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By: India Ciánna Stevenson

My interest in health started with my love for the community that surrounds me. I grew up with a large family on both sides and the support that I receive from both my family and community inspires my desire to continuously give them the same through health and social justice.
In Sikhism, we have a concept called “Seva”, or selfless service. This is used to describe an act of service that is performed without any expectation of result or award for performing it. This is a concept that is very important to me and was instilled in me from a very young age. It is what influenced my interest to involve myself in community service and health.

I initially got involved in community service through several social justice organizations here in Georgia. I was particularly interested in volunteering with the various community-based reproductive justice organizations in Georgia such as SisterLove and Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE). I also became interested in the different issues that affected the Atlanta and Clarkston refugee populations, and I volunteered with a local refugee school for refugee girls with interrupted education. Although these organizations and issues were local and specific to my community, the issues I addressed with these organizations applied to the larger global community and taught me a lot about health disparities both locally and globally.

It was through my experiences in community service work that I began to realize that all the issues I was passionate about could be traced back to health. For example, with the reproductive justice organizations I volunteered with, I learned that many reproductive justice health issues affect communities differently based on social-economic status, race, and sexuality. Through volunteering with the refugee girls’ school, I also became aware of their lack of access to adequate healthcare and feminine hygiene products. My interest in social justice issues connected with racial health disparities, and I wanted to ensure that all my efforts towards addressing these issues were centered on health.

My own experiences and intersecting identities are also a huge part of my interest in community and health. As a Black woman, I am passionate about the different experiences with health that the members of my community face. Black people are often regarded as “unreliable narrators” in healthcare settings, and thus their concerns and needs are often dismissed. This was something I experienced personally through my family, and I became vocal about actively seeking to change these disparities. I also became interested in learning more about the various health alternatives that communities have cultivated together in response to feeling disregarded in mainstream healthcare settings, such as community-based doulas and midwives.

It was not until I reached university that I began to see a way to bridge my interest in social justice and community with my interest in health. In my sophomore year, I took an epidemiology class where I learned about how epidemiologic research has been applied to reduce health disparities. I also took a class on community-based participatory research and learned that there is research being done to address racial disparities in health with a community-based approach. This was important to me because it opened my eyes to a type of research that placed a lot of value on the input of community members, and that works towards sustainable and community-centric solutions to these health issues.

I am currently a Human Health major on the Epidemiology track. My goal in the future is to address health disparities through community-based epidemiologic research. Through Exploring Health, I hope to continue exploring health disparities and to spread awareness of these issues to the global community.