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June 26, 2018

Communities of Color Are Not Commodities | African Alliance of Rhode Island | Nakeia Medcalf | MDes ’18

by nmedcalf

The African Alliance of Rhode Island has faced its steep challenges with grace, understanding, patience and sincere care for the community it seeks to serve. The obstacles presented to the African Alliance manifested in the early weeks of my presence there. The first challenge was justifying the significance of educating community members as health educators that serve the community to the Department of Health. Therein was the biggest problem. Why do organizations that seek to propel the community forward have to justify anything to the hierarchical superiors so out of touch with what is going on the ground? This question, and many others is one that has stuck with me for the duration of my time with AARI. That said, the obstacle was and is only a stepping stone to bringing an idea to life.

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In order to raise awareness on the importance of blood pressure and hypertension disease within the community of people of African heritage, AARI is hoping to create a program within one of the most common gathering places for people of color– the barbershop. To initiate the program, we met with the DHS to find out where best to employ their resources. Their role as an organization is to aid in preventing disease and promoting health. Like all government institutions, the DHS must work within the boundaries of rules and regulations that limit their outreach capabilities to a certain degree. Rather than dwell on what the Department of Health could not do, we decided to think of ways to exhaust all of the resources they were willing to provide.

The idea to exhaust all of the resources in front of you brought up the discussion around communities of color as commodities who are viewed as experiments for an ideas with little follow through. Though the discussion with DHS proved to be discouraging, we all left the meeting hopeful that the Providence community does not have to be a commodity. Instead, we can be a community that takes the resources available and continues to strive for better. We can take the resources that we have and apply the same strategies to all communities of color.


The barbershop has always been a staple in the African American community. The barbershop is not simply a place to get your haircut—instead it is where your voice is heard, where conversations are started and resolutions are made. It is safe space where friends, family and the neighborhood can gather. The trust the African American community has built around its barbers and the barbershops role in the neighborhood makes it the perfect place to begin the conversation of best health practices around blood pressure and hypertension. Bringing in health practitioners to train barbers and other community members on using blood pressure measurement tools is the goal in growing an understanding to the importance of healthy habits.

As healthcare issues continue to effect the African American community, specifically in the areas of blood pressure and hypertension, the new initiative by the African Alliance will engage the community in an effective way, where they are. And that is exactly what this community needs now.



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