As an ISP Fellow Ruth Adekale works with Rep. Camille Lilly and the Illinois Black Caucus Foundation to look at the way public policies relate to health care issues and their impact on underserved Black communities in the Chicagoland area. Ruth's appointment is funded in part by PepisCo and the Office of Government Relations
Ruth is also working with Illinois Extension Educator Leonard Parker with the Youth Development Team to research ways to improve access to resources and the environmental and social conditions in under-resourced communities, with a focus on issues related to health at home.
I caught up with Ruth, so she could share her story in her own words.
Why did you apply for the Illini Science Policy Program?
I applied because I knew it would be a fresh opportunity that would correlate very well with my current accumulated knowledge and experiences from my undergraduate health degree and graduate business endeavors. But at the same time, it would be an opportunity to learn and grow from unfamiliar ground which is what I hope to make a lifelong practice.
Tell us a bit about what you hope to do as a result of being a fellow?
I hope to find a need and fill it using research to determine what the actual need consists of. After understanding the need thoroughly, I will use my skills and abilities to craft a solution in the form of a monitored project that will hopefully make a greater impact than originally planned.
Describe how you and your host determined what project(s) you would work on?
My host, Rep. Lilly, has a wonderful array of knowledge and resources which has allowed me to research and jot down the most critical issues that need desperate attention in these low-income African American communities. Based on these priority issues, we decided what route would be best to begin crafting a project for me.
What is one thing you learned from your host mentor so far?
One really important thing I learned from Rep. Lilly and my Extension Mentor, Leonard Parker, is that there are many individuals in these low-income communities that suffer from extreme food insecurities because not only does their community lack stores that sell safe and fresh produce (like Walmart, Jewel Osco, Farmers Markets), but also because they do not have the transportation resources to get to a nearby one. This is just one out of countless factors that contribute to negative health outcomes in these low-income communities.
Why is your issue important?
My host is head over the health and human services pillar in the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. Therefore, I have been researching a great deal on health disparities that exist within our state and nation. I recall reading a quote from a book that summed up how prejudice/discrimination in commercial stores cannot even compare to prejudice/discrimination in the health sector because an individual’s life-expectancy and well-being are now involved. There needs to be more awareness on these types of realizations because the more we delay, the more lives that are at stake.
Who is impacted by the issue you are working on?
I am currently researching how African Americans are heavily impacted by this issue, but it is fair to mention how many other minority groups also face the same present disparities that exist within our nation.
What is one thing you want people to know about this issue?
I want people to know that education and awareness are key to solving a deep-rooted issue like this. Many people are unaware because they have not done their research and that can no longer be an excuse. I am speaking from the shoes of someone who also fell prey to the same notion of not understanding something simply because I did not know. But eventually, there will be hints and signs that reveal an imbalance somewhere, and that’s where we can take up our chance to research, educate, and fight for change in a unified voice.
Describe how you and your host and Extension Mentor determined what project you would work on?
We had many meetings where we wrote down all the issues facing black low-income communities and how these factors can negatively affect their health. Then with a few updated and refined project ideas, we were able to settle on a good pick.
If you’ve had the chance to work with your Extension Mentor, what have you learned from them so far?
I learned that so many factors connect to reveal the issues we see today. That is why it is crucial to never ignore problems that we see, and research more on what we can do to help solve them (financially, communicatively, etc.). A little goes a long way.
What is the most unexpected thing about this program so far?
The most unexpected thing for me was the rekindling of my interest in becoming a physician. My original goal was to become the CEO of a fortune 500 nonprofit social venture, utilizing the concept of human capital for those in need of jobs. That is still one of my goals, but after all this research I’ve been conducting, I’d like to understand the plights that people go through on an individual level. Medicine will be the perfect way to do so.
If you could do one thing through this program and think, "Wow, I did that," what would it be?
Creating something that can get implemented into the daily lives of those in need of it.