The 1990s: A Salon on Health Equity
In the mid-1990s, a small group of public health directors and health officers, with decades of experience among them, convened to determine if they’d individually benefit from more collaborative discussions.
While they began with topics that explored the collective benefit in leveraging their respective Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco county resources, they soon realized the true value in collaboration was in the potential to re-think the larger vision of public health.
Each leader was troubled by illnesses and deaths resulting from social inequities, and the realization that public health programs could not address these underlying causes.
These informal conversations became monthly meetings that operated under the general premise that public health systems could do more: they could respond to preventable illness and death and devise strategies through the lens of social inequities.
Soon the collective grew to include the City of Berkeley and San Mateo County Public Health Departments joining, it secured local funding and began building an infrastructure to address the region’s most pressing needs.
Though the process involved its fair set of challenges, the universal commitment to “transform public health practice” was enough to keep the group on course.
What evolved from this work is BARHII, a non-profit organization with a mission to transform public health practice for the purpose of eliminating health inequities using a broad spectrum of approaches that create healthy communities.
2002: Becoming an Organization
BARHII formally became an organization in 2002. BARHII asked community foundations to commit relatively small amounts of money over several years so the organization could build a basic infrastructure, a programmatic base, and a long-term funding plan. With support from the Peninsula Community Foundation (now the Silicon Valley Community Foundation), the San Francisco Foundation and East Bay Community Foundation BARHII was able to hire a staff person and create a data and communications infrastructure. Subsequently, The California Endowment awarded BARHII a three-year grant to provide operational support and capacity for media issues. The Public Health Institute, an Oakland-based non-profit, served as the grantee and fiscal agent as BARHII did not yet have a 501(c)(3) status.
When it began, BARHII proposed focusing on nutrition and physical activity in low-income communities of color, in part because the growing movement around obesity prevention gave public health departments the opportunity to demonstrate their contributions, and because the related practice of changing physical and social environments had implications for work on other diseases and risk factors. Subsequently, however, BARHII concluded that public health department categorical programs are limiting when working with communities where multiple neighborhood conditions contribute to poor health, and that a singular focus, no matter how important from a public health perspective, violates a fundamental premise: working with communities requires a collaborative decision-making process.
Accordingly, BARHII shifted its efforts to include community engagement and capacity building, and corollary strategies to target institutions whose decisions impact community health and well-being. Additionally, BARHII worked with the Berkeley Media Studies Group to help craft media and policy approaches that supported the organization’s work with communities and institutions. BARHII began groundbreaking work on improving the community conditions that impact health.
BARHII 2020: Expanding the Role of Community Power
BARHII has significantly impacted the lives of millions of Bay Area residents through our membership of 11 public health departments and 200+ community partners.
Our Bay Area health department members are celebrated for the strong partnerships they’ve forged with the communities they serve, and our community partners continue to positively transform local communities on the ground.
In 2020, BARHII further strengthened its role as a community partner when Rise Together, the region's coalition of non-profit and community partners, joined the agency as a community arm focused on economic opportunity. This new coalition broadened the reach of both organizations and deepened our ability to address the root causes of social and economic inequities in the region.
Together, we are increasing our power and leveraging partnerships that in the end, help reverse years of historical inequities. To date, we’ve had noteworthy accomplishments through our network, including a 100% Bay Area-wide eviction moratoria protection during COVID-19, direct cash assistance to families during the pandemic, and maintaining equitable park access during COVID-19.
For more information or if you’re interested in joining us, please contact Melanie Newcomb at MNewcomb@BARHII.org.