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How a Culture of Health Saved My Life

Why do you want to be a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader?

Poised and prepared, I thought thoroughly about the National Advisory Committee's question before answering. It was June 8, 2016 and I was in Washington DC for an interview to join the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) inaugural cohort of the Culture of Health Leaders Fellowship Program. I had no idea what the fellowship program would be like, or how the next 3 years of my life would unfold, but what I knew for sure, was that something exciting was happening at RWJF and in the Nation, and I wanted to be a part of it!

After being accepted into the Fellowship, many colleagues told me that this would be a life changing experience for me. At the time, my life was pretty routine; I lived my life going through the motions, checking off items on my ever growing to-do list and ignorantly believing I had it all figured out. At the time, self-care was a myth; I had a gym membership that was severely under-utilized, I went to Church just because I was expected to, and my identity was solely based on my 9-5. So when people told me that this would be a life changing experience for me, I figured they meant that this would catapult my career to new heights, which it did; but what I didn't know, was that being a Culture of Health Leader (COHL) would literally save my life.

I wanted to be a COHL so that I could work with and learn from professionals and leaders in different sectors to collaboratively build a culture of health in our nation - this was my response to the National Advisory Committee in the Summer of 2016. What I now know is that building a culture of health required this cohort of diverse leaders to build each other up first.

Our cohort was filled with community organizers, researchers, architects, creatives, practitioners and educators; despite our diverse backgrounds we acknowledged, appreciated, respected, and valued our differences. Something special would happen each time we came together. Being in a room with these folks caused me to realize that I had placed my emotional, physical and spiritual health on the back burner, and that needed to change. My cohort held me accountable, they loved on me through my rough days and they supported me through my exhausting months. To this group, stress, burn-out, and putting work before life, were simply not acceptable ways of living. How can we build a culture of health if we can't even keep each other healthy? This became our unspoken truth.

Today, I build self-care into my daily schedule, I check in on my colleagues in my cohort who have now become family, I proudly acknowledge my intersectionalities and wear each of my identities when I walk into any room whether it's a board room or happy hour, I found a new Church home that speaks to my spirit, and I've made some bold career choices that I otherwise would not have had the courage to pursue. As I reflect, I'm not really sure where I would be today if not for this special group of 40 leaders who wanted to create a culture of health.

So keep an eye out for us, we are only just getting started. We'll be the ones who dare to speak out and show up, who dare to go against the status quo and challenge systems, and who dare to hold you accountable for the impact of your actions irrespective of what your intentions were. Why? Because the health of our nation for future generations is depending on us.

With Gratitude,