Sonya Grant-White, field coordinator for Community Action Against Asthma, which conducts community-based participatory research projects on air quality it Detroit, believes that a clean environment and better health outcomes for children are more important today than ever before. With passion and commitment, she says that no child should have to live next to a landfill, incinerator, factory or highway and breath unhealthy air.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Community Action Against Asthma Field Coordinator Sonya Grant-White
: For me, being a leader means that it is important to model the same compassion, respect, and responsibility that I hope to see in others. I value the importance of learning how to inspire others, and I draw my inspiration from the strength and courage that I see in their lives. I think that’s why I continue to do the work that I do. I am continuously inspired by others no matter their circumstance, socioeconomic status, or education. It brings me more joy and love than anything. It’s my incessant catalyst.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is that they can live healthier lives. The importance of clean air, clean environment, and better health outcomes has never been more significant than it is now. No child should ever have to live next door to a landfill, an incinerator, a factory, or so close to a highway that the fumes from car exhaust permeate every single breath that they take. My dream is that these issues are no longer issues and are instead a memory of our past because improving our environment is imperative to the future for all human life.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I’m huge advocate for taking a collective approach to improving the quality of life for communities. There has to be a greater
No child should ever have to live next door to a landfill, an incinerator, a factory, or so close to a highway that the fumes from car exhaust permeate every single breath that they take.
willingness within organizations and among community leaders, funders and government to work together instead of competing over perpetually shrinking funding. Greater impacts can come from larger more strategic collaborations.
How do you know you’re making progress?
That’s simple; progress in our work is evidenced in better health outcomes for families and children. Each time we implement a project we see that people are more educated and definitely more engaged in improving their own health and the health of their children. We use Community Environmental Specialists (CES) to provide educational materials and help families to build their own capacity around health issues. This strategy has been extremely successful because our staff has been able to build rapport with families who often are very apprehensive about research.
Our families learn that research can help improve their quality of life both today and for future generations. This progress is significant because when you work with vulnerable populations, there are so many barriers that impact your work and these often keep people from getting the help that they need.
In the past, people were extremely resistant and skeptical about participating in our project, but over the years we have seen our project participation increase and often have people calling us asking when there will be a new project.
What are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of the partnership we have built. Our partnership was formed back in 1998 and we still have many of the same members. Our membership is diverse and includes community-based organizations in east and southwest Detroit and in Dearborn, health and human service agencies in Detroit, and various representatives from the university.
As a community-based participatory partnership we take great efforts to ensure that our work and its resources are shared,
Each time we implement a project we see that people are more educated and definitely more engaged in improving their own health and the health of their children.
developed, and implemented in the communities that we work. It’s the strength of the partnership that consistently helps to guide our work. We always seek to leave the community in a better place. One particular way we do that is through hiring and training people from the communities where we are working. This creates opportunities, develops skills, and provides jobs for its residents. Now, that’s something that gives me a great deal of pride.
Reflecting on your career, what would you say was your greatest professional learning experience?
I think one of my greatest professional learning experiences was when I was able to recognize and accept that there are no real failures in the work that we do. From every project to every family that we come into contact with we touch the life of that family in some way. So while we experience challenges in the work we do and we don’t always get the outcomes that we expect, we are always able to leave our families with positive experiences, resources, and knowledge that they may not have received. From that, we take lessons learned and improve upon the work we do to ensure that we are able to provide the best possible to the communities that we serve.