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Jeralyn Richardson on Transforming Community for Public Health

Jeralyn headshot in an yellow template

Jeralyn Richardson–who has helped lead our Jump-Start program for the past two 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. While there, her work was focused on identifying societal factors that impact the health of a population, and 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 often had as much–if not more–to do with systemic failures than it did their genetic predispositions. This fact is not widely addressed in the field of public health, and available funding and support for agencies that do address these issues often 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 to the public health field. As a student she interned with RWJBarnabas Health, which was specifically focused on looking at health as a holistic process that engaged community design practices. Here, she spent more time focusing on health 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, combined with the worldview she was able to cultivate 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” Jeralyn said on her learnings from DSI. “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.”

This viewpoint has served her well in her current work with the Center for Transforming Communities: a community development organization that is identifying and challenging the failures of institutions and systems to advance a public health agenda. She and her coworkers do this work by 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. 

Though 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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