Shine a LIGHT | covid-19

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.

“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.”

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 summer camp for children.

The summer camp will have free scholarships.

“In our field, the way people communicate is through peer-reviewed journals,” Iwelunmor said. “When we talk about open access, the public oftentimes don’t have access to these journals, so we want to meet people where they are.”

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 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.

“Their work—fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, letters, and other literary works—will push the margins of public health,” said Engelhart.

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.

“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 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.

“In addition to creating that platform to connect both the public and researchers, there will be a learning opportunity where people will see there are other ways to communicate health information, or scientific jargon, such as art that can convey lived experiences,” Chisom Obiezu -Umeh, Ph.D. student and project manager for LIGHT, said.

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.

“I think this could be a learning opportunity for people outside of public health for even people inside of public health to see that there are more creative ways to deliver this information,” Obiezu-Umeh said.

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’s best.

An open call for submissions for the second issue of this journal will start in August.

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