FLINT, Michigan – Health is local. To bring about effective change in health, work begins at the neighborhood level. Michigan United, a non-profit organization that fights for justice and equality, has partnered with the Genesee County Health Department to bring health, vaccine and education navigators to several neighborhoods in Flint to remove barriers and access problems for residents.
Michigan United’s work at Flint has been supported by local funders and has grown significantly over the past year. Originally, the program had 11 health navigators in Flint and a coordinator. Today Michigan United has 15 sailors in Flint, 15 sailors in Detroit and two coordinators. Program management believes that reaching out to the community and asking them what their needs are, without assuming what the community needs, will bring about effective change in health care.
Michigan United employees came together to support the Eastside Franklin Park Craft Fair by providing health education, vaccine information and COVID-19 vaccines.Latressa Gordon DNP, began volunteering as a Public Health Navigator for Michigan United and the role has evolved into the Nurse Coordinator over the past year.
“We are working with the health department to help release vaccines, organize mobile vaccination clinics, home vaccines and vaccine education,” she said. “We also connect people with other resources. As much if they need information on tax information, notaries, food resources, and all kinds of things … We put you in touch with other resources besides the vaccine.
Gordon, like many people across the country, lost a family member to the coronavirus this year, before vaccines were widely available.
“If I could do my part to get the vaccine out, to help spread information, to prevent another death, that’s my goal,” she said. “Everyone here is like my family. We don’t push the vaccine on people, what we do is if you don’t want the vaccine, okay, we’re going to give you action to help keep you safe. We’ll get you a mask, let you know the 6-foot distance, get you some hand sanitizer, and if you want the vaccine, we’ll give you directions and bring it to your home. However you want the vaccine, we’ll put you in touch with other partners. We want to build community trust because we are part of the community. The communities in which we go, we are part of them.
Gordon strongly believes that even if a vaccine is not distributed to anyone at a specific event, at least the community will recognize that they are supported with the presence of Michigan United.
“The value of community nursing is education and prevention,” she said. “Our goal is simply to disseminate information. They show that 99.5% of people hospitalized or recently deceased were not vaccinated. And, you know, I saw on the news that patients were asking, “Will you give me the vaccine?” when they’re about to have a bi-pap or a respirator and it’s too late, you know? “
Joyce Ellis-McNeal, Michigan United’s Public Health Navigation Coordinator, is a firm believer in the work she does with Michigan United, but also believes that a vital part of community unification is missing.
Joyce Ellis McNeal, Michigan United’s Public Health Navigation Coordinator, sits in the Eastside Franklin Park Neighborhood Pocket Park pavilion at the annual Craft Fair.“The value of the community is to serve and protect themselves when all else fails,” said Ellis-McNeal. “That’s when the community comes in. If we start talking about teaching critical racial theory, that will be one way to bridge that gap. You have to give the community what they want. I hear CRT a lot in the community so this is the conversation we should be having. I am the only one who can teach you about black culture and only you can teach me more about yourself. The community gives a voice.
McNeal mentioned that many black residents have lost faith in “doctors, pastors and engineers” due to various public health crises, and what we have left is the community to uplift one another. . It is his passion to bring health, healing and education to those around him.
“We are human,” she said. “I am kind to you because I have a contract with God and this contract states that I must love you because you are human, not by income and not by right.”
Aurora Sauceda is another Michigan United employee who has been instrumental in helping the Hispanic community and the residents of Flint. Sauceda is the manager who oversees Michigan United’s work at Flint and Detroit. She also understands the value of culture in recognizing and helping communities.
“The value of community is much greater than any monetary system,” Sauceda said. “Our community has so much to offer. And culture, to me, means unity. It means caring for others, respecting each other, regardless of your economic status or religion. Culture should simply be humans loving other humans because we all have the same basic needs, food, shelter and health care. Culture is life, it is being able to live with one another in harmony. We all share what we have with each other.
Sauceda hopes Michigan United’s work grows in Flint and brings communities together simply by being present and available. His role as manager carries an incredible responsibility, but work does not scare Sauceda.
“I’m up for the challenge just because I want to see the program grow,” she said. “I want people in our community to have jobs that matter to them. The passion is great. I see all my browsers working with such commitment.