Health fairs offer knowledge and connection in Phillips and Cedar Riverside

Health worker at Waite House health fair

It’s a beautiful August day: sunny, a few clouds, not too hot. Outside Waite House in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, more than a hundred of our neighbors are listening to music (courtesy of KRSM Radio), jumping in an inflatable bounce house, and catching up with their friends. Conversations waft through the air, a sampling of the hundred-plus languages spoken by residents of one of our city’s most diverse communities.

Although the vibe is casual and friendly, the occasion today is a serious one: Today is the Phillips Health Fair, and health is on everyone’s mind. Here, and at a similar event at Brian Coyle Center in Cedar Riverside earlier this month, more than 40 partner organizations have assembled to share their knowledge and resources with the community.

By connecting our neighbors to local health care resources, we eliminate barriers to access and give them the tools to take a more active role in the care that they and their families receive. But it goes deeper than that. Social connectedness is a powerful predictor of overall health outcomes; people are healthier when they talk to their neighbors.

According to Tsega Tamene, director of community health at Pillsbury United Communities, this is the critical role the health fairs serve. “We’re creating a space for people to connect, to learn, to play,” she says.

And in a space where so much of the conversation around community health focuses on the health disparities that exist within indigenous communities and communities of color, the Phillips and Coyle health fairs provide a platform for the individuals and organizations who are already working towards a solution. Rather than creating new efforts and duplicative work, Tamene says the health fairs succeed by “lifting up resources that are already there in the community.”

Tamene is quick to point out that the health fairs couldn’t happen without dedicated organizers—Jovita and Awol, at Waite House and Brian Coyle respectively—driving new partnerships at the local level and activating the grassroots energy of their friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It all comes down to the relationships our center staff have built throughout the community.

Ultimately, our health fairs are one solution within a multifaceted approach to community health. As researchers in the field of public health can tell us, the health of our communities is impacted by any number of factors, from education, to food access, to transportation. It’s hard to deny that these systems have failed many of our neighbors. But despite the complex challenges that our communities are living with, it’s clear that a dedicated effort is underway—and for one August afternoon in Phillips and Cedar Riverside, we get a brief glimpse of what a healthier and more connected future looks like.

(Click here for photos from the Brian Coyle Health Fair.)

Buraanbur builds connections, brings healing

Buraanbur at Brian Coyle Center

Taking care of your health doesn’t necessarily equate to making routine stops at the doctor’s office. Being healthy and feeling well, safe, and secure requires looking at a bigger picture—focusing on how our everyday lives, work, environment, and choices influence our well-being.

For East African women in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, one way of fostering health and healing has been through a form of dance and poetry native to Somalia: buraanbur. From January through June of this year, about 20 women regularly attended buraanbur dance classes at the Brian Coyle Center hosted by the Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Program (IWAP). This opportunity was made possible through a special partnership with The Cedar Cultural Center and The City of Minneapolis Health Department, and was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The classes served multiple purposes. Not only were they a way for women to improve their physical health by exercising, but they were also an opportunity to break isolation and build relationships—all while being rooted in their culture.

“We come together here twice a week. We socialize; we dance; we sweat; and we laugh. If someone doesn’t come to the session, we ask each other, ‘Where is so and so?’ and check up on them. We care for each other and have become more than just neighbors. We dance together whilst feeling connected to my culture like it was back in my home country,” one participant said.

Miski Abdulle, our Director of Immigrant Services, touched on how they were not just dance sessions, but also ‘healing sessions’ for some participants who are survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, the population that IWAP primarily works with. This type of cultural healing “heals the soul,” she said. Participants spoke to her about feeling lighter and sleeping and eating better than before. Some said:

“I get to exercise, be active. And this is good for my mental health too because I feel happy here. It’s a place for women to be together. This is just like family to me.”

“I have become good friends with the women here and I feel a sense of community support and togetherness.”

“I have been coming to these buraanbur sessions because it is a fun place to be. I get to see the same faces, people who are my neighbors. I get to laugh with them, exercise, and enjoy my culture.”

A sense of belonging and community. Cultural connectedness and healing. Artistic expression. These are all pieces in our vision for thriving communities. Because we don’t just want our communities to be healthy; we want them to be well. And that requires looking at the bigger picture.

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