A Conversation with the Colorado Black Health Collaborative

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I recently sat down with Thelma Craig and Dr. Terri Richardson, MD, Chair and Vice Chair, respectively, of the Colorado Black Health Collaborative to talk about the role of CBHC, how OMNI works alongside them, the importance of research and evaluation for their success, and how it has impacted their work in the Black Community. Below is our lightly edited conversation:

(BSD) How did CBHC get started?

(Terri) We started out in 2008, at that time we were just a planning group in the Office of Health Disparities at the state. They were planning a meeting for different racial and ethnic groups and Thelma and I and some others were on the committee to plan a one-time event. After the event the community said we’re tired of people coming out, getting what they need, and going away. We want the process to continue. So CBHC was born with the mission of achieving health equity in Colorado’s Black Community.

(BSD) Tell me about the work the Colorado Black Health Collaborative is doing with OMNI and how that relationship started.

(Terri) In 2014, one of our partners encouraged us to apply for a federal Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they recommended we work with the OMNI Institute. It was great because we knew the community side, and we’d done a little bit of community-based research but we didn’t know about evaluation. We had a nice connection from the beginning because we each had a role and we had something we could learn from each other. So, we put the grant together and lo and behold we got the grant!

(Thelma) They’re not just about technical assistance, they are actually hands on. OMNI comes to our activities, they are there when we need them, they come and present the evaluation data to our stakeholders and constituents with knowledge and care.

(Terri) OMNI also participated in several cultural competency trainings. We want to make sure that our coalition members and people working with us experience some of the work we were doing. So, there were opportunities on both sides for us to learn and grow with some of those experiences.

(BSD) What is CBHC working on with OMNI now?

(Thelma) Now we’re focusing on Tobacco, the project is called “Tackling Menthol in the Black Community,” which is funded by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

(Terri) The purpose is to educate the community around the fact that menthol and other flavored products are being marketed to the Black Community and young people. OMNI is helping us develop the logic model and they are helping us with some of the survey design as we look at surveying the community to look at usage patterns and also using focus groups to get smokers’ and non-smokers’ perception on menthol and the impact on the community.

(Thelma) They helped design the logic model and by doing that they had to really ask us the questions so that really helped us to see the process ourselves. They really are instrumental in helping us track what we are doing, and understand what we are doing, so we can convey to the community what we’re doing. 

(BSD) You mentioned having OMNI participate in your cultural competency trainings. What does it mean to you to know that your partner is committed to participate fully, rather than saying, “that’s your stuff, we don’t need to do that”?

(Thelma) That seals it for me. It tells me that they really want to understand. They really want to know so they can be effective in providing the services that we need.

(Terri) Their willingness to be engaged with us, I think they really immerse themselves. They didn’t say, “well, we’re just the evaluators” you know; they wanted to know who we are.

(Thelma) OMNI showed a lot of respect for the work we are doing. They try to be respectful because it’s not just about numbers and compiling data, it’s about people. They are humble in their approach as they try to understand something, they ask when they don’t know.

(BSD) We’re talking during Black History Month. I’m wondering if we can dig into what it means for the Black Community to have evaluation on the programs that you’re doing and what role research and evaluation work has played for programs specifically working with the Black Community.

(Thelma) Historically, there is a lot of mistrust in the Black Community [about research], because [researchers] didn’t inform the participants up front, they didn’t always operate with integrity—so, it’s a real sensitive issue in the Black Community. It caused great harm in the past, especially some of the scientific studies like the [Tuskegee] syphilis experiment. So, there is a sensitivity when people are approached to take a survey or join a focus groups, there is a caution in the community. But when you get a trusted organization, we believe we have our fingers on the pulse, we think the community trusts [CBHC], and so we’re doing research and evaluation. But that trust is really valuable and important to have.

(Terri) When we started the work, even before we connected with OMNI we heard that a lot of community based organizations, they do the work, but they don’t evaluate or collect data. If you’re trying to apply for grants, if you’re trying to show communities what you’re doing that’s the very thing that you need. You think: we don’t have a lot of money, and we don’t have time to worry about evaluation we just need to do the work; but you really can’t do the work and sustain the work unless you have the evaluation to measure the impact of what you’re doing.

(BSD) Thank you both for taking the time to talk about the Colorado Black Health Collaborative.