Black Thought is a man of many words–on the mic. Offstage, he is more likely to reverse the traditional role of frontman and rhythm section, letting his longtime partner ?uestlove be the spokesperson for The Roots. If there is one subject that is sure to get him talking though, it is the work he has done and is doing with the GrassROOTS Foundation to improve health awareness and outcomes for impoverished and at-risk girls. In an interview with Black Enterprise Magazine that was published online yesterday, the sometimes elusive MC spoke at length about both the details of that work and the philosophy behind it. Read an excerpt (after the jump) touching on the Foundation’s upcoming programs and events, his thoughts on healthcare overall, as well as some practical advice for anyone stepping into the arena of serious grassroots work. Then hit the link at bottom to read the full Q&A at BE.
What are your thoughts on the healthcare system as it pertains to impoverished communities and what do you think it will take to change it for the better?
I think poor folks are the only people who cannot afford—financially and otherwise—to be sick. I think we need more community health programs and we need to develop program that are low-cost.
At GrassROOTS, we develop projects that are accessible and available to everyday people and they are free. We want to inspire folks to claim their health so they can build new systems of care. We like the model used in communities where people work as health workers spreading the message of the importance of health. The current system seems less about health and more about systems—bureaucratic and hard to navigate.
Not precisely sure what it will take to change the system but I am sure that for poor folks, community health education is necessary because it will help create healthier communities. When that happens, I am sure that we can begin to imagine and create a new system that helps everyone.
For people who are considering being involved or starting their own organization, what advice would you give them as far as organizing and/or running it effectively?
My first piece of advice is to think about sustainability first—begin with the end in mind. If you were successful, what it would it look like. Next, consider it important to consider collaborations, choose your partners wisely, make sure you share not only a common mission but compatible work styles.
At GrassROOTS we are interested not only in the outcomes but also in the process. Our partners must believe in our mission but they also must be willing to work in a style that honors our mission. In other words, they must be willing to consider all the factors (people, places and systems) that contribute to why our communities are so unhealthy and they MUST be willing to include the voices of the people they serve in their programming.
However, the most important piece of advice is to remember it takes money and resources to make social change. Although we run a non-profit, we have had to learn the hard way that we must have a plan for the fiscal health of our organization.
What future plans do you and the Foundation have?
We have a lot happening at the end of the year. We are launching a pilot of our HEAL program in partnership with IHN-the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Through a grant from the Health Care Foundation, we are going to be providing health programming—yoga and healthy cooking classes to residentially insecure and homeless families. This population of folks is really vulnerable and so we want to help them make health a priority even under these harsh conditions.
We are also in our second year of programming at Harding Middle School in Philadelphia. This year we are working at the second level in our model. Last year we focused on our girls and their families. This year we are extending that work to include the community. We will be hosting community conversations and health programming. We know that if we work with our girls and ignore their community, they won’t get healthier, so we are working to draw the community in. We received support for this work from the Princeton Area Community Foundation.
In the late fall, we will begin a full year of health programming at the Early Middle College at Bennett College. Last year we completed a successful pilot and we are anticipating a wonderful first year.
Much of our efforts now is dedicated to fundraising to sustain and support our programs. While we have some support, we need more. We are constantly writing grants. It is our goal to earn a federal grant to support our research, but in addition, we are looking for new partners and sponsors who share our mission and style.
And on February 16, we will host our annual Let’s Move It benefit party in Philadelphia.