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Jeralyn Richardson on Transforming Community for Public Health

Jeralyn headshot in an yellow template

Jeralyn Richardson–who has been leading the DSI’s Jump-Start program for the past three years–is using her background in public health to bring necessary change to communities amidst a pandemic and beyond. 

With a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s of public health, Jeralyn got her start serving the working poor at a public health non-profit in Memphis, TN. Her work was focused on identifying societal factors that impact the health of a population,  using that knowledge to shift behaviors and marketing tactics to serve the masses. She worked in this field for about seven years before applying to DSI, urged on by the realization that issues disproportionately affecting lower class communities have as much–if not more–to do with systemic failures than genetic predispositions. This fact is not widely addressed in the field of public health. Available funding and support for agencies that do address these issues fluctuates depending on the “political agendas of the day”, often leaving communities-in-need behind whenever the conversation shifts.

When she came to DSI with this knowledge, Jeralyn was seeking ways to boost sustainability and creative problem-solving in the public health field. As a student she interned with RWJBarnabas Health, specifically focused on looking at health as a holistic process that engaged community design practices. Here, she spent more time focusing on health-related factors that occur before a person falls ill, including but not limited to: livable wage work, adequate housing, access to nutritional food, and general food access. This experience, along with the worldview she cultivated with the help of her peers from all over the globe, helped her understand and unpack public health as it relates to community resilience and resource access.

“Something we need to understand as designers is that we’re not coming into the work as the experts, the communities we serve are the experts.Often, solutions came from community members themselves, and I as a designer was just there to help them identify the ailments and their root causes.”  – Jeralyn Richardson (DSI ‘18)

Jeralyn’s viewpoint serves her well in her daily work as a communications strategist bridging the research and creative teams at Banyan: a cause-driven creative agency whose work is intended to make an impact in the world. The company believes that the majority of problems existing today can be addressed, mitigated, or prevented through human behavior. Human health and well-being, access to care, and our ability to feel safe and thrive are all problems they aim to tackle. 

Her goals were similar to her previous job at the Center for Transforming Communities: a community development organization identifying and challenging the failures of institutions and systems to advance a public health agenda. She and her coworkers focused on activating resident power, and working with them on developing the skill sets needed to self-advocate. Their hope is that the organization will not be needed anymore, and communities can get the support they need on their own. 

Jeralyn came into DSI without a background in design. She was able to thrive in the program by accepting the fluidity and creative process of the work. She suggests that incoming students do the same: “Anyone coming to DSI should use the opportunity as a blank slate–you just have to let things go, use your intuition, and don’t let your expectations get in the way.”

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