Today’s guest blogger is health activist Camille Clarke-Smith, founder of Transforming the Health of African American Women, or THAW. APHA sponsored her and 14 other students and early-career professionals to attend its Policy Action Institute, held Feb. 12 in Washington, D.C. Clarke-Smith is the first of our scholarship winners to share her impressions of the event.

This was my first year attending an APHA conference. Let’s just say that, after this meeting, I have been re-energized as a public health professional. The entire experience was amazing: the food, the location, the speakers and the attendees. There wasn’t a topic that did not speak to me as a public health professional.

I was struck by Mick Cornett, MBA, a four-term mayor of Oklahoma City, talking about how he responded to the high obesity rate in Oklahoma. As one who utilizes the Social Ecological Model as a foundation of most of my frameworks and strategic planning, I was fascinated with how he responded to the high obesity rate, tackling the issue on all levels.

Also speaking was Abdul-El-Sayed, MD, DPhil, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University. His explanation that “public health is political” was epic. His talk was insightful, eye-opening and powerful. Sometimes it brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the current government and the policy changes that have occurred and are underway.

Also on the agenda was a panel on public health policy. Tammy Boyd, JD, MPH, director of health policy and legislative affairs for the Black Women's Health Imperative, said that we have to move from just developing programs to actually implementing them. This has been a problem in our academic society and health care. We know that certain interventions work, but they are not being implemented.

I developed a program called the Medicare Healthy Church Challenge to get into the community, build relationships and provide resources to communities in need. So the discussion on social health, and its need to be included with physical and mental health, really set my soul on fire.

I am a big proponent on focusing on people’s social needs and how these might be impacting their mental and physical health. Then I listened to Somava Saha, MD, MS, executive lead of the Well-Being in the Nation Network. Her mentioning that well-being is the key really opened my eyes and gave me confidence that I am on the right track — that my theories or concepts are not too far off.

Another speaker was Joia Crear-Perry, MD, FACOG, founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. By this time, I was overwhelmed. I just completed my doctorate where my dissertation was “Strong Black Woman Ideology, Obesity and Stress Among African American Women Who Attend Church: Toward the Heathy Strong Black Woman.”

My research describes the historical impacts of slavery and the intersection of racism and sexism on the cultural self-identity of African American women, and how this might be impacting them in an unjust society.

Crear-Perry mentioned that the racism in our society will make it difficult to reach health equity because we are developing programs to fix people, believing that they are broken. People aren’t broken, the system is, she said.

I was not able to stay until the end, due to having to catch a flight, but all in all this was an amazing conference, and I plan to stay connected. I am an APHA member and an abstract reviewer, but this is my first time experiencing the conference.

I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to these speakers and to meet the amazing people who attended. Sometimes you wonder if you are the only one fighting, but after attending the conference, I knew I wasn’t and it gave me hope.

APHA’s Policy Action Institute was offered in partnership with AcademyHealth and the de Beaumont Foundation. It covered critical public health issues, social determinants of health and policies and advocacy efforts that lead to change. The event is available for viewing through the APHA Live online event platform. Purchase the on-demand video today.