It’s National Rural Health Day, Y’all!

Thursday, November 16 is National Rural Health Day, a collaborative effort to highlight the challenges faced in rural communities and to amplify the courageous, innovative work of rural health care providers, National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, educators, and others working at all levels to improve the health of rural people and places.

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The National Rural Assembly believes that when rural places are doing well, our country is stronger and our collective future is more sustainable.

Commitment to the health of rural people is one of the four pillars of our work, and we’re eager to amplify the good work that is happening to support healthy futures for rural communities.

That’s why today we want to acknowledge the leadership of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) by looking across their current work and out to the field to learn about rural health in new and important ways.

As part of a larger rural learning effort, this summer RWJF surveyed, interviewed and convened over two dozen rural stakeholders, including Rural Assembly participants, for Rural Lessons for Building a Culture of Health, an active shared learning series to ensure that rural considerations deliberately inform the foundation’s and other funders’ work.

Facilitated by the Center for Rural Strategies, Rural Lessons engaged rural researchers, policy-makers and practitioners from a diverse set of sectors, geographies, and cultures to contribute to a more holistic notion of rural health and well-being. The discussion went deep, but four clear, powerful takeaways emerged:  

  1. It’s time to invest in an evidence base to inform policies, practices and systems that fit rural contexts. To do so, public and private funders must better adapt their expectations for scale and success in rural communities and help create a more localized rural research infrastructure that engages diverse populations, new kinds of intermediaries, and varied local organizations in research design, objectives, and implementation. 
  2. The narrative of rural America should acknowledge and elevate diversity and value. Narrative drives the resources and public support for the layers of work that lead to healthy communities. We must create opportunities to promote narratives of rural ingenuity; lift up messengers that reflect the diversity of rural America, including youth and people of color; and use tailored communications strategies that appeal to our varied community cultures.
  3. Building healthier rural communities requires attention to whole systems and not silos. Access to capital, housing, transportation, childcare, college readiness, broadband and other tools for economic opportunity are critical to building positive health outcomes across race, ethnicity and socio-economics. In tandem with health care initiatives, investments in community and economic development strategies like these will lead to enduring results. 
  4. Re-imagine the role of health care providers and institutions and support systems in rural America. Rural health care providers play a dual role as both clinical care and economic drivers, and it is important that they embrace this dual role to create healthier communities. Key opportunities include home-based care and telemedicine approaches, transforming required health care community assessments into community investment plans, and investing in creative healthcare workforce development strategies.

Undergirding these lessons is the undeniable need to strengthen local capacity and action to address racism, marginalization and historical community trauma in rural communities, even in communities where the hyper majority population is white. While the forces of systemic racism are often explored in an urban context, rural communities and organizations could use better tools and training to break through critical barriers to the long-term health and well-being of their communities.

There is an important role for foundations, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners in this arena. National Rural Health Day is a good opportunity to for all of us working in rural America to recommit ourselves to doing the deep, long-term, and necessary work that supports healthier, more equitable rural communities.

Obama Foundation Summit: What's your commitment?

This week at the Obama Foundation Summit, a group of thoughtful and passionate civic leaders gathered to talk about opportunities we all have for engagement and transformation. Featured at this event was the National Rural Assembly's Whitney Kimball Coe. 

Here is the text of Whitney's talk, and here are some reflections she shared afterward, along with a challenge:

"This week, I had the honor of joining hundreds of civic leaders at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. The experience fortified my belief that civic leadership is for everyone, no matter where you live or who your mamma is.

In rural communities like my hometown of Athens, Tennessee, civic leadership is the daily practice of showing up in small, but consistent ways -- at potlucks and funerals, at PTA meetings and choir practice, at football games and city council meetings.

That regular practice of participation is what characterizes our relationships, and it gives us the ability to live and work and worship together in spite of disagreements. It's hard to dismiss someone when you expect to see them tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.

At the Obama Foundation Summit, I learned so much about how people from around the world show up in their communities, and I'm so grateful to take those lessons home with me. Here were a few of my favorites:

Community organizers Necia Freeman, Patricia Keller, and Jan Rader of West Virginia encouraged us to reach out to one person who is hurting and walk with them through their darkness.

Author Bryan Stevenson spoke of the importance of staying in "proximity" to those who are suffering in order to build compassion and better understand the problems we want to solve.

Women's rights advocate Manal Al-Sharif told us to remember that we all have it within us to be courageous, and to draw on that courage to address inequality in our communities.

At the end of the Summit, President Obama asked us all to fill out commitment cards to reinforce the lessons and goals we're taking home with us. He told us they don't have to be big and lofty -- they should be achievable within a matter of months.

My commitment is to host a civic dialogue supper in my community about an important local topic. You should make one, too.

Share how you're committing to showing up in your community."

An Open Letter to Dreamers

This is a guest post from YouthBuild USA, a member of the Steering Committee of the National Rural Assembly.

An Open Letter to Dreamers

September 13, 2017

Dear Dreamer,

In this moment, it must seem that you are invisible, unappreciated, and ignored, and even hated. I am writing to let you know that I see you. I hear you. I value and appreciate you. I love you.

For years now, you have been an important part of the fabric of this country. You have been active in your local community working to improve circumstances for your neighbors and their families. You’ve been supporting yourself and family members here and abroad. You have often juggled quietly two worlds; your family hidden in the shadows and the new world that has demanded assimilation. You have done this all while living with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. While for some time you felt a sense of support for the aspirations you’ve so deeply held for a better life, in the last year, you’ve become increasingly worried, and now, you are plagued with a sense of uncertainty and hopelessness and rage. Still, you remain undeterred in your passion to accomplish your goals. Despite the challenges of the day, that fire to unleash your full potential still burns. I see not just your fear; I see your passion, your resiliency, your strength.

Now, having already experienced the strife of family separation or loss, and working to hold two sets of cultural identities in a land that seems to forget its own beginnings, you face the possibility of returning to a place that holds so much cultural significance for you, but one you may hardly remember. You face the possibility of having undone the very thing your family wished for you – a life of better opportunity here, in this place. In fact, perhaps you are questioning the heart of this place you now call “home”. What of the American Dream? Does it not apply to you? What about the country’s sense of its own heritage – that it was built by peoples who came here, or were brought here – and that this cultural richness despite some of its unspeakable foundation, is considered valuable, even core to who we are today as a country? You believed this, but now perhaps you struggle to reconcile this land with the one before you today. To tell you the truth, I question this often. There are many days when I do not recognize the country I love.

Then, though, I remember that I am not alone. That there are people in my community, in my workplace, in my school, in my State House who see you just as I do. They are fighting for you and the nearly 800,000 who dream with you. They are teachers, legislators, community organizers, heads of corporations, public servants. They are Native, immigrant, wealthy, poor, gay, and straight - and they hail from the very ethnicities and backgrounds that are indeed the fabric of this country. Together, we denounce hate. We denounce violence. We denounce world views and beliefs that discriminate against, judge, and reject entire groups of people. We stand for a world of true justice and equality for all.

So, I am writing today to say that this is not over. And I will continue to fight for this American Experiment, this place I . . . we call home. After all, it is who I am. It is why I exist – for you and so many others who share your same hopes and dreams. Every day across the country my colleagues and friends are working to support you in rebuilding your community and your life. In this moment, as always, you are not alone. I stand with you as do so many others.

I see you. I hear you. I value and appreciate you. I love you.

Yours in power,

YouthBuild USA

YouthBuild USA has joined with others to sign on to the letter of the Center for Law and Social Policy’s (CLASP) Campaign for Youth, which calls on Congress to keep DACA and pass the DREAM Act. For further information and to join the campaign, visit http://www.clasp.org