By Thomas Bunn
For the last 5 weeks at our beloved Roger’s Park, a powerful amalgamation of bright, effervescent youth, from at-risk communities throughout Los Angeles, received the chance of a lifetime. After demonstrating leadership qualities, and an interest in both health awareness, 15 young men were hand selected and provided an opportunity to become advocates of health in their communities. They were given the opportunity to be part of the 2014 SJLI Urban Health Fellowship.
The Urban Health Fellowship is a 5-week hands-on preventative health program and internship, focused on achieving optimal health, preventing chronic disease and exposing high school male students to careers in the health field.
How will your participation further your personal and professional goals? What makes you a leader? Why should we select you for this program? These are the types of questions asked to a host of high school males ages 14-19.
Health Equity Programs Director Derek Steele said, “We conducted community outreach about the 2014 Urban Health Fellowship this past spring and received applications from all over LA county. This program is for every young man, system involved or not, with GPA’s from 0.9 to 4.0. Everyone deserves an opportunity.”
Anyone in their right mind would ask, well, how in the world does anyone plan to control 15 boys with different personalities, and backgrounds in one space, for four hours everyday? Being part of the fellowship meant that the students had to be committed not only to the program, but to their fellow brothers. Tardiness was enforced with push-ups and sit-ups, emphasizing that lateness is not accepted in any of the respected fields the boys chose as a career path. However, push-ups and sit-ups were just a small portion of the exercise required for the young men to perform everyday.
The program worked in collaboration with local fitness studio Branded Body Fitness run by Brandy Randolph who had the boys perform fitness tests during Week 1 and tracked their improvements as the weeks progressed.
Everyday the Urban Health Fellows were privileged with an in-house chef who prepared simple, healthy, and delicious meals for them, using fresh ingredients, and providing an open discussion about the role each ingredient plays in the body.
Academic Support Coordinator, Molly Katz said, “They didn’t only learn how to become a doctor or nurse, they received hands on experience in EMT training, and in the blood transfusion, microbiology, and pathology labs at UCLA. These are opportunities that they can take advantage of out of high school…”
The fellows culminated the 5-week program at Roger’s Park August 1, 2014 with presentations on “Careers in the Medical Industry”, and “Chronic Diseases in Urban Communities” in front of family, friends, and community members. The students presented a PSA they wrote, produced, and directed, that gave the audience a few laughs while making the case for the importance of living healthy lifestyles.
Urban Health Fellow, Lee Greenwood said, “It was very insightful and a great investment to everyone who learned. I think one day when I’m older I can save someone’s life.”
“I’ve gotten to know and meet so many new people. I feel like I have gained independence in my own life. Even though I get tired of bussing here and home, I like coming to this and I know it will help me in my future to become a doctor,” Brandon Ball said.
“I thought about all the things we did in the past month. I think this program has given me positive things to do with my life and time and I really appreciate everyone that attended it,” said Bryant Glover.
As part of the support staff for the 5-week fellowship, I witnessed a change in the young men as they walked off the stage, as 2014 Urban Health Fellows. All the push-ups, sit ups, community assessments, Heimlich thrusts during CPR training, professional development courses, and conversations about solutions to problems in our community, coalesced into an experience that these young men will treasure for the rest of their lives.
At the end of each day, a fellow would volunteer to lead the group in closing out the session by chanting, “Brotherhood!” On the last day of the program, that volume increased, the passion spewed, family and friends drew their attention to the boys, and the fellows erupted into the loudest, proudest, and vehement response, of the 5 weeks, “We stand together.”