As healthcare is projected to account for a third of new employment in the next decade, we have the opportunity to build health into our society with new models of care and access; address the social determinants of health head-on; and revolutionize chronic disease and mental health.
Accomplishing all of this, however, calls for inclusion of varied viewpoints and lived experiences in problem solving and decision-making. This is how Onboard Health views sustainable health innovation — through the inclusion of change-makers from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Onboard Health’s blog is dedicated to giving a voice to these talented individuals hard at work creating lasting change in our society. This post, featuring Omari Richins, MPH is the twelfth of a Q&A series — “How I’m Building” — highlighting members of the diverse Onboard Health community.
You are known as The Public Health Millennial. Can you tell us how you got this moniker?
As I started my community health fellowship after my Master of Public Health degree, I wanted to share more about this new to me field of public health and all I learnt over the last two years. Thus, I started The Public Health Millennial as a blog and Instagram page, @thePHmillennial, in 2019.
And tell us about The Public Health Millennial as a platform for both public health students and professionals.
Since starting as a blog, thePHmillennial.com, Public Health Millennial has grown to a multifaceted online platform. It offers content for public health students, professionals as well as public health enthusiasts. Currently the platform consists of a blog, my podcast (currently named The Public Health Millennial Career Stories Podcast), the Community Health & Wellness Discord Server, The Public Health Millennial Network that has 3 other podcasters, and an online presence across your favorite social media platforms.
The need to continue to engage a growing audience has enabled me to expand and share relevant information in various content forms.
You grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, and later moved to the Sultanate of Oman, before settling in Tampa for school. How do you feel you those drastic shifts in culture affected your path?
I think it is the one thing that has shaped my path the most. Having to leave Trinidad at age 16 to move to the Middle East was at the time the toughest part of my life. However, this move enabled me to experience cultures and perspectives that I would have never gotten if I had stayed in Trinidad. Then I lived in Florida and Alaska, before relocating to North Carolina where I currently reside.
The experiences of living in countries, and cultures, that were different from my upbringing was a humbling one. It taught me to have empathy for all people regardless of backgrounds and beliefs. It taught me to openly listen and appreciate that life is lived and enjoyed in many ways across the globe.
It in fact encouraged me to appreciate not only my Trinidadian culture and how I show up in the world more, but also has enabled me to appreciate diversity and see the richness in each person’s way of living and viewing the world. These experiences have wholeheartedly been vital to my career and public health successes while engraining in me a global perspective of health equity. This global lens that I see the world through allows me to think cross-culturally and empathetically. This I believe has been a vital quality and “skillset” that sets me apart from many of my peers and has become a superpower of some sorts in the work that I do.
In your experience, how has the field of health equity shifted in recent years?
Health equity has shifted into the spotlight throughout the pandemic and with the murder and civil unrest caused by the murder of George Floyd.
The pandemic has shown the general population tangibly the effects of systemic inequities on the Black population and other populations of colour. This inequitable access to resources and opportunity for these populations has now been highlighted in the COVID-19 data, Social Determinants of Health data, and economic data, to name a few.
The civil unrest and the pandemic has provided us an unprecedented opportunity to further the conversation around health equity. This has created the opportunity for people and organizations to not only talk about health equity, but also created space for them to take actions both internally and externally to become more equitable and antiracist in their work and daily lives. If nothing at all, the last few years has created more opportunity to have the hard conversations on topics that have plagued this country for centuries.
Since 2018, we have seen over 250 declarations of “Racism as a Public Health Crisis” from public health entities to county boards and state legislature across the country. Although, I am happy for these declarations, we could have asked any Black person, academic or lay-person, 10+ years ago and they could have explained anecdotally or through data the inequities that they face on all socio-ecological levels.
That is to say, health equity has been and will continue to play a vital role across sectors as we try to advance opportunities for access to health and wealth for this generation and the ones to come.
You also work as Health Improvement Program Officer for The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, tell us about your work there.
At the Trust, we are working towards thriving residents and communities through equitable systems change. We do all our work by first listening to community and then sharing power so that those most affected by health inequities are at the table and making decisions in health improvement processes. I work in the Northeast region of North Carolina in some of the state’s most vibrant yet disinvested communities. My work as the external face of the Trust in this region centers around Obesity Reduction (Food Systems and Active Living), Substance Misuse, and Adverse Childhood Experiences. I enjoy this work as it gives me an opportunity to listen to community while also strategizing at a high level on how to get to equitable systems change.
Where are you drawing inspiration from lately?
As of late, I am drawing much of my inspiration from some of the greats like Stokely Carmichael and Bob Marley. I also draw a lot of inspiration from groups such as Earn Your Leisure, Stoicism as well as many of the community leaders I work with in Northeast North Carolina.
You want to make prevention “sexy, sustainable, and at the forefront of all thought.” What is your strategy for this?
Making prevention sexy, sustainable, and at the forefront of all thought requires a large shift in the culture of health and health equity. In an ideal world where prevention is at the forefront, the healthy (and more preventative) choice will be not only the easy choice, but also will be the preferred and normative choice. The first step in achieving sexy and sustainable prevention throughout all of society is by first sharing the importance of public health and prevention principles and then listening to community feedback.
That is why we need more platforms centering and working towards a more equitable society such as Onboard Health, The Public Health Millennial, The Equitist and so many more.
We need to meet a broad range of society where they are and give them information for broader conversations around the benefits of having a preventative approach to health and overall wellbeing. Once more people understand the importance of prevention and it’s benefits – the cost savings, the life savings, the increased economic impact, more equitable opportunities, the education increases, etc. – we will need to have these conversations shift into policy change. Policy changes within organizations and across systems. The policy change step is preceded by building community will from the grassroots to the rooftops. There is no effective or sustainable movement towards centering prevention without having the people most affected at the table and being decision makers in what a new and innovative prevention model looks like. The power needs to be shifted to community and to those community leaders that know how to best mobilize their communities to demand these changes.
This lens needs to be taken for all aspects of life and can be thought about from a social determinants of health lens. That being in:
1) Access & Quality Education
2) Health Care & Quality
3) Neighborhood & Build Environment
4) Social & Community Context
5) Economic Stability
But also including the intersections of these determinants and sectors that touch all of these with equity under girthing it all.
When life gets really stressful and you feel overcommitted, how do you bring yourself back to center?
I try to reduce the amount of stress I experience every day by creating a healthy routine and sticking to it. Some of these habits include, being active 5+ days a week (working out, yoga, hiking), getting ideally 7 hours of sleep, and drinking a lot of water. Even with a regular schedule, life can get stressful and overwhelming. When this does happen, I take a step back to be introspective to see what I can do to move forward more relaxed and focused. I center myself by disconnecting. This could be by watching a soccer game, watching a podcast, taking a weeklong break from social media, have lighthearted conversation with friends, and/or journaling to center the importance of the work I am doing and to remember that “this too shall pass.” I feel rejuvenated when I get rest and I can see the role I play in the bigger picture of creating equitable systems for all.
What does Onboard Health’s mission — “building an inclusive health workforce” — mean to you?
The mission to build and inclusive health workforce is a vital part of the puzzle to getting to a place where racial inequities and disparities do not exist. There is no way to get to systemic change without first acknowledging that we have been excluding certain perspectives and voices from wielding power to make health decision. We then need to get inclusive perspectives to be part and lead the workforce aimed at making these changes.
Things will not change at the systems level without first changing at the organizational level. This is where the important work of Onboard Health comes in. We need to have organizations dedicated to giving breath to a new workforce to take on the challenges and issues we face in new ways, with new voices, new perspectives, and strategies.
Where can the Onboard Health Community connect with you online?
YouTube: The Public Health Millennial
The Public Health Millennial Network: thePHmillennial.com/MeetTheNetwork
Community Health & Wellness Discord: thePHmillennial.com/join
Omari Richins, MPH is a public health thought partner who blogs and produces a podcast on The Public Health Millennial Network, a platform he created. Omari works as a Health Improvement Program Officer for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Working in the community to improve health and well-being, he is focused on groups that have been marginalized using an equity and population health lens. Through the Trust’s Healthy Places NC work, Omari engages with residents in some of North Carolina’s most vibrant yet underserved communities, to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table in improving their community’s health and well-being. Prior to this role, Omari worked as a Community Health Fellow at the Mat-Su Health Foundation after graduating with his Master’s of Public Health degree with a concentration in Health Management and Policy from the University of Florida.