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Events focus on overcoming community disparities

March 24, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Kalamazoo residents will have several opportunities in the coming months to explore how they can work together to become a more inclusive and equitable community.

A new discussion series called Kalamazoo Matters is being launched so community members can converse about how to help children from every neighborhood have a similar chance to remain healthy into adulthood, become well educated and eventually be employed in good jobs.

Series activities will be free and open to the public. They will kick off Thursday, April 1, with three events that focus on the question: "How Can Kalamazoo Become a Healthier Community?" The events will center on how place, race, ethnicity and class are related to health in the city and the country, as well as what citizens can do individually and as a community to reduce disparities.

Kalamazoo Matters is being sponsored by the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations at Western Michigan University in collaboration with the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College.

After the kickoff, the series will continue in fall 2010 with a discussion of disparities related to education outcomes in Kalamazoo and most other communities around the country, and how community-based strategies must play a key role in eliminating them. Community strategies to equalize economic opportunity will be addressed in a February 2011 conversation.

Thursday, April 1, 7:30 a.m.
"Place Matters" breakfast meeting
Transformations Spirituality Center, 3427 Gull Road

The April 1 conversation will begin with a breakfast meeting from 7:30 to 9 a.m. in the Transformations Spirituality Center, 3427 Gull Road. It will feature Dr. Brian Smedley, a nationally recognized expert on racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care, discussing the "Place Matters" initiative that he administers with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Smedley, vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., will draw upon national as well as Kalamazoo data to discuss health disparities in the city and practical strategies to address them.

Reservations are required, and will be accepted until seats are filled. To make a reservation, contact Tanya Bellamy in the Walker Institute at tanya.bellamy@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2141.

Thursday, April 1, 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
"Unnatural Causes" video screenings
WMU Fetzer Center

Community members and students are invited to meet in the Fetzer Center on the WMU campus for the day's final two events as well as light refreshments. Reservations are not required to attend, and free parking will be available.

First up will be the showing of two videos from the Public Broadcasting Service TV series, "Unnatural Causes." "In Sickness and in Wealth" at 11:30 a.m. in Fetzer's Putney Lecture Hall will cover how social factors affect health. "Not Just a Paycheck" at 12:30 p.m. in Kirsch Auditorium will cover unemployment's adverse health effects by examining what happened in one West Michigan community when a manufacturing plant closed.

Thursday, April 1, 1 p.m.
"Building Stronger Communities for Better Health" lecture
WMU Fetzer Center

For the last event, Smedley will lecture on "Building Stronger Communities for Better Health: Moving from Science to Practice" at 1 p.m. After the presentation, he will lead a discussion of community strategies to eliminate health disparities in Kalamazoo and throughout Michigan.

About the speaker

Smedley's organization, the Joint Center's Health Policy Institute, was started in 2002 with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It administers the Place Matters initiative, which assists participants in developing and implementing community-based strategies to address the social factors that determine health. The program aims to address gaps by cultivating new leadership and advancing the Fair Health Movement--one community at a time.

Previously, Smedley was research director for the Opportunity Agenda, a communications, research and policy organization he cofounded. In that post, he led an effort to center equity in state and national health reform discussions and build the national will to expand opportunity for all.

In addition, he has served as study director for reports on minority health research policy and diversity in the health professions for the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. He also worked on a range of education, health and social policy topics while serving as the American Psychological Association's director for public interest policy.

Smedley, a former Congressional Science Fellow, co-edited the book, "All Things Being Equal: Instigating Opportunity in an Inequitable Time." He has been honored by the Congressional Black Caucus as a "healthcare hero" and by the Rainbow/PUSH coalition as a "health trailblazer."

For more information about Smedley's visit or the Kalamazoo Matters discussion series, contact Timothy Ready, director of WMU's Walker Institute, at timothy.ready@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2141.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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