Minority Health: April 2021 was Minority Health Month

In honor of Minority Health Month, we're introducing you to some of the people who are making a difference in the health and well-being of residents in Wisconsin communities of color.

Child holding a Thank You sign

 

During Minority Health Month we featured many people who are working to make a positive difference in their communities.

If you missed any of them, you can view their profiles below. 

We wish we could feature all of you who are contributing time, knowledge, and positive energy to your communities. 

 

The Department of Health Services extends a sincere

Thank You

to every one of you.

 

Minority Health profile: MouaMinority Health profile: BuffordMinority Health profile: Cuellar-MontesMinority Health profile: TorresMinority Health profile: WilkinsMinority Health profile: Mondragon

Minority Health profile: DelongMinority Health profile: AguilarMinority Health profile: NwabuzorErika SinclairMinority Health profile: SebastianMinority Health profile: Reinmund

Minority Health profile: HogansMinority Health profile: PoMinority Health profile: CargileMinority Health profile: KhairaMinority Health profile: HassanMinority Health profile: Kai


Click on a person's name below to learn how they are making a difference in their community.

Meet Ericka Sinclair, MS, MPH, Founder and CEO of Health Connections, Inc.

Raised and educated in Milwaukee, Ericka used her 25+ years of experience in international public health, emergency management response and health care administration to coordinate several major pandemic response efforts – including COVID testing and vaccinations – for the Greater Milwaukee community.

Because of these and other accomplishments, Ericka was named as a BizTimes Media’s Notable Heroes in Health Care in December 2020.

What inspired you to do what you do?
Erika SinclairI am inspired to do the work that I do by my supportive family and the Milwaukee community where I was raised and in which I was educated. I continuously draw on my social lessons from lived experiences to inform my current strategies for healthcare access and health equity solutions. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to fuse my authentic voice and technical public health skills to be a relatable and trusted community-based messenger that hopefully inspires others to do this work in the future.
What have events of the last year taught you?
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught me that I have been uniquely equipped to provide support, consultations and direct service for the COVID-19 response. This strategic positioning resulted from the intersection of my education—African-American Studies, Microbiology, Clinical Laboratory Sciences and International Public Health – and work experience – HIV prevention, care, treatment, community healthcare worker trainer and health care administrator. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the necessary connection between all of my seemingly disjointed experiences.
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
The advice that I would give anyone who hopes to make a difference would be to serve from a place of humility and authenticity using your natural gifts, but with frequent and appropriate feedback sessions from those whom you are serving.

Meet Ray Bufford, owner of Ray’s Clipper Hair-Styling Salon and Men’s Barbershop Health Initiative Leader

Minority Health profile: BuffordThe Men’s Barbershop Health Initiative aims to improve health for African-American men.

What inspired you to do what you do?
Consider an African-American male teen going to high school. You might think our work has nothing to do with his welfare, but what if we help his dad find out he has early stage prostate or colon cancer, and what if this knowledge leads to treatment that saves his life? What if we help his uncle, who has a big influence on his upbringing? What if we help save his grandfather?
What does your community need?
Cancer affects not only the person who has it, but all those around him. And the African-American community needs all the good men it can get. That’s why our work is so important, and so rewarding!

Meet Rev. Dr. Ellis Wilkins: Pianist, organist, teacher, and COVID-19 Survivor

What inspired you to do what you do?
Minority Health profile: WilkinsI was born in Wesson, Arkansas, and attended public schools there where I graduated from Washington High School. I studied at Arkansas AM & N College (now the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff) until I was called to serve my country during the Korean War Conflict. I also attended Liberty Baptist Seminary in Eldorado, Arkansas, and the United Theological Seminary of Monroe, Louisiana.
Tell us more about your life
I’ve been in the ministry since 1972 and pastored three churches in Arkansas before becoming the pastor of Damascus Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee. I’m also very active with the General Baptist State Convention of Wisconsin as the vice-president at-large.
My wife of 65 years and 9 months, Mary Louise Wilkins, affectionately called “MaDear,” passed away in 2019. We were blessed with six daughters and one son, 19 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren!
What have events of the last year taught you?
The events of the last year have taught me about the need to grow closer to God and family. I encourage everyone, in order to stay healthy, to follow the guidelines of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—wash your hands, wear your mask, practice social distancing and please take your COVID-19 vaccine!
We understand you had a very special birthday last year.
Yes, I celebrated my 90th Birthday on June 2, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, my church and family had a “Drive-By Celebration” for me.
By the way, Rev. Dr. Wilkins’ big sister is 100 years old!
What advice would you give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
In order to serve this present age, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Meet Amy J. DeLong, MD, MPH: Family Physician/Adolescent Health, Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Health

What inspired you to become a physician?
Minority Health profile: DelongAbout the time I was embracing my identity as a Ho-Chunk woman and realizing that I enjoyed math and science, belonged at the University of Michigan (had my doubts initially), and was surrounded by peers who had similar aspirations to become lawyers or doctors, was when I first entertained the idea of a pre-med curriculum. My experiences thereafter: working as a phlebotomist in my hometown hospital, volunteering at the Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, and working as a work-study student in a human genetics lab for 3.5 years as an undergrad that solidified it for me. I also strongly believe that my ancestors had something to do with it in terms of guiding me and providing strength and belief in myself when there were times that I thought I couldn’t do it.
What made you choose work with a focus on public health or equity?
Interestingly, access to health care and quality health care play a small role in positive health outcomes. While earning my Masters in Public Health, I learned about the social determinants of health. It made complete sense to me why people of color do not enjoy the same level of health as the general population. While individual choices play a role, it is secondary to the environment in which one lives, works, and plays. If we are going to achieve health equity, we need to focus on issues like education, parent support, quality early childhood education, and recruiting more people of color into the health care work force.
What have events of the last year taught you?
That people can be mobilized!!! Look at the voter turn-out in states like Georgia and Arizona, due to the people of color in those areas who want better leadership. I also was reminded that people can change: people are starting to see the injustices and discrimination in our world towards people of color because of events like the death of George Floyd. The Washington football team changed their name because they saw the injustice of using a race of people as a mascot. More people of color have been elected to leadership positions: our vice president Kamala Harris, Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior, as examples. Less reference to Native Americans as “something else” or “other” and inclusion of American Indians/Alaska Natives when data are being displayed about groups of people. These events inspire hope in me for a better, more equitable future.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenges were often my own self-doubt, believing that I did not belong in college or in pre-med or in medicine, once I got there. After years of education and experiences as a Ho-Chunk person, it was believing in myself and having the support of my family and friends that helped me achieve my dreams. It was also the support of my learning institutions: the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota. Both had academic and social support programs for American Indian students. It is important to recruit people of color into higher learning institutions. However, because they are often the first in their family to go to college or to graduate school, once there, it is important to provide support.
What does your community need to be healthy?
Easier access to and more affordability of good food and fresh produce, along with cooking classes, especially for our youth. Classes that emphasize traditional foods, growing and harvesting them (and hunting and fishing them). Affordable and accessible transportation to health appointments and to their jobs. More mental health support for our youth to address depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. More Native health care staff.

 

Meet Said Ahmed Hassan: President of Community Services Agency (COMSA), Inc.

COMSA is a resource center that provides culturally accommodating and customized services for Somali refugee and other immigrant communities in Northeast Wisconsin.

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Minority Health profile: HassanThree decades ago, I survived the bitter civil war in Somalia which claimed over 500,000 innocent lives. Seeking refuge in South Africa, I was a survivor again of the 2008 xenophobic attacks leveled against foreign nationals, during which I lost my business and all my belongings. Because of the xenophobic attacks, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettled me and my family to the United States. As a refugee who lived both in South Africa and the United States, I put myself in the shoes of refugees and immigrants who can’t speak English, who need help in all aspects of their lives. What inspires me everyday is being that point person for them—a person that is there to help them and someone who instills a sense of hope in their lives.
I chose that focus on public health to bridge the service gaps that exist in the refugee and immigrant community—an equity that requires urgent attention across the board.
What have events of the last year taught you?
The events of last year have taught me that, as a black, a Muslim, a refugee from Africa, and a father of six black children, I am not immune from racism, bigotry, and subtle discrimination. Research indicates that refugees face immense challenges, such as language barriers, lack of employment, racism, isolation, and encountering general cultural differences that negatively affect their well-being. Refugee families also struggle to reconcile an integrated identity, including elements of their new culture and their culture of origin.
We struggled to explain to our clients the gap between their aspirations and the reality on the ground—the idea of America existing alongside the stains of racism and bigotry on a nation that refuses to be cleansed.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge of my life was the fact that I wanted to work to make refugees and immigrants have access to resources they need for them to live and thrive in Wisconsin—things like access to quality health care, childcare, meaningful employment, and adequate housing for families.
What does your community need to be healthy? To address racism?
Refugees and immigrants need a loving, welcoming environment and above they need to be included in decision making by engaging with them through community conversations.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
One advice I would give to anyone willing to make a difference is to engage with the community, volunteer in the community, take-part in refugee and immigrant community events. Enabling open lines of communication is the best way to come together as a community.

Meet Carmen Reinmund: Lead Outreach Program Coordinator, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (SSCHC)

I am grateful to many wonderful people I have come to know. Through love, faith, and life I am who I am because someone made a difference in my life.

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Minority Health profile: ReinmundI was struggling with a child who had lead poisoning, which was painful. I didn’t want to see others deal with that. I felt compassion for vulnerable kids and families, and the SSCHC patients and population are even more vulnerable since we serve an underserved population. I wanted to help families, and realized that education and intervention were important.
What have events of the last year taught you?
The home environment and conditions are so important to children’s health. If there are lead hazards in a home and a child is spending even more time in that home due to COVID, the effects can be even more profound. Getting the lead out of the home is really important.
The last year was an education in technology! We moved to doing home “visits” virtually and over the phone. The staff had to learn not only how to use technology but also to educate others how to use it, too. Not all people in the community had access or were comfortable using technology, so we still offered phone visits so no one would fall through cracks and we could still offer our services. SSCHC needed to be flexible to change and figure out different, creative approaches to achieve the same goals so we could still help patients and families in the community.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
Losing my grandson. I overcame the challenge through family support and a spiritual awakening. While his loss was not directly related to lead, it made me want to protect children and babies in the homes with lead even more.
What does your community need to be health? To address racism in today's society?
Access to health care and support services. Equal and equitable opportunities for everyone. Education – at home and in the schools. Children need education and support. And strong family values. The Lead Program is part of SSCHC’s Department of Environmental Health & Community Wellness. We work to support health by making the spaces where people spend their time (their homes, their neighborhoods) and their lifestyle supportive of health.
We offer the same high quality services to everyone, regardless of culture, ethnicity, or income. It is important that everyone has access to high quality health care and support services that will help them live well.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
To be part of the solution, contribute and bring ideas that help to solve the problem or make it better. Learn about the lives and the cultures of the people who you want to help, and include them as part of the discussion. Understand them and meet them where they are. If they need to change something in their home or lifestyle, educate them and work with them to lead them to the changes. Remember that you don’t know where someone is coming from and their challenges and their perspectives—learn about them, don’t judge them.

Meet Ana Karina Cuellar-Montes, MSW: Outreach Patient Navigator Bilingual, UW Health Breast Center, Wisconsin Well Woman Program Southern Region

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Minority Health profile: Cuellar-MontesMy commitment to equity and service to underserved populations dates back to my volunteer work as an AmeriCorps VISTA and my work as a health insurance navigator in southwest Wisconsin. These two roles opened my eyes to the importance of access to health services, especially in rural and underserved communities. Working with rural communities and with immigrants, I have seen the consequence of not having health insurance. Without a primary care provider and regular health screenings, these two communities relied on free and charitable clinics for their health needs. In the absence of access to health care, women cannot be expected to be knowledgeable about breast health services or to seek important breast and cervical cancer screening services. When I learned about the UW Health’s Wisconsin Well Woman Program – Outreach Patient Navigation it felt like the right fit. Through my position, I work to make sure that women in underserved communities have equal opportunities to get through the healthcare system and to get the breast and cervical cancer services and resources that they need. In addition, my work has provided me with knowledge, along with the ability to understand, educate and advocate in reducing cancer health disparities.
What have the events of the last year taught you?
The events of the last year have taught me that I have to be adaptable and be very creative in my practice while working with patients, organizations, and women in the community. Before the pandemic, I used to go to clinics in the community and talk with patients about breast and cervical cancer screening. When the pandemic hit, all my community outreach events were canceled, and therefore the in-person encounters with patients and community members were shifted to phone calls. In addition, many of these patients were facing additional challenges caused by COVID-19, not related to breast and cervical cancer screening. I have had a significant increase of patients who are experiencing high distress, anxiety, reduction in wages at work, loss of health insurance, food insecurity, inability to pay rent, utilities, etc. For many of the patients that I work with, I assisted with a variety of these needs and connected them with resources in the community. It was very important to connect and engage patients through the phone to help them to receive the services that they needed. Once these barriers were removed, they took care of their health and they went to get breast and cervical cancer screening services. In addition, I have been looking for opportunities for outreach and education via zoom, or any digital platforms, to reach out to women and the staff members of different organizations that serve women. This has created new opportunities, but also it has been difficult not to have the face-to-face contact and connection with patients.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
One of my biggest challenges was to be able to go back to school to earn my Master's Degree in Social Work. I was 22 years old when I immigrated to the United States. When I immigrated to the U.S., I did not speak English. After several years of working, and taking English classes at night after work, I was able to learn English and help others as well. I volunteered as an interpreter for the Latino community in a free clinic in the area. After seven years of being out of school, I moved to Platteville. There, I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa. I was able to overcome many of the barriers and obstacles that immigrants and their families face each day, such as language, cultural barriers, community isolation, and identification of educational goals. I came from Colombia, South America, to the United States and I had to learn to adapt to American society. I learned English, attended college and found opportunities for success. I know first-hand the challenges of leaving one’s country and learning a different language. I have had to work hard and study at the same time, and my efforts showed me the value in hard work and education.
What does your community need?
  • Dental Care
  • Mental health care
  • Access to transportation
  • Access to preventive health care
  • Expand health insurance coverage
  • Affordable or low-cost prescription drugs
  • Linguistically and culturally competent health care providers serving the Latinx clients who speak Spanish
  • Healthcare for undocumented immigrants
  • Immigration reform
What does your community need to be healthy?
  • Increased access to healthy, and affordable food
  • Increased outlets for physical activity and healthy living
  • Increased access to mental and behavioral healthcare
  • Preventative health care

Meet Saúl Juárez Aguilar: Manager, Chaplaincy, Language & Outreach Services at ProHealth Care in Waukesha

Minority Health profile: AguilarWhat inspired you to do the work that you do?
What inspires me to do my job is helping our community make significant positive changes by creating, facilitating, and sustaining health promotion programs and resources tailored to the Hispanic community, from pregnant mothers to seniors.
What made you choose work with a focus on public health or equity?
I chose to work in public health because I like to embrace the existing healthcare challenges our under and uninsured community members face. Through health policy and community partnerships, we can all be part of the health crisis that our children and elders face against chronic illness. We can all work together to identify gaps in health services, find new opportunities, and become more creative in implementing health programming while making more health screenings available to disadvantaged community members.
What have events of the last year taught you?
We learned that creativity and flexibility continue to be essential in healthcare. We had a challenging year trying to reach out to our most vulnerable while following COVID19 guidelines, mainly when our community, culturally, is more used to in-person group interactions—shaking hands, hugging, or saluting others with a gentle kiss on a cheek. We adapted our interactions relying on heavy use of phones and modifying existing health education programming to a virtual methodology. We also struggled to communicate with different age group community members when they lacked existing technologies, such as tablets or internet connectivity. We also learned that technology is not always available to all. However, we could identify new resources, such as purchasing tablets, making them available to our frail senior community, and teaching them how to successfully use them, so they can stay connected with health staff and their relatives.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
As the first college graduate generation in my family, the biggest challenge was deciding to resume my college education during my adult married life when my wife, Susan, and I were expecting our first baby. It was not easy to go to school part-time while working two part-time jobs—evenings and weekends—and later on being a stay-at-home dad to care for our newborn son due to the lack of paying for daycare. My wife and I made the difficult decision to rely on her teaching salary and enrolling myself as a full-time non-traditional student at a four-year university. I quit my two jobs and alternated caring for our son while doing schoolwork late at night and very early in the morning almost every day. Even if we were very frugal, we still depleted all of our savings. We went broke and had to rely on student loans. Little did we know that our second daughter would be born in a college town and double our work as parents. However, we kept reminding ourselves that it was the best way to finish college faster, and in the end, it was the best decision that we ever made.
What does your community need?
Our Hispanic community needs to go back to the great family principles that our parents and grandparents had. We used to rely on fresh produce, cook meals from scratch and exercise through basic sustainable activities, such as gardening and growing our vegetables. Unfortunately, the hard-working Hispanic community in the U.S. finds it challenging to go back to these fundamental principles due to socio-economic hardships. We depend more on cheap fast food and rely on electronics to entertain our little children when the Hispanic family cannot do so due to depending on multiple physical demanding jobs.
What does your community need to be healthy?
We need more preventive health education and literacy through health promotion based on chronic disease management and prevention. We also need to continue teaching our community how to use the health system appropriately.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
Making a difference is not an individual task. We need collaboration. We need to be open to working together with other community organizations to significantly influence our community's health. Just as a single or a few snowflakes cannot considerably change a weather pattern, one snowstorm can dramatically produce a mighty change. Teamwork is essential to making a difference in our community.

Meet Jaime Maldonado Torres: Owner of Torres Environmental Consulting Services and a training instructor with Milwaukee Lead and Asbestos Information Center, a division of Midwest Certified Training, Inc.

Minority Health profile: TorresJaime Maldonado Torres has been teaching worker health and safety classes, in English and Spanish, for 12 years. He’s taught over 700 asbestos and lead classes in Wisconsin, reaching over 3,700 students, many of whom took multiple classes with him. Six years ago, Jaime became authorized to offer Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training.

Jaime started his career doing asbestos abatement work. He took his first asbestos training class in Kansas City, and worked on many large government projects. He worked his way up to being a supervisor in his company, along the way seeing a huge need for better access to safety information among Hispanic workers. He found a way to fill that need when he got an opportunity to become a training instructor.

What made you choose work that focuses on worker safety?
My passion is to provide quality training. When I first got trained, over 20 years ago, it was not what I expected or needed. My instructor was not fluent in Spanish, and just gave us books and told us to read. I did not get enough information to protect myself and do the work safely. When I first started my job, I still did not know how to put on my personal protective equipment (PPE). I knew Hispanics weren’t getting the information they should be getting to protect themselves. For most, the safety information they were getting was minimal. From talking to the students in my Spanish refresher classes, I saw a need for better coverage of OSHA information. Workers didn’t know their rights, they didn’t know how to protect themselves. When I learned that most construction worker fatalities are Hispanic, I started researching and taking OSHA classes. Now my passion is to make sure that everybody gets the tools and information they need to protect themselves, whether they are Hispanic, Asian, or any other ethnicity.
What have events of the last year taught you?
This past year, people weren’t getting complete information that they needed to protect themselves—just pieces here and there. It really showed that the sources of information available are very limited for Spanish speakers. There’s one TV channel, everybody’s watching it. You just don’t have as many different sources of information as are available to English-speaking audiences, so if there is a bias, there is nothing to compare it to. Trying to get complete, reliable information to Spanish-speaking audiences is harder. People didn’t get the information that they should have because of the limited venues for this.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
The challenges I’ve faced have been on an individual profiling level. I was born in Mexico, but raised in Racine. To me, the United States is my country. But as a Hispanic man, I have had to work harder to earn credibility and respect as a supervisor, teacher, and expert. I wasn’t supposed to be up there teaching. I wasn’t supposed to be a leader. I should be out cleaning—not teaching! As an asbestos abatement supervisor, I was the “competent person” on site—responsible to protect the workers, make sure to comply with the regulations, make sure PPE is there. I was the only Hispanic supervisor—the others were white. They didn’t know half of what I knew, but they had more respect as supervisors than I did. That’s been my challenge, and I dealt with it by getting more training on my own, putting in more preparation and going above and beyond to make myself an expert. After years of proving myself, workers would come to me with their questions instead of their own supervisors because experience told them they’d get more reliable information.
Early in my career as a training instructor, I was covering a technical topic about lab sampling for asbestos in an annual refresher class. Two students laughed at me and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. I responded by respectfully walking them through the regulation. They realized I was right and got real quiet for the rest of the class. The experience just set me up to expect more like it. I knew I’d be challenged again and again, so I dug into the regulations more to become even more knowledgeable.
A couple of years later, one of those students returned for another refresher class. Afterwards, she told me that it was one of the best refresher classes she’d attended and asked me what inspired me to present the material the way I did. I said, “You! Remember that time you laughed at me? You inspired me to dig in more and be ready for whoever came next.”
What does your community need to be healthy? To address racism?
Information. I teach that OSHA doesn’t care if you are here legally—just that you are being protected and have a safe work environment. Safety is for every worker. Too often Hispanic workers do not complain about safety issues. They may not expect to be heard, or worry that they will be questioned about whether they are here legally. Many feel they are here to work and not to cause problems or make trouble. But health and safety must come first. The supervisor and employer must provide what they are supposed to.
With the pandemic, we need assurance that the vaccine is for everybody who is here. We need to go through this process together to protect everybody.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
Listen to what people have to say. One of my roommates in Kansas City taught me not to be judgmental based on how people are presented or their color. Hear what others have to say, then make your own decisions, but with respect to others. To get respect, you have to give respect. We have to make sure we respect each other. You can respect an opinion without agreeing with it. We’re not always going to agree! This is a free country.

Meet Oby Nwabuzor, MBA: Director, Community Impact, American Heart Association

Minority Health profile: NwabuzorWhat inspired you to do the work that you do?
I’m a business brain met with a heart to serve. Simply put, purpose. Purpose led me here and if along the way I can be an example for others to follow, then let it be so.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
One of them would be, “finding purpose” after I stopped playing basketball. I was an athlete my whole entire life—from childhood to high school. I got injured in high school and after that I just couldn’t quite get back into the speed of the game at that level. Honestly, it was physical therapy that led me to having an interest in health. The business side of me was always natural though. In grade school, I would go around the neighborhood with my created flyers and business cards in attempt to cut others grass. As a middle schooler, I sold candy and snacks out of my locker to my peers. Kobe Bryant once said, “The true challenge is finding what comes next (after basketball) and what you love to do every bit as much and with as much passion.” So, I wouldn’t even say that purpose was ever lost, it just continued to emerge. Basketball got me here.
What does your community need to be healthy?
Built environments with adequate resources to thrive and not just survive. Growing up in the city of Milwaukee, I grew up with it being very common to see more corner stores than grocery stores. This still stands true today. In our communities, the life expectancy gap extends to a 12-year difference and what people forget is that health is also holistic. Access to healthy options is a necessity, but our communities also need economic stability, education, safety, quality care, etc. Look at it as multiple parts but one body—the body being the community and needing multiple parts to function.
Tell me what advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
In the words of the late great Kobe Bryant, “You get older and you start to learn it’s about the next generation. The most important thing you can do is pay everything you’ve learned forward to the next generation to come. That’s how you create something to last forever.”

Meet Kim Khaira: Community Engagement Specialist for Lynden Sculpture Garden

Minority Health profile: KhairaWhat inspired you to do the work that you do?
What inspires me to do the work, whether it is in community work or the arts, or both, is to know that I am only a small part of a bigger picture. Seeing elders and peers doing the work diligently and making an impact in their own lives, their own communities and in the city and beyond tells me that we all can make a difference in both grassroots and institutional levels, and when we are discouraged, to remember that we are all in this together.
What have events of the last year taught you?
The events of the last year, from a health and social perspective, have reminded me that communities are resilient and creative in their own right, and when facing adversity at multiple levels. It has taught me that the answers are not always clear cut and immediate results are not always satisfactory, and that constantly listening, and unlearning and relearning is key to meaningful and long-term action, and that at the end of the day, holistic health and inclusive health in whatever fields we find ourselves in cannot be ignored. Most of all, events of the last year have taught me, and I believe many others as well, the fine art of pairing patience with persistence.
What does your community need to be healthy?
We are part of one community, as we are also part of multiple communities. Our wider community needs to be able to have better access to the highest level of education and create thoughtful leaders at the table and on the field, so that we can lead and include communities from the very beginning. Edward Said said, "Beginning is not only a kind of action. It is also a frame of mind, a kind of work, an attitude, a consciousness." Positive interaction and striving to understand true and valid dissatisfaction and discontent with whomever we are interacting with, whether in the workplace or in our community creates connection and holistic health, which I believe contributes to longevity. I constantly ask what diversity and inclusion means, and if we are prepared to be in relationship with one another, especially with someone who doesn't look like us, talk like us, move like us, dress like us, or eat like us. Increased quality of health, quality of life and wellbeing can be accounted for through institutions and workplaces, and in my case, in the art field where we continue to build and engage with communities of color, specifically refugees and immigrants.

Meet Marques D. Hogans, MPH: Project Manager – BUILD Sherman Park, Ascension Wisconsin

Minority Health profile: HogansWhat inspired you to do the work that you do?
People are the reason I do the work. To see people living the lives they dreamed of inspires me and work in public health has become the avenue at which those dreams become more attainable.
What have events of the last year taught you?
Personally, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me to value time with those close to you. Whether it be family or friends, life is too short not to enjoy it with those you care for. Professionally, the pandemic identified the advances in technology and science. In less than a few months, researchers were able to develop a vaccine that could save lives. Ironically, it also exacerbated the unfortunate inequities that communities of color have faced for decades which lead to negative health outcomes. Coupled with funders increasing opportunities to address these same inequities in record response times.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
As a Black man in America, one could only imagine the challenges. Growing up in a city where 1 in 2 black men aged 18-34, I believe statistics state, have been incarcerated at one point in their lives, and not having been, you could say I've been lucky. The truth is that I am still a Black man in America and the same challenges still exist. The biggest impact, however, came from attending an Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Kentucky State University. HBCU's are the cornerstone for black professionals and necessary if lasting change is ever to occur in society. Also, public health and equity work has provided an opportunity for me to potentially improve the challenges that black men face through my work. Often times I am the only black man in a room of decision makers and that is an opportunity to influence change.
What does your community need to address racism?
To address racism in our community we need people who are not afraid to lay their careers on the line. History proves that you have to be willing to lose all you have to make change. Anti-racism work is uncomfortable and necessary and takes work from whites and communities of colors individually and collectively. Literally disrupting the current systems and structures that influence and creating new ones.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
My advice is simple, take the risk. It will be worth it.

Meet Ofelia Mondragon: Residential Services Project Manager and Community Relations for the Social Development Commission

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Minority Health profile: MondragonI started working for the Social Development Commission, a community action agency back in 2010. Over the years, I learned that social determinants impact a person’s overall health. Lead poisoning is an environmental hazard that is 100% preventable. It has an atrocious health impact in our community, especially children.
For me, this is personal. When my daughter was one-year-old, I learned she had been exposed to lead poisoning. It changed the course of my career. This experience motivated me to build a relationship with our local health department. I took classes that focused on lead-safe housing. This training helped me understand that thousands of children are exposed to lead poisoning every year due to old housing conditions.
Realizing that there were children just like my daughter, I expanded my areas of focus at work. I addressed environmental hazards, such as lead and mold. Next thing I knew, I was a certified healthy home inspector. However, the lack of resources prevented my employer from serving families adequately. There were other challenges I’d encounter. I learned that families don’t have the option to select quality housing. Instead, they have to take what is affordable and accessible to them. My goal is to increase quality housing so it is available to all families despite their income, race, or situation.
What have events of the last year taught you?
In 2020, I was asked to start a new program, the Lead Safe Homes. Finally, we had resources to provide lead abatement services and make homes lead-safe. But then, COVID-19 hit and I was unable to return to work. I learned to be patient. Think outside the box. Keep my eye on the prize so we could get this critical program up and running. It wasn’t easy. I had to balance work and family life. I had to make sure my three daughters attended virtual school. Even though I sometimes felt I was going to lose it, customers were very engaged and willing to work with us and adjust to our requests.
I learned that customers (contractors, inspectors, and families) could become part of your family. Engaging them through the process and coming up with solutions ensured our success. We provided the services needed to create an environment of trust and accountability. I learned that family comes first. If the family is okay, everything else will be okay. I believe we must be open-minded and willing to adapt to change. We must be willing to change our process or policies if they hold us back or stop us from providing the help people desperately need. Rely on your community partners. Be transparent. We also need to know when to ask for help!
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
When I was 26 years old, I accepted an opportunity to lead a lead abatement program. I was young, Latina and a woman. As a result, it wasn’t easy being a leader in an industry dominated by older white men. Frequently, they didn’t want to recognize my authority or expertise. Working with contractors and reinforcing compliance requirements was the biggest challenge I encountered back in 2012. I even cried at one of the contractor meetings because I had to share my frustration when contractors were not correctly setting-up containment to complete the work. But something changed in that moment. I was able to set the tone of accountability and opportunity.
When working with contractors, I look beyond what is required. I look to see how we can invest in contractors. I look for ways to improve their business prospects and increase professional development. I see them as people who, like me, want the best for their future, family and community.
What does your community need to be healthy? To address racism?
We need action, not excuses. I’m tired of sitting in meetings. I don’t want to talk about problems or review data any more. We have enough information. We know what we need to do!
We need an action plan with accountability and commitment from local decision-makers. We need a long-term plan with sustainable funding to eliminate lead poisoning. Sometimes, I think we get overwhelmed by the problems. We need to break it down and create smaller, realistic goals. We also need collaboration and not silos. I see too many missed opportunities to collaborate. For example, I see weatherization crews finish projects as we start lead abatement. No one says a word. The lack of communication contributes to missed opportunities that could benefit the people we serve.
Finally, I say look at individuals and embrace their qualities. We have a chance to educate people. See the good. Embrace people regardless of color, race or gender. Let’s focus on individuals and their great qualities. Let’s take the opportunity to learn from each other.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
There are many opportunities to make a difference. Start small. Engage with your targeted audience. Always remember this:
“There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” -- Acts 20:35
Know your strengths and find opportunities to give back. This may be as simple as volunteering your time, resources, or connections.

Meet Sebastian Ssempijja, PhD: CEO and Clinical Director of Sebastian Family Psychology Practice

Minority Health profile: SebastianSebastian Ssempijja has been co-owner and clinic director of Sebastian Family Psychology Practice for more than 28 years. In addition, he also provides direct clinical care, teaches, and trains new providers coming to the behavioral healthcare workforce. He also provides consultation and support to many community-based organizations who serve the behavioral health needs of families and children in Metropolitan Milwaukee, and across Wisconsin.

He serves in different roles as a co-leader in various collaborations and partnerships that include Milwaukee Public Schools, Office of Refugee Resettlement, and extensive local and global mental health collaborations and partnerships.

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Upon graduation from Marquette University with a PhD in Counseling Psychology, I was inspired and motivated by the immense level of need for families and youth in Metropolitan Milwaukee. Because of that, I had the opportunity to work for then Saint Amelian’s Lakeside Inc., which is now known as SaintA. I worked as a frontline counselor, and also as a direct program manager for a special program focused on keeping children within their homes, rather than treating them outside of their home and community. Through this, I found myself being on the frontlines of clinical work, as well as delivering care with a dedicated business model. This experience was later combined with an opportunity to develop an independent practice as a consultant to many programs in the community. With time, the expanding needs of these opportunities lead to the establishment of a sole proprietary clinical practice. This practice subsequently became incorporated as the Sebastian Family Psychology Practice agency (SFPP).
The establishment, development, and activities of the agency, have been a shared vision and dream with my co-founder, Yvonne Ssempijja. Along with her, we’ve had the opportunity have dedicated staff who are committed to the mission and vision of the agency. This partnership has further been strengthened by many opportunities and challenges. Among the opportunities, we applaud the partnerships with Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Services, through which we’ve been active providers for Wraparound Milwaukee for over 25 years, and Comprehensive Community Services (Since it’s launching in Milwaukee County). We have concurrently nurtured and enjoyed partnership with the State’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. Through this collaboration, we have strengthened our services within refugee and immigrant communities. This has also allowed us to venture out into partnerships that have had local and global mental health delivery implications.
What we are now is a collective, and collaborative effort, based on reliable partnerships, trusted and committed staff, and the support of communities that we serve, both locally, statewide, and globally.
What have events of the last year taught you?
This past year has taught us a lot that could not have been foreseen. A lot has been made possible to sustain the high quality of service to our clients and communities at a time of great need, primarily because we have had the opportunity to enjoy partnering with committed stakeholders. These include our partnerships with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Department, Milwaukee’s School Community Partnership for Mental Health (SCPMH), and the State Office of Refuge Resettlement. The unprecedented flexibility of both local, State, and Federal government policies affecting the delivery of care through Medicaid has also sustained our work. This of course also relies heavily on the collaboration of the health maintenance organization's (HMO) and the third-party health insurance carriers.
One prevailing and consistent factor has been the trust that we continue to enjoy from our clients, and stakeholders who seek our services, give us invaluable feedback, and challenge us to do more and better. It’s difficult to plan for what the pandemic has unfolded to be, but it is my prayer that the pandemic, and the unexpected factors that have forced the debate on equity, access, and dignity in care, especially for the health and behavioral health sectors, will being necessary changes. This has irreversibly impacted the work that we are doing.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge, for both myself and my business partner Yvonne Ssempijja, continues to be how to be truly serve our clients and stakeholders in this country, and at the same time manage to be away from our extended families, relatives, and community in our country of birth. However, because of the strong relationships we have been fortunate to establish, nurture, and sustain, we find ourselves being truly committed to our obligations at the local level, and the global level. Along with our team at SFPP, and our community partners and stakeholders, we confront challenges as opportunities that have yet to be realized.
It would be remise for us to leave the impression that we don’t experience significant personal, professional, and structural challenges and barriers, as that would be totally unrealistic. However, we have been nurtured through a strong faith and rational optimism that carries us through those turbulent currents when they come.
What does your community need to address racism in today's society?
In response to this question, I will ask the reader to understand the word "community," which implies many communities to which we belong, to which we serve, and from which we emerge. These include the close family relationships we have built, the emerging and enduring professional collaborative communities we are part of, the varied client/consumer communities that we are privileged to serve, and the communities that are U.S. born, and those that are newcomers to the United States.
In this sense, our communities need a leveled playing field to access, utilize, and leverage tools of caring that amplify our opportunities to serve our clients in a dignified way at all times, for all, without fear.
On this delicate but very important matter, we will regard racism, and its various manifestations as practices, beliefs, and attitudes that are anti-health, and thus not holistic, and against humanitarian values. Each one of us can make a choice about this outcome. We applaud and strongly encourage the work that many individuals, communities, and institutions are engaged in to promote this significant outcome for all of US.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
Firstly, a close and personalized examination of who we are as individuals, and a belief that, as the U.S. Army so well articulates it, “The Power of One,” indeed counts. And therefore we cannot underestimate our own individual capacity for change and making a positive difference.
Secondly, to embrace the dynamic of change as always opening up possibilities and not threats. Finally, the value and privilege of being called to serve others is an ultimate outcome of its own.

Meet Kai Gardner Mishlove: Program Coordinator of Refugee Health and Social Services at Aurora Walkers Point Community Clinic

Minority Health profile: KaiKai Gardner Mishlove develops and coordinates health services and social service programming for Advocate Aurora patients from diverse refugee communities.

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
I chose to work with a focus on public health and equity as I feel that healthy individuals and families are the basis of healthy communities. Improving health and promoting wellness involves critical analysis and commitment to social determinants of health and the removal of barriers that impede this. We cannot address prevention and management of chronic health conditions if a person does not have equal access to quality education, transportation, employment and career advancement opportunities with livable wages to afford safe and stable housing and access to healthy food. We need to make health and equity the prime focus. Refugee communities are settled in marginalized host communities that experience preexisting racial and economic disparities and multi-generational trauma. If we allow and promote equity and the self-determination of people by improving access to services and economic investment in vulnerable neighborhoods, we uplift the entire community and all the populations that inhabit that area. I feel that it is important for me to address this specifically as the Immigration Act of 1965 (which removed racial quotas that had been the basis of US immigration policy since 1921) was the direct result of the Civil Rights movement in this country.
What have events of the last year taught you?
The events of the last year have taught me the importance of patience and resilience. We can efficiently overcome obstacles through cross collaboration and community building. I work with communities that have experienced extreme trauma and fled unspeakable horrors during their migration. Their stories of resilience as well as the stories of resilience of my ancestors are an inspiration and a constant reminder to me to not give up and to continue to move forward with focus and humility. Pausing to reflect is important. Many of us are experiencing rebirth like the phoenix rising from the ashes.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge that I have faced in my life has definitely been the struggle of remaining grounded and keeping projects afloat while dealing with the emotional ups and downs and physical disruptions of the last year while in COVID isolation away from family and friends. As a Black Jewish woman, mother and human being it was very painful and terrifying to watch events unfold that highlighted unresolved racial injustice and xenophobia in our country simultaneously during a pandemic. As a health care worker, I had to exhibit courage despite uncertainty and fear compounded by social isolation. The COVID pandemic exposed gaps in our health and social service delivery driven by the lack of support of solutions rooted in science from our previous administration.
What does your community need to be healthy?
We cannot address racism without addressing its roots and examining the ways in which racism is reinforced by housing, economic and employment practices and the curriculum of our education systems. How do we address this in our health care system? We need to have honest and authentic conversations regarding who and what industries benefit from the disenfranchisement of certain communities. Institutional memory and the support of grassroots initiatives that build relationships between communities is key. Milwaukee is hyper segregated with health indicators that rank rock bottom for so many communities especially the Black community. We need to decolonize our systems and approach.
Tell me what advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
I would urge anyone wanting to make a difference to think outside of the box, avoid the trap of silo thinking and always base your work on holistic and innovative solutions in collaboration with allies. Value and listen to all voices. Pass the mike. Don’t forget to center the experience, expertise, and leadership of community members

Meet Mayhoua Moua: Executive Director, Milwaukee Consortium for Hmong Health, Inc.

I am grateful to many wonderful people I have come to know. Through love, faith, and life I am who I am because someone made a difference in my life.

Minority Health profile: MouaWhat inspired you to do the work that you do?
In my mid-twenties through my early forties, I came to know some wonderful Hmong women who were older than me and were like my older sisters. I learned what it means to take on traditional roles and duties as a Hmong daughter-in-law and wife from them. However, when they became sick with chronic diseases and cancer, there was no resources to help us understand the disease and find the support they needed. Some of them have passed on too soon.
In 2007, I was invited to work on a project to address the high mortality and morbidity rates of cervical and breast cancer among Hmong women. At the time, there wasn’t an organization that focused on Hmong health, let alone cervical and breast cancer. Being in the social service field most of my adult life, I knew that my people faced many health issues. We did not know that some cancers can be cured if found in early stages. To us, the word “cancer” is like a life sentence. We do not want to hear about it because we are afraid. In addition, if we do not feel sick or have pain, we do not believe that we are sick. I joined this group because I want to learn and help my community understand health.
As we reach out in the community, conduct health education and encourage screening for early detections, we discover that there are more Hmong women living with cancer and other chronic diseases. Not understanding that cancer and chronic diseases is a health situation, many of our clients feel embarrassed and helpless. My co-founders and I want to eliminate this barrier so we can reduce the disparities the Hmong community face.
What have events of the last year taught you?
Since COVID-19, the staff of the Milwaukee Consortium for Hmong Health (MCHH), Inc. faced very challenging times to reach the Southeast Asian American communities to provide health education, navigate for health services and health insurance, and obtaining health screenings. The pandemic has heightened the trauma that Southeast Asians have already lived through, fleeing war-torn countries to live another day, only to find a new enemy that they cannot see or understand. Many MCHH clients are fearful to go into public facilities, including health clinics and hospitals for chronic health follow-up and annual health visits, including preventative screenings such as clinical breast exam, mammogram, and pap smear. In addition to the pandemic, the fear of hate toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has been a major concern to the population MCHH serves. This has increased the gap in the health disparities in minority communities like the newer immigrants, such as the Southeast Asian Americans.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
I am a first-generation minority who strives to bring health awareness and education to a community who have little background knowledge about diseases. My people and the Southeast Asian refugees and immigrants come from backgrounds with limited education opportunities and exposures to healthcare systems. Therefore, this population assume they are in good health and do not seek services from medical professionals. Despite MCHH’s outreach and education efforts, many do not understand the need to utilize preventive services. This is an ongoing challenge that MCHH will experience. MCHH staff will continue to have understanding and persevere to educate as many as possible.
What does your community need to address racism in today's society?
Racism is a public health that all minorities face; some communities have endured more painful sufferings longer than others. Racism is real and very devastating. As a minority in the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community, we have seen a rise in Asian hate and more openly since this Coronavirus pandemic. As being provoked and condoned by elected officials, it allows for people who are ignorant and unintelligent to develop so much hatred actions against our communities. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are contributing citizens of the United States. This is our home, our country. We are not going anywhere. We are part of what makes this country strong. We are just as human as anyone, and we deserve respect.
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
A person who wants to serve others must feel love for them. Without love, one cannot pour compassion into action. Therefore, one will not last to make a difference. To make a difference, one must have love, patience, perseverance, and consistency. Despite many frustrations and challenges, one will not give up on those who are most challenged to be served.

Meet TeAngelo Cargile Jr.: Youth Injury and Violence Prevention Coordinator, City of Milwaukee Health Department

Minority Health profile: CargileWhat inspired you to do the work that you do?
What inspired me to do this work are those who did it before me! The mentors that I have in public health made this work real to me. I continue to do this work because I want to make it real for the community and the next generation that I serve.
What have events of the last year taught you?
This year taught me that there are so many things that we don’t have control over. With that, I have recognized that I need to prioritize those things that we do have an impact on. When we shift our thinking in that way, our impact and the change we want to see, slowly but surely, will occur!
What advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
Think about those around you, think about those who you want to serve, and then do that. Prioritize your community and sew into them what was sewed into you. I promise you that a difference will occur.

Meet Po Too: Community Health Worker at Aurora Walker's Point Community Clinic

Minority Health profile: Po

Po Too works as a community health worker with Aurora Walker’s Point Community Clinic, which offers a wide range of services for children and adults of all ages. Po is originally from Myanmar, formally known as Burma. In 1997, Po's family and the people in her village were forced to leave their home because of war. She spent the next nine years in a refugee camp in Thailand. In 2006, Po's family resettled in Lake Geneva. Po's church sponsor helped her family transition to a new home, taught them the English language and Wisconsin lifestyle, and connected them with other services around the community.

"The experience I had with my sponsor gave me great insight as to what I would like to do to help current refugees transition smoothly into this beautiful country," Po said. "This is the reason why I decided to work as a community health worker with Aurora Walker’s Point Community Clinic is because I believe I can be a voice for the refugee communities and help them to become more independent in their new home."

What inspired you to do the work that you do?
Coming from a refugee background, I understand the struggle of moving into a new country with language barriers, different cultures, and unfamiliar surroundings. My work is giving me the opportunity to contribute to my community and other immigrant groups who are new to this country. I want these families to feel safe and welcomed in their new home.
What have events of the last year taught you?
This pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. It was a challenge, but it taught me to be grateful for what I have and the community I am surrounded by. In Milwaukee, there are many types of services for COVID outreach and I see each organization collaborate to make the communities safe and healthy.
What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your life? How did you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge for me was moving to a new country. In the beginning, it was a challenge for me to learn a new language, make new friends and fit in the new community. To overcome these challenges, I have studied very hard, participated in school clubs to meet new people and practice my English language. I volunteer to speak in front of people about my story to become a better public speaker and share the struggle that refugees are facing.
What does your community need to be healthy?
To have a healthy community, our leaders need to build a trusting relationship with the people that they service and listen to what they need. We must promote and educate people about their health problems before their condition worsens. Having them do a proper annual medical checkup with their provider, awareness of children immunization record up to date and most importantly to bring out (have conversations) about topics that are taboo within various refugee communities.
For example, right now in our program we host bimonthly patient education classes to address chronic disease management and provide one-on-one health coaching. Every Monday and Saturday we host exercise and wellness classes featuring video and music. After that, we have English as a second language (ESL) class. This class helps our patients practice their English language. Every Tuesday there is Pajama Bedtime story that features children’s books that address emotional health, wellness, and stress reduction. All these classes feature COVID education to wear proper mask, personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing.
Tell me what advice you would give to anyone hoping to make a difference?
Remember when you work with immigrant and refugee communities, these families have gone through a lot to get to America. Make sure to have an open mind in consideration of other people’s culture.
Last Revised: May 4, 2021