Inside several Brooklyn barbershops and salons, stylists are beginning to talk not only about hair, but also health.
Wednesday afternoon, Ruth Browne, CEO of the Arthur Ashe Institute of Urban Health, lectured on the Community Health Empowerment model, of which the Institute’s barbershop programs are just one example.
“I think that the process of community engagement with the academic medical center and with government allows us to really affect change at a level that we couldn’t each individually, as organizations, do,” she said. “The power of that, I think, is very profound.”
Salons and barbershops, Browne said, are examples of community assets or key places to foster conversations on health and wellness.
Within salons, the program Heart of a Woman works to train stylists to engage their clientele in discussions about heart health for women. Barbers are similarly trained to talk about HIV/AIDS among the heterosexual Black, male community through a program called Barbershop Talk With Brothers.
For many, this environment may be more favorable than the traditional medical facility because many members of the community lack medical health insurance, and as a result, opportunities to engage in conversation with experts about their health.
As the CEO of the Arthur Ashe Institute, Browne works to promote health equity, particularly for minority communities. Browne began her lecture Wednesday reciting a quote from Arthur Ashe himself, which provided a central theme for the rest of the talk.
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,” she said.
Browne said that mantra guides the Institute’s strategy. The Institute works to provide community members in Brooklyn with tools, information and resources necessary to encourage residents to gain knowledge and empowerment to manage their health.
Rachael Podesfinski, a Public Policy graduate student, said she believes in what the Institute stands for.
“It’s so great that the Arthur Ashe Institute actually lives their creed by community empowerment and by working with the community members,” she said.
Browne also discussed efforts through the Institute’s ACCESS program, which targets previously, incarcerated individuals returning to their community. The program is designed to narrow gaps in access to health care.
Browne said the opportunities now available to people under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion will work to cover people who are up to 138 percent of the poverty level, while the new insurance marketplace will provide subsidies to those up to those who are up to 400 percent of the poverty level.
However, Browne emphasized in order for these new changes in policy to make a difference, they must include treatment options for mental health and substance abuse.
Still, the Institute faces other challenges including the time it takes to train community members to serve as advocates.
Podesfinski also noted the unique qualities associated with working with minority communities.
“It’s important that we have that holistic lens as we move forward in our work,” she said. “It’s not just about the quantitative work that we keep touting. It’s also about human compassion and looking at historical racism in underrepresented communities.”
LSA senior Joel Adu-Brimpong said Browne’s speech had the power to expand the ways in which communities approach health challenges.
“It can broaden people’s horizons about what some people are doing and what people can do,” he said.