenda and to advance our mission to build cross-sector partnerships to address the complex constellation of social and political factors contributing to community health and health inequities.

When I reflect on what the center and the MPG have accomplished in just half a year, it’s incredible and worth recapping. Together, we developed a team charter and processes to guide our three-year journey. We established team norms, such as holding ourselves and each other accountable to meet expectations and commitments and empowering one another to communicate about concerns proactively. We challenged ourselves to break out of our familiar sectors so that we could brainstorm together, while continuing to build our team by learning about each other and from each other. Although the process was unfamiliar and challenging at times, it was also very thoughtful and respectful. This permitted the group to converge and build consensus by adopting a collective decision-making process.

Personally, this group has transformed the way I think about my health equity work. First, it has made me feel more comfortable going through the process of building a team and resolving challenges together. Second, it has emphasized that the process of community engagement and multisector partnership is as important as the product. Although members varied in their approaches and tactics, we all had the same vision of what an ideal future state could look like through a multisector lens. The MPG reminds me of a chorus: each voice is different but when they work together synchronously, the voices coalesce to create something bigger and beautiful. In a recently recorded video, each member had something important to contribute about their vision for health equity and the path to achieve it together through multisector collaboration.

In the community where physician Ross Jones serves, “patients are faced with many obstacles, including transportation barriers, housing barriers, and food deserts.” Food access advocate Susan Topping shares that in Washington, D.C., “we have neighborhoods that are extremely food secure, and then we have other neighborhoods that are tremendously food insecure. And within those two neighborhoods, within ten miles of each other, there's an almost 30-year life expectancy difference.”

To educator Kelly Nelson, health equity means “solving the persistent threats to health and well-being that undermine individual or populations potential to achieve their healthiest living”.

"Health equity means that everyone has equal access to be a whole person," added performing artist Joel Yates.

Although bringing together such a varied group may be challenging, disability justice advocate Gary C. Norman believes the MPG “can be a listening platform that brings in multiple perspectives.” Housing expert Andrea Ponsor lifted up the importance of working “across sectors to dismantle systems that have been systemically unjust and build new ones.”

To hear more from the members, check out the new video featuring the Multisector Partner Group as they highlight the importance of collaboration across sectors to achieve health justice.