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Celebrating freedom and wellness: Uniting our community for an empowered Juneteenth

Written by Maeve Fahy, BCL, MD candidate, University College Dublin, Ireland, and the Mark and Cathleen Reifsteck Summer Research Program Scholar in the 2023 Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

As a student in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public and Global Health Track, I was thrilled to attend the festivities of the Fountain Park Juneteenth celebration.  Juneteenth marks the emancipation of enslaved African Americans after the Civil War. Since the late 1800s, it has celebrated African American culture.

A local Juneteenth Community Awareness Celebration was hosted by the Neighbors of Fountain Park and Centennial Christian Church. The day was filled with informative booths, health screenings, fun activities for kids, lively entertainment, and delicious food for everyone in the community. I was impressed by the health screening offered at the event. Attendees had access to various services, such as mammograms, COVID-19 vaccinations (including first-time shots), blood glucose level checks, and, free condoms with information on HIV and STI testing. 

Maeve Fahy assists at an Our Community, Our Health Pop-Up event.

I attended the event with my mentor, Hilary Reno, MD, PhD, who was vaccinating at the Our Community, Our Health (OCOH) pop-up clinic. St. Louis health is a priority for OCOH, a joint venture between the Institute for Public Health and the WashU Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences. This program has been operating in St. Louis since August 2022 and works in partnership with multiple communities. The goal of the initiative is not only to protect the community from COVID-19 through vaccination, but also to foster long-lasting connections with them. A collaborative effort between health care professionals from WashU and community health workers from the local area has made administering vaccinations a success.  

While at the pop-up vaccination event, I spoke with volunteers and community health workers about the various community health events the local church supports. I was impressed with the integration of health screenings and services into the community’s daily life. Centennial Christian Church provides a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together for lunch multiple days a week and with OCOH on Fridays. Attendees can receive health screenings and visit the pop-up clinic where they can access COVID-19 vaccinations, personal care supplies, and snacks. It’s a great way for the community to take care of their health and connect with their neighbors. 

Participating in the summer program has taught me many valuable lessons, one being from my mentor Professor Reno, who has helped me to further understand the values of community engagement in public health. Communities possess invaluable knowledge of the needs of their members. Community engagement empowers individuals to take ownership of their health and enables them to identify health disparities and barriers to health care; ensuring tailored interventions to meet the diverse needs of marginalized populations. Community-based collaborations on public health issues, which consider the spectrum of social and environmental determinants of health, are essential to advance health equity.