Interactive Networking Café Brews Up Collaboration for Health Equity in Nashville

Interactive Networking Café Brews Up Collaboration for Health Equity in Nashville

On Monday, April 22nd, 2024, the Tennessee State Museum buzzed with energetic optimism as community health advocates, researchers, and healthcare professionals gathered for the Spring 2024 Equity and Engagement Café. Hosted by the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, the event aimed to spark conversation and collaboration around community-engaged research and its role in achieving health equity.

The Café format fostered a relaxed atmosphere, with brief comments from two innovation speakers, a panel dialogue with the attendees and interactive table discussions. The table activity was designed to create actionable steps participants could immediately take toward radical collaboration. Key themes emerged, including the importance of shared leadership, community-led research, and the critical link between health equity and systemic change.

Innovation speaker Rebecca Selove, PhD,  MPH, Director of The Center for Prevention Research at Tennessee State University, challenged the traditional individualistic approach to health equity: "Many models imply that health equity is on an individual basis, and this is what brings us back to policy…it's really the system that is creating burdens for people." Dr. Selove continued, "One of my favorite illustrations of health equity shows two people preparing to run a race. One has a smooth track, the other has holes, rocks, and brambles. Health equity is about clearing that path – making a way for people who have burdens created by the context to get to their goals without having to navigate those burdens."

Innovation speaker Christopher "Kitt" Carpenter, Director of The Center for Research on Inequality and Health at Vanderbilt University, emphasized the importance of open reflection: "Health equity is about naming not only what we've done but where we've fallen short…so that we can try to do better in our faculty recruitment and our partnerships and events like this. That's why this opportunity [this event] is such a gift."

Throughout the evening, attendees participated in lively discussions about research projects and community-led initiatives currently underway in Nashville. Animated discussions focused on various health disparities in cancer, maternal health, and preventative care. Table teams also talked about equitable access for LGBTQAI+ folk and the need to include folks who are differently-abled, be it physically, cognitively or both. Each table had a shared thread – prioritizing community engagement and placing local residents at the forefront of the research process.

The Café's success lies in bringing together folks from diverse experiences. Researchers gain insights from community members, who, in turn, contribute their wisdom and expertise. This collaborative approach paves the way for more effective research that tackles health disparities head-on using a "nothing about us, without us" platform.

The Equity and Engagement Café serves as a model for future initiatives where research integrates local design. By fostering shared leadership, centering community voices, and acknowledging the need for systemic change, we can bridge the gap between research and everyday lived experiences, ultimately achieving a healthier future for all.

Interested in attending the Fall 2024 Equity & Engagement Café? Subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed about all of our upcoming events.

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The Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance (MVA) is a 20+year partnership between Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University Medical Center that serves to advance the shared interests of our institutions and community partners. The MVA is the epicenter of collaboration, capacity-building, and community engagement for health equity in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

Co-host Dr. Cook (2nd from the left), Meharry Medical College, sharing a laugh and nugget of wisdom with friends and colleagues.