A passion for rural health drives new Rural Assembly Fellow Quintissa Peake

By Quintissa Peake

I live in the small town of Neon, Kentucky, nestled in the foothills of Central Appalachia.

Located in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky, Neon was once a thriving coal-mining community. Today, the population is around 700.

Growing up in the rural enclave, I developed many of my morals and values based on a faith-based upbringing. In addition to faith, the values of family, hard work, respect, and being of service were also instilled in me. 

It is also where my advocacy around rural health was born. I was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, an inherited red blood cell disorder, at 11 months of age. 

As the only person in my family or in my community with the genetic disorder, my advocacy journey began when I was young and has continued to shape my path.  Through my experiences, I have become a community health worker, patient advocate/advisor, and a health educator.

In September, I joined the Center for Rural Strategies team in September as a fellow. My work with the Center will focus on rural health, drawing on my own experiences and connecting with others.

I am a guest speaker for Sickle Cell Disease and Type 2 Diabetes and serve as a patient advisor to several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. For well over 10 years now, I’ve served as my hematologist’s guest patient in the Biochemistry class for first year medical students at UK’s College of Medicine. This allows them to ask questions and see things from the patient’s perspective while utilizing their medical training. 

My interest in rural health extends beyond Sickle Cell. Prior to and after the pandemic, I was a certified Type 2 Diabetes instructor throughout my local community with a program called Faith Moves Mountains.

A rural Homecoming
After completing high school in Eastern Kentucky, I moved to Lexington, Ky., to study at the University of Kentucky, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Telecommunications from the College of Communication & Information in 2004. After living and working in Lexington for over 16 years, I moved back home to the mountains in the summer of 2016, where I’ve gotten involved in many community efforts. 

Locally, I stay active by engaging in various community-based programs. I help plan the Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast and have led other programs with the Cowan Community Action Group. I also participate with the Hemphill Community Center and Bridge4Unity, a dialogue and cultural exchange project with diverse participants from Letcher County, KY; Leverett, MA; and Beaufort County, SC. The group’s focus is on coming together beyond racial, cultural, political, and class divides to act with determined hope and engagement for equality, compassion, advocacy, and healing.

This work is very important to me: I believe there is so much more that connects us, than separates and divides us.

In July of 2022, I saw this connection firsthand when a historic flood swept through 14 counties in eastern Kentucky. My family and home were directly impacted. Thankfully, everyone was safe and the house was able to be repaired. Being displaced for several months while assisting with the construction and rehabilitation really showed how the rural community comes together to support one another.

Many volunteers that helped with the clean-up and rebuild were complete strangers. Coming from miles and miles away, they really helped in the process of transforming the house back to a home.

Feeling eternally grateful, I was reminded of how resilient my rural community and its people really are.

Now, I’m looking forward to connecting with rural people across the country through my work with the Rural Assembly. I would love to hear from people who are from marginalized communities, in rural places dealing with chronic health issues, dealing with access to quality healthcare, and dealing with access to broadband Internet. Also, if you keep up with, or are interested in any policy issues regarding any of the aforementioned items, please reach out!

Quintissa Peake is a 2023-2024 Fellow at the Rural Assembly. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Appalshop and the UK Alumni Association Board of Directors. She enjoys traveling and staying active in her roles as a proud, fun-loving aunt and godmother.

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