Roseanne NguyenThis fall, the Center for Climate, Health and Equity is spotlighting the 10 health equity and climate justice champions it sponsored to attend APHA’s July 2019 #ClimateChangesHealth Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp in Washington, D.C. Today’s conversation is with Roseanne Nguyen, a school health liaison with Arizona's Pinal County Health Department. She is a former Youth, Health and Safety program specialist with its Pima County Health Department.

Q: Why are you passionate about climate and health equity?

A: I was the first in my family to graduate both high school and college. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Arizona State University in 2017. As a program specialist with the Pima County Health Department in Tucson, I worked on a wide range of topics: substance misuse, the built environment, bike and pedestrian safety and resources for children and youth with special health care needs.

In Arizona, our summers are becoming longer and hotter. This is affecting our older adults, children and people experiencing homelessness – all who are at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses. While our climate continues to shift quickly, our policies remain stagnant.

Most of my life, I was afraid of speaking up. As the oldest daughter of immigrants, my parents reminded me to obey the rules and stay out of trouble. Decades of intergenerational trauma resulted in our families staying silent and uninvolved in our government. It imprisoned me, and I wanted to break the silence and begin the healing. When I saw this chance to be a part of the boot camp, I knew I could not miss it.

Q: What does advocating for climate and health equity mean to you?

A: After graduating from college, I was in AmeriCorp working on opioid crisis prevention projects in Arizona. This was the first time my eyes were opened to the larger role that policy has on health. I learned that policy changes can make an upstream impact on substance abuse prevention and intervention.

I was also able to link the built environment to substance abuse; it impacts both prevention and intervention efforts. Substance abuse treatment puts a lot of focus on the person to change. I’ve found that you can’t address a crisis like opioids without addressing the source environment through public policy. Climate change affects neighborhood conditions, too, and I can help advocate for a healthy, safe and supportive environment.

Q: What message and experience held the most meaning for you at the two-day Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp?

A: Being a part of the boot camp showed me the strength of our voices and the importance of connecting public health to climate change. When I think of the keynote speaker from NASA, Jenn Gustetic, and her quote, “We are all captives of our experience,” I remember how much I have progressed.

The bootcamp experience allowed me to immerse myself in climate change and health equity policies, while also connecting with other public health professionals throughout the U.S. It was a reminder that we are all fighting for the same purpose. No border divides the passion we have for social justice. We came together to build ourselves up to be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

The highlight of the experience for me was meeting six amazing public health professionals from Arizona. While we were small in numbers, we were mighty in spirit! On Capitol Hill, my group empowered me to be confident in my voice, and I saw how powerful it can be in government.

As I heal, I recognize it as my privilege to bring climate and health inequity issues to light. We must start including climate change in our daily discussions. I am grateful for the growth I have experienced and am excited to continue being a part of a marvelous community.

Learn more about how APHA is helping the next generation of public health professionals take action on climate change. And submit your application by Nov. 17 for the Center for Climate, Health and Equity’s new Student Champions for Climate Justice awards!