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Health Campus partners talk community engagement on WOVU

Health Campus partners talk community engagement on WOVU

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland plans to construct a health campus, a space that provides care for the whole person, addressing medical needs as well as social and economic challenges. The new campus will continue the legacy of the Sisters of Charity’s commitment to serving the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the community.

Many local organizations will be involved in bringing this health campus to life and create a space that brings real value to the residents of the Central community. Richaun Bunton of Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, Dr. Shemariah Arki of Sankofa Circle International and Chris Kroner of MASS Design sat down with TC Lewis of WOVU in early October to talk about their ongoing process for community engagement within the Central neighborhood and the next steps toward a vision for the health campus.

Listen to the full interview here. An edited transcript is included below.

Dr. Shemariah Arki, Sankofa Circle International: We are working with the team at Central Promise Neighborhood and also with MASS Design Group to really begin to be in community and learn from the people who live, work and play in the Central Promise Neighborhood about health and what that really looks like, sounds like and feels like for folks. We’re going in and collecting data, but that data is really privileging the lived experience of those people who are there and the generations who helped to form that community. We know that the Central neighborhood has a very strong history in Cleveland history and has produced various leaders that have taken our city, our region, our state and our country to places we have never been. It’s important that even in this project at its infancy that we are building on the lived experiences and the voices of the people.

Richaun Bunton, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood: Central is a very historic community within the City of Cleveland, and it is actually central—it’s the heart of the city. Through this project, we are working in a collaborative effort to have everyone’s voices elevated in that space. We at Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood, we all believe in the elevation of resident voice and empowering of families in our Central community. That is the heart of our work. Helping to ensure families have what they need to feel that their family is thriving at whatever level they feel most comfortable and partnering in a seamless way to gather, to identify, to support those who feel most connected to the community. To make sure that this health campus is all encompassing of their needs, their expectations and their visions for the community long-term.

Chris Kroner, MASS Design Group: MASS Design Group is a nonprofit design office and it’s an international group that has been in existence for over twelve years now, and as a design office it’s a little unique (be)cause there’s not a lot of nonprofit designers out in the world today. I lead a think tank for community engaged urban design landscape and architecture projects out of our Hudson Valley office. We are working proximate to our communities, and working alongside people, is part and parcel of our everyday commitment to a practice that is all about active listening, active learning and participatory healing before putting pen to paper.

Richaun: Health Campus aims to be part of the longstanding legacy of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, and their commitment to healing in the Greater Cleveland, but primarily in the Central community. That is where they first came 170 years ago and their hearts have never left the space. Knowing that health care is changing, we need to make sure that Catholic health care—or health care in general—is really evolving with the community. We have partnered with MASS Design Group, Sankofa Circle International to really understand what is needed on this campus. What would this campus look like? The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is leading this effort as they have been champions in the Central community for years. That’s how Promise became involved, because we have been supported by the Sisters of Charity Foundation for almost 12 years now. Our primary role is to be champions for residents in the Central community.

TC: So, what exactly does a health campus look like? What is the vision for the actual physical manifestation?

Richaun: Right now we’re in the middle of the visioning process. That means talking to people. Visioning means convening people to see what they feel when they hear “health campus” or how would they want to feel when they step on something like a “health campus.”

Chris: We’re asking a lot of questions at this moment. We’re trying to ask for definitions of “What does your health mean?” “What does your family’s health mean?” “What does a campus mean to you?”

At the moment, we are at a point where we have yet to put pen to paper directly to say this is the vision because we haven’t heard enough yet. We’re asking for a lot of input. We want people to help us know what really matters, how does this resonate as an idea for you as part of the community and stemming from a mission-driven organization like the Sisters of Charity. This is part of how they always worked within a community. This is an extension of their legacy of being part of a place, of a group of individuals that live proximate to something that would help to holistically participate in their well-being.

Dr. Arki: The role of Sankofa Circle International is really to build relationships across lines of difference in pursuit of a common goal: the health campus. With lots of hospital systems across Cleveland, ideas of health care may have a specific connotation. When people tell us what comes to mind when they think “health campus,” we help them to really unpack that and let them know this project is going to be different. One of the major points of interest for me in this project was that this engagement plan was put together without there being any physical blueprint of this space. As a consultant, someone who works with various institutions across the city on a regular basis, this doesn’t always happen. When folks and groups, institutions set out to do community engagement or you know to get feedback from the community, they have already completed probably step 1, 2 and 3 and then go back and say oh, let’s ask the community. But this project is different, and I believe it’s different because of the convening partner, who’s at the helm and the deep work that has already been done in the neighborhood, as Richuan pointed out. For anything else would be a total pivot from the true mission and vision of the work of the Sisters of Charity Foundation and the overall Central Promise Neighborhood.

TC: Is this model of a health campus something that’s new? Do we see this in other parts of the country or even other parts of Ohio?

Chris: There are other models. I think when you start to think about Catholic health especially, this is about a different model than what you might experience in other places that have corporate medicine. This model it is all about a level of servitude and a level of understanding that the actual health care that you experience when you visit a doctor or a clinic is only about 20% of what makes the whole health and well-being of you as a person. That there are a series of other factors that create kind of the entire personal model of health. To understand that, we’re trying to embody that in the spatial dimensions of what it means to be engaged in health. And so that includes things like the streetscape, that includes things like that are about landscapes. Those are the places we want to have as healing spaces as well.

Richaun: You brought up a good word, servitude, and that is true to the mission and vision of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. Health care isn’t just going into your doctor’s office; it’s how we go home, what are we going home to, have access to healthy food options. Do we have access to safety, how safe do we feel in our community, how connected do we feel to our community. Those things that are not so prevalent in your doctor’s appointment, but contribute so deeply to your personal well-being.

TC: In talking with residents, what are people saying that they need to help keep their lives together, going through such hard times? What are people saying that they need? What would that look like in terms of this health campus being able to provide support?

Dr. Arki: Folks in the Central Promise neighborhood that we’ve been talking to have really been talking about getting their basic needs met. Food, clothing and shelter in a place that’s safe, in a place that’s welcoming and a place where they can feel valued. Valued as human beings and valued in the spaces and places that they’re in. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. Even in 2021, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and yet, there are people who still don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and some of those people reside in the Central Promise neighborhood. That is 100% real.

I also think about walkability. When we think about people in a neighborhood where they feel connected, respected and valued, that means they can go outside and enjoy the things that are there. I think when we look at the Central Promise neighborhood, yes it is center of the city and centrally located, but it has a highway going right through it. So what does that mean for the people who live there every single day? We know what it means for the people who take the highway in the city and out of the city. The highway was built for them. But how does it affect the people who are still there? How can they walk through their community and also attach to an adjacent community without the highway? We are in global pandemic where it’s healthier for us to be outside. In Cleveland, on those days where the weather is nice, we want to be able to capitalize on that. So in the Central Promise neighborhood, folks want green spaces. Places where they can go outside and enjoy being outside, enjoy the physical space they are in. Where they are feeling connected to the community, respected by the other folks there and valued as a member of that community and for what they bring.

TC: Yes, that is absolutely huge. Making sure that the people this health campus is going to serve, allows them to feel valued once they step onto that piece of land and to also I would say feel safe and feel understood.

Chris: We had an amazing experience walking through public housing and there was an incredible gardenscape that was left by a community elder who is no longer with us unfortunately. And her garden still remains beautiful. We were walking through it in July and the pride that was shared by the neighbors about that, and the color of these flowers really spoke to a legacy of putting your hands in the black gold of the Earth and having something quite beautiful to excite the mind, allows us to celebrate and value our common breath. And I think about this highway and its proximity to Central. Already the air quality is deteriorated to the point that your baseline is different. If you look at a tree canopy map, there are not exactly the same levels of trees in this neighborhood that there might be in other places. There is an urgency for a different level of understanding of what these changes could bring. We can do those, not only because you might find them in other cities, but because they are particular to this situation, to this community and to this campus. That way the people around the campus know this is for them.

TC: When I’m on my street, I feel like my neighborhood has less value and I feel less valued when people litter and throw trash and even on garbage day, they don’t come out after the trucks leave and pick up the things that were leftover. When I look at the housing projects, the way they are maintained and kept up, there’s not really a lot of evidence that the agency really values, right, what people see when they walk out of their door, when the kids look out of their window. I just really think that, that value piece is so, so important. And I want to find out, how do you realize value in a physical space? How do we realize that through bricks and mortar and concrete?

Dr. Arki: We’ve talked about MASS Design being a nonprofit architecture firm. They have a project right now in Butaro Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda, where they’ve taken this concept around value and flipped the hospital inside-out. When we think about hospitals in the United States, our reference is a big building with lots of hallways and doors that you can open and go in and experience health care. We know especially in other parts of the world that certain types of communicable diseases are more infectious in small, closed-in spaces. So the hospital that MASS Design built is an inside-out hospital, where they’ve essentially put the hallways on the outside. So where people are congregating, people are waiting, people who are not well, waiting to see the doctor, waiting to receive services, they are not further contaminating themselves or the other folks that are there because it’s in an outdoor space that allows for ventilation. That is one way in which we can see how design really values the experience of the folks there. Another story that was really transformative for me in joining this team was the work that MASS Design Group has done in the United States, at the Legacy Museum (National Memorial for Peace and Justice - a memorial dedicated to victims of racial terror lynchings). It’s in Montgomery, Alabama, built off the research of Bryan Stevenson. His goal was to amplify the lived experiences of the families who fell victim to lynching in the United States. MASS designed the entire museum. On their first visit to Cleveland, one of the folks from the MASS team, a photographer, shared the story with me about how he was called in to film a soil collection with family members descended of a person who was lynched in the Deep South in the 1950s. Having this white guy, young white guy tell me this story on a corner of 55th and Quincy right in front of Benesch School changed my whole trajectory of this project.

To see that there are people who are doing this work, this work of liberation, which doesn’t always look like what we think it would. In my experience it looks like me teaching, writing curricula. Maybe me on the front line with a picket sign and a bullhorn. But we can still revisit the dominant narrative and focus on our community and add that value, even through design.

Chris: It’s not about us and MASS Design Group being the designer of it. It really is about the reclamation of that history at this moment. And there’s so many different ways to experience and understand the memorial itself. All of the markers of all of those who were taken from us are elevated above you. As scary as that might seem, it’s all uplifting in a way. And then you get down to kind of the lowest spot underneath all of the markers, there is a weeping wall that’s crying that honors the fact this is an emotional space. As you exit the main memorial space, you see an entire field of markers that individual counties are being invited to bring back to their county seats to honor their former histories. It’s really interesting to see who has chosen to acknowledge that history, and there is going to be a switch in a series of years when the markers will then show who hasn’t made the choice. And that value structure is a living report card. It’s absolutely a fascinating turn of the table of power.

Richaun: When I hear that personal story, it affirms for me why we are here together working on this project collectively. For these organizations to share in the ministry of what the Sisters of St. Augustine created 170 years ago. How their devotion to healing—healing spiritually, healing emotionally, helping people to heal physically—and thinking about it holistically. It shows the potential that health campus has to be a healing space for everyone who sets foot on it. Whoever looks at it, whoever shares their voice and to say this is what I want it to be because this is what my family needs.

I want to invite those who want to share their wisdom, their insight, their lived experience, what their needs are into this conversation, into this dialogue to help us develop and create what this health campus will look like. Not just for the families that are there in Central now, but the families that will continue be in Central or the families that will become a part of Central long-term, because this will be legacy building.

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