“When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ even illness becomes wellness.” — Malcolm X
For the last 25 years SHIRE’s work in the East of the River community has given living testimony to the wisdom of Malcolm X. We have been guided by a deep understanding that together we are so much stronger than we are as individuals. That has been the experience of African Americans in this nation over 400 years, and it is as true today as it has ever been.
SHIRE has demonstrated this truth in many ways. A few years ago, for example, SHIRE partnered with residents of a tenant-owned housing cooperative to address the lack of safe space for physical activity for their children. Partnering with SHIRE, the residents decided to develop a KaBoom® playground which was identified as an urgent need. The tenants designed and helped to construct the playground with the help of 300 volunteers, most of whom came from Wards 7 and 8.
Another indicator of SHIRE’s respect for the wisdom, skills and capabilities of community members is the fact that 50% of SHIRE‘s current staff comprises DC residents who were formerly participants in SHIRE’s programs. These individuals are valuable members of SHIRE‘s leadership team helping to design new projects and implement projects on the books. They have become experts in reaching individuals and encouraging them to join SHIRE projects, including Wellness Circles. They help program participants maintain their commitment to make lifestyle changes that will improve their health. SHIRE is convinced that there are no more effective communicators than persons who have shared similar life experiences and are committed to reach out and help their neighbors.
This year with the help of SHIRE’s community outreach team of peer educators, we have engaged persons living with diabetes and high blood pressure in virtual Wellness Circles in partnership with AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia. Wellness Circles provide an opportunity for individuals seeking to improve their health to receivethe support and encouragement of others dealing with the same challenges, while at the same time gaining information and other tools, they can use to take charge of their health. Again, SHIRE peer educators play a key role as a build relationship with the persons they have enrolled – answering their questions, listening to their concerns, and helping to motivate them and promote sustained participation. Wellness Circles illustrate dramatically the power of Malcolm X’s instruction: replacing “we” for “I” can helpindividuals to discover how “Illness becomes Wellness.”
The Wellness Circle model which SHIRE has now tested for nearly 2 decades provides a dramatic example of the power of community which can be transferred to many other situations. Engaging community members to help build communities of support for change can apply to persons with other chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or asthma; individuals with hearing or vision impairment; community members dealing with behavioral health challenges; and even non-health related issues such as money management or wealth building strategies.