UMMA – Champions of Health
When UMMA was founded over twenty years ago, it was to meet the needs of a community that was traumatized and often left on the margins. UMMA was built in the center of the community so that residents would feel they had a safe space where they could go for healing. UMMA’s founding was the marriage of idealism, hope, social justice and reality.
In these times of uncertainty, our idealism and quest for social justice will not falter. As a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), I spend time in meeting after meeting trying to make sure that UMMA is at key tables so that we can be strong community advocates. I do this so I can be a voice, so that UMMA can be a voice for those too often left behind, or for those often afraid to rise up for fear of being knocked down. But, as a CEO, who nonetheless benefitted from Community Health Centers as a child, I must ensure that I remain grounded and know firsthand what the community wants. You cannot lead by always being at the front to point the direction. Leaders must also be servants.
This past week, I took time from my meetings to shadow clinic staff and hear directly from our patients. I went home exhausted, but invigorated. I heard patients note that they have been coming here for years because a family member or a friend originally recommended us to them. I heard from a mother of four who is doing the best that she can for her children, that she came here because she felt comfortable. She felt at home. One after the other, each patient noted that they came because we were here for them and that we are part of the fabric of their community.
In a city as vast as Los Angeles, it is easy for people to feel lost and not feel they are part of a community. But here at UMMA, that sense of community predominates. My heart swelled.
I met a family where two young brothers have big dreams. They want to be part of something bigger and they want to be part of the NFL. One noted, that if he cannot, then he would like to be an astronomer. Imagine that, a young man growing up in South Los Angeles wants to look up to the sky to catch some stars. We want to help him and others here in South Los Angeles achieve those dreams.
First we want to ensure that they are healthy and that their lifespans are robust, not predetermined by their zipcodes. Second, we want to make sure that we provide a safe space where people can share those dreams and know that they have champions here for them. Third, we are not just about healing the body. We provide numerous services including mental health care. Did you see the recent research out indicating there is an increase in the number of teenagers that are suffering from major depression? Specifically, the percentage of teenagers who reported a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. Sadly, and distressingly, that is a 37% increase. We cannot let this stand as is.
A little boy in the clinic asked if he was going to become a zombie. No, we told him and smiled. As he left the room, I told his mother, he is going to be somebody big someday. She too smiled, looked at him and thanked me. She saw that I believed that the world can truly be his. And why shouldn’t it? Just this morning I told my son that one day he will be the Mayor and he is already making plans for what his platform will be. Apparently, on day one he will order free ice cream for all. I choked up a little. I hope for that day. We will talk about cavities at a later time. For now I want him and all kids to in South Los Angeles to dream big, not just for themselves, but for the community. Join us in making their dreams come true.
UMMA remains steadfast in its mission despite all the uncertainties ahead. One thing we know for sure, we are here, we will remain here for the community and we will grow as needs dictate. We will be fierce advocates for those in need and those who may be afraid of the uncertainty that lies ahead.
We were born out of concerns for social justice. We will grow in the service of social justice.