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Public health initiative looks to uplift ABQ's historically underserved communities

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Communities of color have long been underserved here in New Mexico––an issue only highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a new initiative launched by the New Mexico Black Leadership Council looks to change this by connecting them more easily to essential services.

KUNM spoke with Executive Director Cathryn McGill to chat about the UpLIFT Initiative and how it will address the racism and lack of infrastructure that plague our most vulnerable areas.

CATHRYN MCGILL: This is a public health outreach and education campaign that focuses on the black communities in New Mexico, and specifically on the International District, as historically excluded communities that we're working very hard to make sure that people have the understanding of the temporary aid that is out there to help us negotiate, navigate this pandemic that's been a mean and cruel season for the past couple of years. So, how do we get on the other side of it? And how do we also take a look at the fact that the issues that we've been facing in our communities predate the pandemic. We have to build infrastructure for that simultaneously, while trying to work on helping people get through it.

KUNM: You do make it a point to say that the goal is to throw aid and resources in areas that have historically been underserved. Give me more information on this "Uplift Initiative Resilience Portal" that can be found on your site. What can we expect to be there?

MCGILL: So, you can expect there to be information on there about the COVID-19 vaccine, confidence instead of hesitance. We talk about confidence. How can we make people understand that the vaccine is for us, it's about us, and we need it. And that COVID is not over. You'll find information about workforce information, emergency rental assistance, housing stability, mental health resources, broadband relief, and the affordable connectivity program, and educational resources. So, we try to make a one-stop-shop. Instead of people having to go to 10 websites, we create a portal that would get people to where they need to go. And we'd also have to do a little bit of navigation when people reach our site by saying, "Oh, live chat, you're here. How can we help you?"

KUNM: Albuquerque’s International District, as you said, has been flagged as an area you'd like to build a database of housing. Why is it important to put together resources like this in one of New Mexico's most ethnically diverse areas, and also most populous?

MCGILL: I would say that because there's been so much disinvestment in the community. And, you know, there's a narrative that, "oh, this is a dangerous place, you know, don't come here." I live here. So many wonderful people live here. And what we need to do is focus our attention and interest on what is going to create long term resiliency, as opposed to continuing to do transactional and discreet activities that won't ever get us to the transformation that we're seeking. We're saying, let's change the paradigm, let's re-contextualize how we engage with the community. It's so important because it is the most populous and the most diverse, and we feel like what we do here could be replicable. If we can make it here. We can make it anywhere.

KUNM: And lastly, you've got an open house scheduled for Tuesday. What's that about?

MCGILL: We'll have all of the stuff that we're talking about with UpLIFT, sort of on display in terms of here's our idea. Here's our big concept. Here's our big picture. And we want people to come and say: "You know what? I like that I want to fit in here. I like that. I'd like to volunteer. I'd like to connect with you in this way." Because really, this whole thing hinges on relationships. If we can figure out how to talk to each other, how to use critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. I know that we can change the game and will not be having the same conversations that we've been having for the past 20 [years], for the next 20.

The New Mexico Black Leadership Council will host an open house to launch the UpLift Initative on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, 4 to 6:30 pm, 1258 Ortiz SE. The event will feature actress Regina Taylor.

Bryce Dix is our new local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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