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Why Youth Advocacy Is Health Equity Work

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be physically and mentally healthy. Here at Youth MOVE, we run into the term health equity often when dealing with high-level professionals across several fields. But when it comes to our own Youth MOVE chapter members or youth advocates on the ground, there seems to be a disconnect.

Let us tell you once and for all: being a youth advocate is contributing toward health equity.

What Is Health Equity?

Imagine someone’s potential for a healthy life like a scale or a seesaw with positives and negatives on either side. Tipping the scale positively requires offloading negative factors—like poverty, a feeling of powerlessness, and discrimination. But it also requires stacking up positive factors on the other side, such as easy access to resources, education, job opportunities, and having a say in changing systems and communities.

That’s why we’ve partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to provide the RWJF Award for Health Equity presented by Youth MOVE National’s Rockstar Awards. Youth leaders and youth advocates nationwide are working every day to move us closer to health equity.

How Are Youth Advocates Working Toward Health Equity?

Health equity wheel
Health equity visual by RWJF.

We love this visual by RWJF. Think about working toward health equity as addressing the colorful ring around the center of this circle. These areas are where youth advocates work to address imbalances and break down barriers.

By Changing the Education System

You can see one of the areas atop of the ring is education. Youth MOVE members and youth advocates bust mental health and substance use stigma in schools all the time! In fact, social marketing and mental health awareness is a top priority for most Youth MOVE chapters. But they also work to ensure that students have access to the supports they need on campus, too.

Our 2017 RWJF Award for Health Equity winner, Jacob Griffin, was awarded for his work in expanding counseling services on college campuses. “We see year after year a 30 percent increase in campus counseling centers of students needing services,” he said. “But students have a hard time getting the services they need because campus centers haven’t increased their budgetary spending.” He started an Active Minds chapter at his school and began a dialogue between students and university staff about addressing the issue.

By Ensuring Young Adults Have Access to Quality Care

Cante Waste Win Zephier was our 2018 RWJF Award for Health Equity winner. She once sold 750 T-shirts with an original design and raised $10,000 to support Village Earth, traditional healing camps for native youth on her reservation. The camps, where Cante also mentors young women, work to reconnect young adults with traditional practices—recovery through cultural resiliency.

“During my time as a youth mentor, I’ve seen how youth are hurting in ways you cannot imagine,” she said when she accepted the award. “It is my belief that health equity in tribal communities is essentially the same as access and a return to traditional ways.” She’s just one of many examples of how youth advocates are working to get young adults access to quality care.

By Addressing All Areas of the Health Equity Ring

Advocates in youth-serving systems help young adults gain access to training so they can become youth peers. Youth advocates strive for the inclusion of authentic youth voice day in and day out. Youth groups provide safe spaces and a sense of community for young adults with shared experiences. All of these are examples of how young adults and youth advocates are making strides in achieving health equity.

Consider the scale (or seesaw) one last time. Jacob saw a lack of communication between students and university staff and worked toward improving it, tipping the scale positively. Cante saw a lack of funding and the consequences of generational trauma; she decided to be a resource for native youth herself and to fund services that reconnected young adults with their culture. The same is true for youth advocates everywhere who are identifying key issues in their communities and working as a collective to balance the scales.

Youth advocacy is health equity work.

Rockstar Awards 2019 Nominations Open Monday, July 1

Know a person or organization that is making great strides in improving youth-serving systems and the lives of young adults? Now’s your chance to recognize them. Nominations for this year’s Rockstar Awards open Monday, July 1. There are six categories — including the RWJF Award for Health Equity which comes with a $3,000 unrestricted cash prize! Learn more here.

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