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Barbara Israel and Ricardo Guzman


Neighborhoods Working in Partnership: Youth Mobilizing for Policy Change

University of Michigan School of Public Health,
1415 Washington Heights
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
Shared commitment and shared leadership at the Detroit Urban Research Center between director Barbara Israel, board member Ricardo Guzman, and others has helped this organization effectively address community health issues for 18 years. The Detroit URC conducts research and implements programs and policy strategies to reduce health inequities and improve health in Detroit neighborhoods. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Detroit URC Director Dr. Barbara Israel and Founding Board Member Ricardo Guzman: Within our partnership, we take a shared leadership approach. Everyone at the table has a commitment and responsibility to provide leadership. We draw on everyone’s expertise depending on the issue at hand, the strategic approach being used, and the decision being made. Certainly there is a lot of facilitation that takes place at our board meetings and in between meetings to move our work forward, but there is not one leader directing the group. In this sense, leadership is defined by our ability to draw on the diverse skill set of the group to work together to achieve a common goal.
What is your dream for kids?
Young people are our future so it is our responsibility to create a safe supportive environment where they can thrive, be
We want to see youth engaged in a way that enables them to become the new leaders, the new guard so to speak.
creative, and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to make change in our communities. Twenty years from now they are going to be carrying our efforts forward. We need to enhance their skills and understanding of the professional and community benefits of getting involved. We want to see youth engaged in a way that enables them to become the new leaders, the new guard so to speak. We are starting to see that dream realized.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
One thing would be to increase funding opportunities for community-based organizations (CBOs). Funding shouldn’t only go to the usual suspects like, for example, government agencies. Clearly these organizations have a role to play, but local CBOs that are embedded in the community and have a history of doing good work also need resources. There is already a lot of competition for currently existing resources, so in addition to increasing those opportunities, there needs to be an outlet for distributing them equitably, particularly among organizations that have a track record of getting work done.
How do you know you’re making progress?
The key piece here is that we’ve moved from a “do it” to a “do it and figure out what you’ve done” model. That is, in addition to implementing health programs and interventions, we are incorporating research methods to evaluate our work and determine the outcomes of our efforts. For example, we have results from our programs that show improved diabetes outcomes and reduced cardiovascular risk factors among adults, and decreased asthma symptoms among youth. Our approach enables us to collect and use our own data to identify our achievements. 
Another good indicator of our progress is through our youth policy advocacy trainings. We’ve seen from our trainings that
We are a diverse partnership made up of community-based organizations, academic researchers, and health service providers working together to reduce health inequalities in Detroit.
young people are engaging in policy efforts; they use the skills they’ve learned and share them with other youth to bring about change in their neighborhoods and schools. That level of enthusiasm and commitment from young people who are determined to advance the health of their communities is a sign of progress.
What are you most proud of?
We are proud that we are still together. We are a diverse partnership made up of community-based organizations, academic researchers, and health service providers working together to reduce health inequalities in Detroit.
Collaborations like these come and go, but ours has been around for almost 18 years, which makes us one of the longest standing partnerships in the city. Our partnership not only connects partners from different professional sectors; we also connect the African American and Latino communities in Detroit. Working together equitably and doing work that benefits the community while also informing research has allowed us to increase the power of our voice on a range of issues that impact the well-being of the people we work with. It hasn’t always been the case that a diverse group of partners could work together this way in Detroit; however, our shared commitment to bring about significant change has led to life-long relationships and personal friendships.
Additionally, we’ve shared lessons learned through our partnership in local venues and disseminated our work broadly to national and international audiences. It takes real shared leadership to do that, so we are proud of and highly value the dedication of our partners to continuing this work together.
What perceptions, messages, or historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan residents in helping vulnerable children?
The history of segregation, discrimination, economic inequality, and immigration practices have all been barriers to helping vulnerable children -- particularly between urban and suburban areas of Michigan. We need to think about how to engage residents more broadly in addressing some of these issues.
The history of how funding occurred in the past has also been a big issue. We want to see foundations and government at different levels (local, state, federal) engaging with communities on an ongoing basis and looking at the bigger picture, not just providing money for a specific problem. There have been positive changes occurring within this funding environment, but there needs to be more. Creating new partnerships, training new faculty and community partners, and having new funding bases are all critical pieces, because there is plenty of work to be done to address health inequities in Detroit.
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Program Profile


  • Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center
    The Detroit URC’s mission is to provide economic and public health benefits focused on eliminating health inequities in Detroit. We focus on enhancing understanding of the relationship between the social and physical environmental determinants ...


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