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They’re using poetry, health care, technology, and more to spur change—from the SwitchPoint stage and beyond.
Here at IntraHealth International, we’ve worked in over 100 countries around the world. But we were born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the United States—a country shaped by over 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, voter suppression, police brutality, and more.
Today, Black Americans face greater risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 than white Americans. Black mothers die during childbirth at a higher rate than white mothers. And Black men and women have lower average life expectancies than white men and women. That’s why we work to fight systemic racism and do our part to decolonize global health every day as we work toward our vision of ensuring everyone everywhere has the health care they need to thrive.
In honor of Black History Month, meet nine experts and artivists who are leading the way toward a new day in humanitarian innovation, global health, and technology. All have been speakers at our annual SwitchPoint event—and all have big ideas for greater global good.
“We aren’t thinking in terms of winners and losers in global health. Because if one of us loses, we all lose. And that’s our reality.”
Loyce Pace is president and executive director of Global Health Council and a policy and advocacy expert who has worked around the world to further access to essential medicines. In 2020, she was asked to join President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force in the lead-up to his inauguration.
“I’m a poet, I’m a performance artist, but the main thesis statement of my poems is what it means for us to be bridges. A major tenet of being a bridge for me is that bridges can’t choose sides. And in many ways, it means that we have to be grounded in two places often.”
CJ Suitt is the first poet laureate of Chapel Hill, NC. He is a performance poet, arts educator, and community organizer whose work is rooted in storytelling and social justice. He brings his art to schools and correctional facilities to help people find their voice.
“I believe in the power of community health workers to be in the communities where they work. But they have to be supported, supplied, salaried, and completely engaged in the local community… Community health workers are the power, they are the change that we need to see. When they are local and switched on, there’s nothing they can’t do.”
Crystal Lander is executive director of global affairs at Pathfinder International. She previously led the advocacy team at Living Goods, where she managed global health policy engagement.
“If you look out when the sun rises, you’ll recognize that there, over the horizon, is inspiration hung by angels who want us to know what this world was intended to be.”
Dasan Ahanu is a “loyal hip hop head” and cofounder and managing director of the Black Poetry Theatre in Durham, North Carolina. A public speaker, organizer, curator, educator, poet, spoken word artist, educator, songwriter, and emcee, he uses his diverse skills to help his community and further social change.
“We want to see what happens when you take beats and poetry and puppets and you mash it all together to talk about health and senior citizens and conflict.”
Pierce Freelon is a musician, director, professor, community activist, cofounder of Beat Making Lab, founder of Blackspace, and the writer, composer, and codirector of the PBS animated musical The History of White People in America. He is also a member of the Durham City Council in Durham, North Carolina.
“Instead of listening to my patient and really hearing him, I was telling him what he needed. So I decided to just stop and listen. And things just really started flowing and falling into place. In patient-centered care, it’s a partnership between the patient and the caregiver. That patient is in charge, and my job is to try to make that happen.”
Shawn McKinney is a community health worker and serves as a liaison between medical teams and her patients. She helps them navigate the health care system, provides appointment reminders, assists them with transportation, and connects them to resources.
“I like helping people really get to where they want to achieve in life.”
Bobby Jefferson is vice president and chief technology officer at DAI Global Health. He sources, evaluates, and implements technology startup investment opportunities and uses private-sector digital health, interoperability, and cybersecurity solutions to support international development projects.
Tarish Pipkins, a.k.a. Jeghetto, is an artist, performer, puppeteer, educator, and owner of Jeghetto’s Entertainment. His shows include an Afrofuturistic puppet show Hip Hopera called 5P1N0K10, Time Machine, A Conversation with Frederick Douglass, and Just Another Lynching.
“This paper is my bread, this pen is my butter, this voice is your supper.”
Nonnie Egbuna is an artist who has dedicated her life to telling stories. She spotlights under- and/or misrepresented narratives and aims to merge self-expression with societal impact through spoken word poetry and filmmaking.
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