Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Share your story! APHA Book Club collecting personal stories of migration for a chance to meet author Isabel Wilkerson

It’s no secret that great books often lead to great inspiration. For Kate Ellington, that inspiration also led to a great and treasured discovery.

After Ellington read the award-winning book “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson, who will give the keynote address at the Opening General Session of APHA’s 142nd Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, she set out to uncover the history of her own family’s migration from the American South.

The book, which brings to life the migration of black Americans out of the South during the early and mid 20th century, compelled Ellington to visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, where she began digging into her past. She shared her discovery with the inaugural APHA Book Club, which is reading Wilkerson’s book and encouraging readers to share their own migration stories for a chance to meet Wilkerson in person. Here is Ellington’s story in her own words:

“My first read of "The Warmth of Other Suns" inspired a trip to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In a digital database, I found 1920 and 1940 U.S. Census records about my family migration story. Among the data were the names, ages, occupations and addresses of my great-grandparents and grandparents (as well as their neighbors) in their migration from South Carolina to New York City. In searching family albums I also uncovered a snapshot of my great-grandparents under a magnolia tree in South Carolina. My uncle painted a portrait of my great-grandmother who continues to be a well-remembered midwife and so I made this keepsake collage.”

The APHA Book Club is collecting personal family migration stories through Sept. 30 and one lucky storyteller will be chosen to meet Wilkerson after the Opening General Session in New Orleans on Sunday, Nov. 16. The winning storyteller must be registered for the Annual Meeting, and the stories will be open to the public and may be shared on this blog.

“Wilkerson’s book is so compelling that it’s hard not to wonder about your own family’s story — about the movements and migrations that helped shape who you are today,” said Michele Late, one of the organizers of the APHA Book Club. “We feel excited and privileged that so many readers are sharing their unique stories with us.”

“The Warmth of Other Suns” inspired Ruth Greenslade to submit her story to the book club. Greenslade’s story is much different from the history that Wilkerson chronicles, but it illustrates the wide diversity of migration stories that have come to represent the American experience. Greenslade writes in her own words:

“My family has German and English roots, not African-American, and my ancestors migrated from Europe, not the South, but they migrated just the same. My English ancestors arrived in the 1630s in Massachusetts with the Puritans. They came to establish ‘a city upon a hill,’ an example of Christian love and unity. On the other side of my family, I am a fourth generation German-American. My mom's grandparents came to Illinois as teenagers in the early 1900s and my mom herself is of 100 percent German descent. I am proud of both stories of my heritage and the courage it took those before me to be immigrants.”

Visit the APHA Book Club to submit your family’s migration story and read conversations from the book club’s first meeting, which was held via Facebook in August. The deadline for story submissions is Sept. 30. And don’t forget to sign up to join the APHA Book Club and share photos of yourself reading Wilkerson’s book on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #APHAReads.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Behind the scenes of the APHA Annual Meeting program, part 2: ‘Where the story behind the research can come through’

Margaret Walkover isn’t shy about setting a high bar. As a first-time program chair with APHA’s Mental Health Section, she had no intention of leaving things to chance.

“I’m a researcher, but my background is in public policy, so that’s just the way I think,” said Walkover, who in addition to joining the ranks of APHA’s volunteer program planners is also the director of Wellness, Recovery and Resiliency Initiatives with Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services in California. “Why should we be passive about engaging public health students and professors? We want the best research in our programs, so why not ask for it.”

Walkover is talking about her Section’s call for abstracts, which is how APHA’s many member groups attract submissions for review and presentation at the APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition. Each Section, Special Primary Interest Group, Caucus, Forum and the Student Assembly crafts its own call for abstracts and engages in a variety of outreach activities. Walkover wanted her call for abstracts to reach those on the cutting edge of behavioral health services research — “we’re looking for findings that really make a difference in the field,” she said. So in a first for the Mental Health Section, Walkover reached out to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health and through that collaboration sent the Section’s call for abstracts to every behavioral health science liaison and department chair in the country.

“I believe in public behavioral health services,” Walkover said. “I believe we deliver services that really help people move through their lives and it’s so exciting to put together a program where the story behind the research can come through.”

As this year’s Annual Meeting will gather in New Orleans, Walkover also made a special effort to reach out to public health folks working in Gulf Coast states. (And since this year’s theme is “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being,” reaching out to local practitioners and researchers really brings this theme to life.) For example, Walkover said the Section received a number of submissions related to the health effects of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In all, the Mental Health Section received 323 submissions…and Walkover, with the help of 75 volunteer reviewers from the Mental Health Section, rated and reviewed every one of them. Reviewers use an APHA-provided scoring system to help decide which abstracts get officially accepted. For Walkover’s Section, 156 abstracts were accepted and placed into 19 oral scientific sessions and eight poster sessions. APHA encourages Sections to collaborate, and so the Mental Health Section is excited to co-sponsor three additional oral sessions with the Medical Care, Maternal and Child Health, and Public Health Education and Health Promotion Sections.

That’s one of the big challenges of being a volunteer APHA program planner — organizing hundreds of abstracts into a relatively small set of scientific sessions so that each session has a common narrative and adds to a central message. It’s no easy task. For example, one of the Mental Health Section’s Annual Meeting sessions will focus on mental health and young adults. The session’s researchers hail from different parts of the country — Michigan, New York, Maryland and Illinois — and their research focuses on different topics, but thanks to Walkover and her fellow Section volunteers, each adds a chapter to the larger story of youth mental health. (This particular session, #4154, will offer research on campus-based mental health services, working with youth in juvenile drug treatment courts, the role of workforce development programs in addressing mental health among youth in urban areas, and school shootings and mental illness. The session is appropriately titled “Prevalence and Causes of Mental Illness Experienced by Young Adults: On Campus and in the Community.”)

If you read the first part of this behind-the-scenes series, you’d know that the bulk of the Annual Meeting program planning is done in just half a year — it starts at the close of an Annual Meeting, which is typically in October or November, and abstracts are officially accepted on June 1. As Walkover said: “It’s a lot of work.” But she also said it’s well worth all the time and effort.

“It’s just a delight to be able to do this for my field,” she said. “I’ve always had a strong belief that it’s important that research is brought to policymakers and people in the field who are actually doing the work and that’s the opportunity APHA gives us. For people who love going deep, they’ll definitely be drawn to program planning.”

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes experiences from APHA program planners in the coming weeks! And visit the APHA online program to see what the Mental Health Section and other APHA member groups have in store for New Orleans.

— K.K.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Behind the scenes of the APHA Annual Meeting program, part 1: ‘It’s completely member-driven’

10,000. Actually, it’s more than 10,000. That’s how many abstracts APHA member volunteers sifted through and reviewed to eventually find the more than 5,000 abstracts that will be presented at this year’s 142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans. And they did it all in less than a year — actually, they did it all in closer to half a year.

This blogger has been to 11 Annual Meetings and the size of the program has always been a bit of a running joke: Has anyone seen the phonebook — I mean the Annual Meeting program. Ha! But in reality, the APHA Annual Meeting program is like best Christmas presents from our childhoods. It’s big, heavy and bulky, which almost always means there’s something pretty awesome inside. The program is nearly an almanac of public health practice, detailing and preserving the latest research, trends and successes in creating healthier communities. But have you ever wondered what goes into creating this tome to public health? Here’s the first in a series of peeks behind the proverbial curtain.

When it comes to creating the Annual Meeting program, APHA members sit in the driver’s seat. But directing the traffic is Donna Wright, manager of scientific session development within APHA’s Conventions Department. Appropriately, the program planning begins and ends at the Annual Meeting. In other words, as one meeting officially closes, Wright gathers program planners from all of APHA’s Sections, Special Primary Interest Groups, Caucuses, Forums and the Student Assembly in that year’s host city to kick off planning for the next year’s meeting. While the rest of us are coming up for air after five days of jam-packed meeting events, Wright and a small army of volunteers are already getting to work on the next iteration of the world’s largest public health gathering.

“It’s completely member-driven,” Wright says. “If it weren’t for them, it would be a very small meeting.”

Wright says there are so many moving parts to putting together the Annual Meeting program that it’s actually quite difficult to put the enormity of the task into words. But like the profession of public health, this blog isn’t going to shy away from trying. That’s why this post is only the first in a series that goes behind the scenes to see what goes into creating the Annual Meeting program.

In the next month or so, we’ll talk more with Wright as well as program chairs from the Mental Health and International Health Sections and the Ethics SPIG about a process that begins with each member group crafting a compelling call for abstracts and ends with organizing thousands of accepted presentations into hundreds of individual sessions, each with a cohesive thread and narrative. It’s not easy, Wright says, but it’s certainly fulfilling.  

“I love being part of something so huge, so major,” Wright says. “To see it come to fruition and just flow — that’s the most rewarding part.”

Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes coverage coming next month!


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

APHA Annual Meeting registration is open!

Tuesday doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. Most days of the week are known for something: Monday (back to work, already?), Wednesday (half way to Friday!), Thursday (one day until Friday!), Friday (Friday!), and, of course, there’s Saturday and Sunday (hello weekend!). But Tuesday…it’s sort of the runt of the week.

Unless it’s this Tuesday, June 3 — the Tuesday that registration and housing open for the 142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition!

Today marks the first day you can register for this year’s Annual Meeting, which will convene Nov. 15–19 in one of the most unique cities in the nation, New Orleans. With a theme of “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being” and a growing lineup of nationally notable speakers, such as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, the Annual Meeting is shaping up to be the public health event of the year. For example, this year’s meeting will welcome five — that’s FIVE — U.S. surgeons general to speak at a new Monday general session on Nov. 17 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Session speakers will include Regina Benjamin, Joycelyn Elders, David Satcher, Steven Galson and Antonia Novello.

But wait, you say, it’s only June. I have plenty of time to register. Technically, yes. But! If you want to take advantage of early-bird discounts (and use those savings to enjoy an authentic Cajun-style dinner or a delectable dish of fluffy breakfast beignets), it’s a good idea to start planning now. Discounted early-bird registration prices end Aug. 28. Along with registration, Annual Meeting housing opens today too and hotel rooms typically sell out super fast. The APHA Annual Meeting is like most things in public health — it’s a good idea to get started early.

Also available today on this beautiful Tuesday morning is this year’s online program, where you can view session details and abstracts, as well as the APHA personal scheduler, which you can use to start planning your Annual Meeting experience.

Visit the APHA Annual Meeting site for more information about registration and check out our FAQ for everything you need to know on registration, reserving a hotel room, finding a roommate, airport transportation and much more.

Above photo courtesy

Friday, May 16, 2014

Author Isabel Wilkerson to keynote this year’s Opening General Session

"They did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island, they were already citizens. But where they came from they were not treated as such."

Those are words written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson in the best-selling nonfiction book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.” The book — appropriately described as “epic” by many reviewers — chronicles the story of black migration out of the American South, better known in history books as the Great Migration. Wilkerson tells the story of the millions who left in search of better lives through the experiences of three black Americans: a sharecropper who left Mississippi for Chicago; a surgeon who left Louisiana for Los Angeles; and a young man who fled Florida for New York after hearing that his employers were planning to lynch him for organizing fellow citrus pickers in support of better working conditions. All three stories are woven into Wilkerson’s account of the Great Migration and how it shaped our country and communities. 

Wilkerson will talk about her experience putting together the 640-page book during her keynote speech at this year’s Opening General Session in New Orleans. According to Wilkerson’s website, the book is the “story of how the northern cities came to be, of the music and culture that might not have existed had the people not left, the consequences North and South and, most importantly, of the courageous souls who dared to leave everything they knew for the hope of something better.” For public health practitioners, the underlying intersections between the book’s themes and the work of public health are sure to jumpstart some interesting discussions and are undoubtedly relevant to this year’s Annual Meeting theme of “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being.”

“The Warmth of Other Suns” was named to more than 30 best-of-the-year lists, including those in the New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post. Wilkerson also received the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, among many others. 

At this point, many of you may be thinking about reading the award-winning book before the November Annual Meeting. If that’s the case, why not join the club? “The Warmth of Other Suns” will be the focus of APHA’s first-ever Annual Meeting Book Club, which will gather in New Orleans to discuss the book and how it relates to today’s big public health issues. Sign up to join the Annual Meeting Book Club, which officially kicks off in August, and check back with the Annual Meeting site for upcoming details. Also, consider purchasing your copy of “The Warmth of Other Suns” through AmazonSmile, which will donate a percentage of your purchase to support APHA.

This year’s Opening General Session is Sunday, Nov. 16, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

P.S. Mark your calendars, public health people! Registration and housing for this year’s APHA Annual Meeting opens June 3!

Wilkerson photo courtesy Joe Henson

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Looking back, moving forward as APHA heads to New Orleans

Bittersweet. That’s one way to describe getting ready for APHA’s 142nd Annual Meeting & Exposition in New Orleans. Bittersweet because we’re thrilled to bring the world’s largest public health gathering to one of the nation’s most unique, vibrant and resilient cities. At the same time, one can’t help but think about the devastating events that led to this year’s Annual Meeting location.

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled through New Orleans, causing the levees to break and the city to flood. For days, images of residents stranded on rooftops and in evacuation centers without food and water dominated the news. It seemed unreal. New Orleans was under water and rescue efforts seemed painfully, unjustly slow. In the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in American history, serious gaps in the country’s emergency response system were utterly exposed for the whole world to see. It was truly and terribly shocking.

The devastation in New Orleans was at the forefront of conversation at APHA headquarters in Washington, D.C. As Association leaders, members and staff discussed how the public health community could help in the aftermath, a big decision also had to be made regarding that year’s Annual Meeting, which was slated to convene in New Orleans in just a couple months. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t enough time. Even though APHA leaders very much wanted to bring the support of thousands of public health workers to New Orleans, city officials said they were unable to accommodate such a large crowd so soon after the disaster. The 2005 Annual Meeting was pushed back to December and would gather in Philadelphia instead.

Now, it is with great pleasure and anticipation that APHA gets ready to bring an estimated 13,000 public health workers, advocates, leaders, researchers, teachers and supporters to New Orleans. APHA conventions staff tells me that the 2014 APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition, which will run Nov. 15-19, is shaping up to be one of the best ever (and, hopefully, one of the few Annual Meetings that doesn’t require attendees to lug around their cumbersome winter coats).

Even though it’s been nearly nine years since Katrina, the storm will surely be the proverbial elephant in the room. And why shouldn’t it be? It takes longer than nine years to rebuild a city, not to mention a community. In August, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center released a report on the city’s progress since Katrina, finding both positive and worrisome results. While the regional economy continues to improve and the city has greatly expanded bike lanes and crime rates are below pre-Katrina levels, serious questions remain about whether all New Orleans residents are benefiting during the recovery.

For instance, the report found that while service-sector employment for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds has increased, the rate has fallen among men, especially among black men. The number of black men who obtain bachelor’s degrees has not budged since 2000, even though education is consistently linked to lifelong economic security and good health. Also, the New Orleans metro area has experienced double the number of “unhealthy” air quality days when compared to what the report describes as an “aspirational” metro area such as Houston, Texas.

Many of these issues have a direct connection to this year’s Annual Meeting theme of “Healthography: How where you live affects your health and well-being.” In fact, in a city whose landscape and social fabric was forever changed, the notion that “place matters” seems nearly tangible.

At the end of the day, New Orleans isn’t that different from the practice of public health. Both move forward in the face of great challenge and tragedy, both keep going despite people saying it can’t be done, and both are filled with the resilient belief that success is possible.

“This year’s Annual Meeting will be a special one,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin. “Nine years ago, we watched in disbelief as the waters kept rising. The storm quite literally swept away our collective belief that something like this couldn’t possibly happen here — in our country. Now the question is: What lessons have we learned and are we putting them to use in improving people’s lives and building healthier communities?” 

Visit APHA to learn more about APHA’s 142nd Annual Meeting & Exposition. We can’t wait to see you in the Big Easy!

— K.K.

Above photo courtesy

Monday, January 27, 2014

A blast from the past: More offerings from last year’s APHA Annual Meeting

While some of you might still be recovering from last year’s massive public health gathering, your faithful bloggers are back…and with even more news from November’s APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition in Boston.

First, let’s start with the news — literally. The January issue of The Nation’s Health, APHA’s official newspaper, is chock-full of coverage from the 141st Annual Meeting. Whether it’s stories about new research released at the meeting, coverage of newly adopted APHA policies or just lots of photos of public health folks having a good time, it’s all in this month’s special edition. Of course, for those of you who don’t get the nation’s premier public health newspaper at home, you can read all about it online (though you’ll need your APHA member username and password to access some articles.)  

They say you can’t relive the past. But with APHA’s E-ssentialLearning, you kind of can. Audio and PowerPoint presentations from hundreds of last year’s scientific sessions are now available for streaming online. For more on E-ssentialLearning, visit the APHA website.

Wishing you had more photographic souvenirs from the Boston meeting? We’ve got you covered. Hundreds of photos from the 141st Annual Meeting can now be viewed and purchased online at EZ Event Photography. If you’re prompted for a password, enter “publichealth.” Hard copies of photos are available for $7 for 4x6 prints, $10 for 5x7 prints and $15 for 8x10 prints. Electronic versions are also available and can be ordered through the site. More photos from last year’s Annual Meeting are also available on APHA’s Flickr page.

While it’s only January, preparations are already underway for this year’s 142nd Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, which has a theme of “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Well-Being” and will take place Nov. 15–19. APHA is now accepting abstracts, so don’t miss out on your opportunity to present! Program planners from the Association’s many Sections, Special Primary Interest Groups, Caucuses, Forums and the Student Assembly do the heavy lifting of selecting scientific session offerings, and so abstract submission deadlines vary between Feb. 10–14. For a full list of abstract deadlines and more information, visit the APHA Annual Meeting site.

And as always, we humbly encourage you to subscribe to this very blog to receive automatic updates by email. We have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot more from us this year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Above, two of the nearly 400 people who had their photos snapped at APHA's membership booth at last year's Public Health Expo in Boston.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Closing session challenges public health workers to ‘move this nation forward’

As he sat on the panel of speakers at the Closing Session of this year’s APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition, Donald Warne told a story.

Three sisters were walking along the river, when they saw a group of babies in the water. One sister jumped in to save the babies.

One sister said, “We need to teach these babies to swim.”

The third sister kept walking up the river. When the others called to her, she said, “I’m going to find out who’s throwing these babies in the water and I’m going to stop them.”

He paused.

“That’s public health.”

It was a fitting story to help wrap up this year’s Annual Meeting, which ended with a Closing Session about “Improving the Health of Native Peoples” and featured a keynote address by Evan Tlesla Adams, British Columbia’s first Aboriginal Health physician advisor and current deputy provincial health officer for Aboriginal health.

Adams sought to bring to light some of the issues faced by native people in the U.S. and Canada, but also to note that many indigenous people are actually faring quite well.

“I don’t want to tar us,” he said. “We are also very happy, very vibrant people. Only some of us are at risk. Many of us are flourishing.”

As evidence, he pointed to statistics regarding youth suicides among First Nations — or indigenous — people in Canada. In British Columbia, which has 32 languages, 203 tribes and 226,000 indigenous people, almost half of the tribes had no youth suicides from 1992 to 2006.

“We have solved the problem of youth suicide in those places,” he said. But on the other side of the coin, the news is much darker. Ninety percent of the youth suicides that did occur happened in 10 percent of the villages.

Many of the social determinants of indigenous health are the same as they are for the rest of the population — poverty, education, housing — but native people also face issues of self-determination, or the right to participate in decisions about the issues that affect them.

Adams said Canada has made strides in that area, signing partnership agreements that grant more self-determination to native people and bringing them to the table for discussions.

“Nothing about us, without us” has become the rallying cry.

The panel discussion after Adams’ keynote focused on the needs of native people in the United States and became a conversation about how much more progress Canada has made addressing such needs.

For example, Warne, who comes from the Oglala Lakota Tribe of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, noted that tribes rely on block grants for funding. But block grants from the federal government don’t go directly to the tribes; they first go to the states, which distribute the funds.

“Are all states friendly to American Indians? No,” said Warne, who directs the Master of Public Health Program at North Dakota State University.

Pointing to his own experience in South Dakota, he said that the state had historically been happy to count infant deaths in Indian Country in its overall infant mortality statistics to help get more block grant money. But when that money came in, the funds were never distributed to the tribes.

He called the distribution of block grant funds “low-hanging fruit” and an easy way to make sure funds get distributed where they’re needed most.

As always, the Annual Meeting closed on a note of hope.

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, after handing off the gavel to new APHA president Joyce Gaufin, said he hoped attendees — of which the meeting welcomed more than 12,500 — will leave with renewed energy.

“I hope this meeting began a dialogue,” he said. “As the new APHA, I can tell you, we’re very much about science, advocacy and health. As you go home today, I want you to think about all the things we can do as an Association to move this nation forward.”

See you next year in New Orleans!

— C.T.

Above from top to bottom: Closing Session keynote speaker Evan Tlesla Adams; session moderator and new APHA President Joyce Gaufin sits with Adams and fellow panelists Donald Warne, second from right, and D. Kawika Liu of the Consolidated Tribal Health Project; and APHA's Benjamin, left, smiles for the camera alongside Gaufin and outgoing APHA President Adewale Troutman. Photos by Jim Ezell/EZ Event Photography