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October 2019
ChicagoCHEC 4th Annual Community Forum 2019
On Friday, September 27th ChicagoCHEC proudly hosted its 4th annual Community Forum at Truman College. This year's forum theme was Navigating the Cancer Journey: with Resources for Early Detection to Survivorship. Over 16 organizations and around 200 community members were in attendance. Illinois State Representative Theresa Mah provided an insightful keynote speech around equality, equity, and opportunity.
SPARC 2019 Feinberg
CHET teammates attended SPARC 2019 (Students for Patient Advocacy and Research in the Community) on September 14th, 2019. Feinberg students hosted an interactive conference where health providers, students, community leaders, and organizations in Chicago shared their perspectives and goals when working with the community. 
Northwestern University Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Training Program (NU-MHRT)
Hidden Figures Spotlight
Health Equity exists in every sector, yet it is often difficult to stay informed about all the incredible work impacting this topic. With the goal to elevate the work of health equity champions across traditional boundaries, each month, Voices will be featuring individuals and/or organizations advancing health equity work in and around the Chicagoland area who, at times, may be unsung to the greater community. 
Brenda Reyes, RN, CLC

Brenda Reyes is a bilingual registered nurse and certified lactation counselor. As the Specialist Lead for Peer Lactation Services  for HealthConnect One (HC One), she has over 18 years of experience working with diverse organizations to create and implement peer support programs for new moms and families. Her work engages communities every step of the way. In 2011–2012, Brenda worked on Communities Putting Prevention to Work and on Chicago’s Healthy Places Initiative, and formed part of the team which developed the Hospital Breastfeeding Toolkit for Illinois’ State Perinatal Breastfeeding Quality Improvement Project. Currently, she serves as HC One’s representative to the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC). She is also an elected board member of USBC and the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Support Providers of Color. She participated in the Center for Social Inclusion’s National First Food Racial Equity Cohort;  served as a work group expert panel member of the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) for the United States; and she is an Expert Panel Member for Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). She is a frequent speaker on breastfeeding, maternal and child health, health equity, and supporting Latino of families. 

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: When I began my work, I began to see how systems, policies, and institutions contributed to the health inequities. It was clear to me that a family’s decision around breastfeeding or a family being able to provide human milk in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) depended on so many factors such as social determinants of health, healthcare provider bias, culturally relevant care in their language, maternity care practices, hospital practices, paid leave, being able to pump at work/school and the availability of continuity of support from a trusted breastfeeding peer counselor just to name a few.

These disparities impact our health during our life span and the quality of our life. Breastfeeding/chest feeding and human milk have tremendous impact on the health outcomes that have been linked to decrease diarrhea, diabetes, obesity, breast and cervical cancer, reduction in SIDS and increases bonding and parent attachment. These benefits not only impact how long our children live but the quality of their life. Given some of disparities our communities face we can really benefit from breastfeeding and human milk as a protective factor.

Q: What do you view as the greatest need now? How do you incorporate health equity in the work you do?
A: The allocation of resources and investments in grassroots community lead initiatives along with policy, system and institutional changes that promote, support and protect breastfeeding, for the wellbeing of families and children is imperative. 

Through HealthConnect One (HC One), we train and consult with organizations serving underserved communities to address maternal and child health inequities.  We have our set of values, mission and vision that guide our work around birth equity. In addition, there are Five Essential Components of the Community-Based Doula/Peer Counselor Model that address equity in our work: Employ women who are trusted members of the target community; Extend and intensify the role of doula with families from early pregnancy through the first months postpartum; Collaborate with community stakeholders/institutions and use a diverse team approach; Facilitate experiential learning using popular education techniques and the HC One training curriculum; Value the doulas’/peer counselors work with salary, supervision and support. All these components support the implementation of equity in my work.

Q: What direction do you think health equity work needs to take to achieve health for all?
A: We need to center the voices and people who are mostly impacted by inequities. We cannot continue to develop policies and programs without the people it’s trying to serve or impact. Institutions need to acknowledge that impact of systemic and institutional racism and how this is a barrier for health equity.  We need to value the lived experience grassroots leaders and be willing to invest and follow the lead of people impacted by inequities.

Q: How can other hidden figures collaborate to amplify their impact on health equity?
A: First acknowledging that there are many hidden figures in our communities that are willing and are collaborating collectively for change. There are many leaders who have been advocating for health and racial equity in their communities collectively. I think institutions and systems can do more to collaborate with community members. Making sure that we include people, truly listen, share power and compensate people for their expertise and time.

Q: What does being recognized as a Health Equity Hidden Figure mean to you? Who are your Hidden Figures?​
A: I feel gratitude to be included, appreciated and acknowledged. I know that other people have paved the way for me stand where I do and that it has not been easy and that it has not come without sacrifice.
I have an infinite list of collective people that have been my hidden figures: All the community-based breastfeeding peer counselors, community-based doulas, HealthConnect One Staff, Birth Equity Leadership Academy Leaders; Center for Social Inclusion/Race Forward First Food Racial Equity Cohort; My doulas: Lucia Robles-Pelayo, Sandra Morales; Gladys Arana; Chicago Birth Weavers Collective;  National Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color Members; My grandmother’s; mother, aunties, sisters and women in my community who strive to provide the best they can for their families and communities.
CHET is on social media!
You can now stay up-to-date with the Center for Health Equity Transformation online. 
New Episode out now!

Check out our latest episode of SkinnyTrees where we wrap up an eventful summer with the 2019 cohort of the ChicagoCHEC Research Fellows. Listen here.
Hidden Figures author, Margot Lee Shetterly to keynote conversation on Thursday, October 17, 2019 at Northwestern University. See event details here. For more information email: One Book One Northwestern at
Allowing Residents of Chicago a Chance for a New Start
During the month of October the Office of the City Clerk is announcing reforms to create a more equitable Chicago. Learn more about the City Sticker Amnesty Month and Reduced Term City Stickers. Share with your networks!
CHET's monthly newsletter, Voices, provides up-to-date information on local and national initiatives, highlighting health equity research, resources, funding opportunities, and events.  If you would like to have your work or event featured in Voices please email

Continue the Dialogue

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The Center for Health Equity Transformation is a joint center between the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and
the Institute for Public Health and Medicine.

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