It’s insane how fast this summer has gone by, considering we’re now at the end of week 8. As a neuroscience major at Swarthmore College, I never expected to work side by side with medical students and physicians, interact with community members in Philadelphia, and conduct research on four different projects all at once. This summer has been more than I ever could have imagined it to be. One of our ongoing projects, Health Insights 215, has probably been the most grounding experience for me in a while. This project involved going out into underserved communities in North Philly and talking to individuals who live in that area about what they need to be healthier and what being healthy means to them. The responses from some of the people we met were astounding, and described realities I never would have thought of.
One man that we talked to in the Strawberry Mansion area wrote on his insight sheet, “My community needs PEACE to be healthier.” He started talking about how the United States as a whole, but particularly his community, has lost the simplicity of solutions to their problems. He went on to say the things he worries about “as a poor man, as a black man” aren’t politics or any social movements fighting for equal rights, but rather how he’s going to get home so he doesn’t run into gunfire or fights.
The most profound response he had though was when we asked him to sign the photo release form because I had been taking video and photos of him. We told him we had a social media campaign going for the project and a website where his photo may be posted. This man just looked at us and said, “You know if the wrong people see this, I could be killed for talking to you and telling you my opinion.” But he felt strongly about our cause and wanted his perspective to be shared.
None of us knew how to respond, myself included. There was an audible three-second silence because none of us had thought of this reality, that someone could be killed for trying to make their community better, safer, and healthier. When I think about that idea, it makes sense, but when someone actually says it to you in response to something you’re doing, it leaves a lasting imprint.
Engaging with people and going into their communities is something I want to allow myself to do on a more regular basis after this summer. Whether that’s working through non-profits, research, or more health pop-ups like Health Insights 215, listening to people’s stories and documenting them is an experience on its own.