Newswise — ST. LOUIS – Public health has come to the attention of the public more than ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, while awareness of the importance of community health practices and policies has risen, the public remains removed from the process.
Leaders Igniting Generational Healing and Transformation (LIGHT) centers the public by putting people first in public health.
LIGHT, led by faculty and students from Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, encompasses a new biannual literary journal in public health, a festival to engage both the public and public health professionals who are interested in creatively communicating about public health and a creative writing in public health summer camp for children.
“We want to reimagine public health,” said Juliet Iwelunmor, Ph.D., professor of behavioral science and health education. “After the pandemic, there has been a call to recognize where public health failed the public, beginning with questioning the traditional methods of public health engagement, dissemination, and research. We need to acknowledge that, in some ways, we—and the traditional way we’ve always done things—are part of the problem.”
Iwelunmor said SLU, with a college dedicated to both public health and social justice, is uniquely situated to address the issue.
“We need to do a better job of centering the public back into public health, beginning with the way we share our work as public health researchers,” she said. “We need to increase the diversity of people in public health, increase participation of communities often under-represented in our work, and increase voices, experiences, stories, typically unheard of, even strategies and methods typically not used, like storytelling or poetry, all of which are necessary for our transformation and healing.”
For more than 100 years, the public health field has shared information among its professionals, Iwelunmor said, and not the public. Most public health research is restricted to academic journals that the general public typically doesn’t access.
“The public is kept in the dark about public health, and we want to change that,” said Alexis Engelhart, MPH research coordinator for LIGHT.
LIGHT launched its first open call for submissions of art, letters, stories, poetry, and other creative works in February. The top submissions will be featured in the inaugural issue of the LIGHT literary journal in public health that connects, creates, and curates content for the public by the public. The journal will include the work of a diverse roster of new and experienced authors and artists, storytellers and poets, particularly from populations under-represented in public health.
“Their work—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, letters, and other literary works—will push the margins of public health,” said Engelhart.
The mission of LIGHT is to create an open-access narrative space for critical conversations and connections that push the boundaries of what public health entails. The journal will feature creative crowdsourced submissions—artwork, letters, poems and stories, and more—on pressing public health issues and topics to connect people using dialogue, language, and voices about healing and health that resonate with everyone best.
“LIGHT is intentionally created and committed to giving the public a voice in public health, but it will also foster youth involvement and creativity and push researchers to think outside the box, bringing coexistence of creativity and research to the world we live in,” Engelhart said.
The first Virtual LIGHT Festival will be held from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT on Friday, June 17, and will allow for collaboration among artists and researchers, as well as the public, by creating opportunities to connect through creative mediums such as art (including illustration, animation, comics, culinary arts, and painting), poetry, storytelling and entrepreneurship.
The event will consist of four speakers, eight workshop leaders, two yoga instructors, and a panel that will give their perspectives on reimagining public health in a post-pandemic era. Ijeoma Oluo, writer, speaker, and internet yeller will be the keynote speaker for the festival. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race and Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America.
The finalists from the first open call for submissions will be announced during the festival. The finalists’ submissions will be featured in the first issue of the LIGHT journal that will be released in early 2023.
Register here to attend the LIGHT Festival.
The LIGHT Creative Writing in Public Health Summer Camp is a camp for 6th to 8th-grade students created to engage young learners in the art of creative writing in public health through letter writing, poetry, and storytelling. The camp will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 1-5, at SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice. Using their imagination and lived experiences in health, students will learn about the importance and power of using creativity in science and health. The students will create their own work that will be featured in the first issue of the LIGHT journal.
For more information about LIGHT, visit the website at light4ph.org.
College for Public Health and Social Justice
The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.
Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.