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Message from Liben Gebremikael, Chair of the Alliance for Healthier Communities

Greetings everyone,
It is my pleasure to send this message as the new Chair of the Alliance of Healthier Communities. After serving on the Alliance Board as a vice-chair for the past year, I am honoured to take on this important position and I want to thank my predecessor, Claudia den Boer, for her leadership and commitment to advancing health equity through comprehensive primary health care.
As I was reflecting on this message, I remembered that in 2012, the Alliance for Healthier Communities conferred on me the Emerging Leader Award. I feel in a way that this will be a way of giving back. I am also finalizing this message at a time when the Alliance and I personally have lost a great leader - Denise Brooks. I heard that she was the instigator behind the award. I am forever indebted to her leadership, her personal mentorship and her contagious passion and energy. And so, I am hoping that my role will be another vehicle through which we can continue to advance further what has always been the foundational value of the community-governed primary health care sector - health equity - Denise's legacy. I ask and will rely on your usual support.
Health equity has been my guiding principles over the past 12 years and a half of working at TAIBU Community Health Centre in Toronto. As its first Executive Director, I've been privileged to build from scratch this unique CHC together with the Board of Directors, dedicated staff and the community. My journey before I joined TAIBU was in similar environments in the United Kingdom working in inter-disciplinary primary care services for homeless population, refugees and asylum seekers. I started as a front-line family support worker, social worker, then moved into mental health providing specialized cross-cultural services in various health and community settings including the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture. I was also involved in the start up of new projects such as a counselling service for refugees and asylum seekers and a national early years program for low income parents and neighborhoods.
I have completed my MA in Migration, Mental Health and Social Care at the University of Kent (my second post graduation). I have also had the opportunity of completing the Masters Certificate in Healthcare Management from Schulich School of Business and the Community Health Leadership Program at the Rotman School of Management.
My experience of gradual growth in the sector from front line to management, beyond preparing me for my position at TAIBU, has also engrained in me the importance of the work that we all do. And in my 12 years of working at a community health centre, I've witnessed over and over again Alliance members' leadership in primary health care and health equity.
Today, we continue to have opportunities ahead of us to demonstrate this leadership through addressing systemic anti-Indigenous and anti-Black Racism, the COVID-19 crisis and recovery, race-based and socio-demographic data collection and analysis, among other things. As we move forward, we will continue to bring about meaningful change to the diverse populations we serve by amplifying their voices and addressing numerous barriers they face.
The challenges ahead are numerous. We continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, the post-COVID recovery is becoming part of the conversation. The narrative around recovery presumes that communities will just return to the health and wellbeing that they were enjoying before COVID-19 disrupted it.
We know, of course, that is not the case for Indigenous, Black, other racialized and marginalized communities that Alliance members serve. What are they recovering back to? Disparaging health outcomes? Twice the national average unemployment rate? Continued over-representation in criminal justice, child welfare and mental health institutions? Continued brutal treatment by the police? How about Francophone communities? People with disabilities? Migrant agricultural workers? Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ communities? Those living on low incomes or isolated seniors in rural Ontario?
I hope that with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities and recent events in Canada, the United States and around the world, we can seize the opportunity to spearhead a long-term strategy to shift the needle a little further towards equity.
Over the past few years, the Alliance has undergone a number of changes and has laid a firm foundation for leading the strategy towards more equitable health outcomes for people and communities we serve. I would like to see a continued effort to acknowledge the barriers, inequities and injustices and listen to their voices without feeling that there are competing urgencies. The principles of equity demand that we start at the bottom and raise our communities up.
The future promises a lot of changes, both in the external environment and at the Alliance as we are preparing to say good-bye to Adrianna Tetley and welcome a new CEO to lead our organization. I am confident we will continue to capitalize on the opportunities being presented to advance our vision - the optimum health and wellbeing for everyone in Ontario.
Liben Gebremikael
Board Chair, Alliance for Healthier Communities
Monday, August 10, 2020