Jessyca Dudley is a social sector leader working to implement practices that promote equity by creating responsible program strategies, evaluations, and trainings. Jessyca serves as the Director of Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy (CAAIP) and is also an Associate Director at Arabella Advisors. Prior to joining CAAIP and Arabella, Jessyca worked at the Joyce Foundation, where she developed grant-making and advocacy strategies to reduce gun deaths and injury in the United States. Jessyca also held positions with the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Chicago. With these organizations, she has developed and implemented community-based prevention and outreach programs and conducted clinical and social science research to improve the health of communities in Chicago. Jessyca holds an MPH in maternal and child health from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a BA in women’s studies from Skidmore College.
Q: Where did you see the greatest health inequities when you started your work? How did these disparities affect the communities that you serve?
A: As I began my work, I saw health inequities as the consequence of racial and residential segregation that leads to differential outcomes for people and communities across our region. Racial segregation has and continues to determine access to care, education and economic opportunities that affect health.
As a researcher and community health educator I partnered with community organizations to help create effective public health campaigns and programs to address the inequitable access to reproductive and maternal healthcare that communities in our city face. These inequities impact the ability of women in Chicago and elsewhere to receive the appropriate and necessary care to prevent preterm labor, infections, and death during pregnancy. It also prevents everyone from receiving education about reproductive health and the services they desire to live healthy lives.
Q: What do you view as the greatest need now? How do you incorporate health equity in the work you do?
A: I see a great need to shift resources to women of color who are driving social change and building healthily communities. For too long, people who are directly impacted by health disparities have been left out of the conversation and gone without funding and access to resources to support the efforts that they have developed to address health inequities – efforts that are effective, community-driven, and solutions oriented. Through my work developing strategies and tools to improve the effectiveness of grant programs I am working to embed equity in new approaches that that center those who are most impacted by health inequities, validates their experiences as meaningful, and acknowledges their roles as stakeholders and leaders in the fight for change.
Q: What direction do you think health equity work needs to take to achieve health for all?
A: We need to center those who are most impacted by inequities in our work, not simply by elevating their voices, but by handing over the tools and opportunities to lead change. We cannot continue to develop policies, practices, and programs for people without their involvement. We must acknowledge the historical and on-going impact of racism in our approach to healthcare and begin a process of healing that dismantles intuitional, systematic, and interpersonal racism.
Q: How can other hidden figures collaborate to amplify their impact on health equity?
A: Building connection is key, we are better able to advance health equity when we are willing to work together and build collectively.
Q: What does being recognized as a Health Equity Hidden Figure mean to you? Who are your Hidden Figures?
A: It is a pleasure and an honor to be included among this group of hidden figures who are taking action to advance health equity. I have a long list of collaborators, mentors, and fellow instigators that are hidden figures – including Janine Hill, former Executive Director at EverThrive Illinois, Wesley Epplin, Director of Health Equity at Health & Medicine Policy Research Group and the incredible leaders that I have the joy of working alongside as a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Fellowship.