Minority Health: April 2021 is 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.
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.

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

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

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

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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: April 9, 2021