“Perspectives in Black Health” is a short film featuring Pastor Barry Settle, Dr. Columbus Batiste, Joyce Clarke, Antoinette “Toni” Harris, Angela Lewis and Michelle Burroughs (Image via Center for Healthy Communities).

Breanna Reeves |

In response to the accumulating data related to COVID-19 over the last two years, government agencies and news headlines have often characterized Black communities as being “disproportionately impacted” or at the center of “health disparities.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled a host of longstanding disproportionalities and health inequity, Michelle Burroughs, Director of Community Engagement and Outreach for the Center for Healthy Communities at the University of California, Riverside, is ready to disrupt that narrative of Black communities in the Inland Empire.

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“There’s going to be something to always come up, but we don’t need to always be disproportionately impacted,” Burroughs explained. With the COVID-19 pandemic and now the growing spread of monkeypox, Burroughs stated that health is a priority now more than ever.

To address health consciousness and health equity in the Black community, Burroughs had the idea to develop a short film called “Perspectives in Black Health.” The public service announcement was directed by Los Angeles Director Emily Dell and filmed by Ezra Productions. The short film features community leaders, health advocates and physicians who encourage the community to make their health a priority by becoming active participants.

The film initially set out to focus only on COVID-19, but Burroughs and her team realized that “it’s much more than COVID. We need to impact the entire narrative” around health. Burroughs decided to shift the film’s focus to addressing and prioritizing all aspects of health as it impacts the Black community in the inland region such as learning how to advocate for yourself and asking doctors questions about their health.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and now the growing spread of monkeypox, health is a priority now more than ever according to Michelle Burroughs, Director of Community Engagement and Outreach for the Center for Healthy Communities at the University of California, Riverside. (profiles.ucr.edu).

“Perspectives in Black Health” features local leaders like Pastor Barry Settle of Allen Chapel AME, community researcher and advocate Joyce Clark and Dr. Columbus Batiste, Chief of Cardiology at Kaiser Permanente Riverside and Moreno Valley Medical Centers. The film also includes female footballer Antoinette “Toni” Harris and actress Angela Lewis, who is also a maternal health advocate.

Following the viewing, the audience participated in a short discussion which included engaging with local physicians and stakeholders to discuss how to share the film with the community and deliver a call to action.

“We work for you. You are the CEO of your body,” Dr. Batiste said during the exclusive viewing of the short film. He encouraged attendees to treat seeing a doctor like speed dating and to have questions prepared beforehand to ensure that doctors will answer them. 

Community members submitted anonymous comments and questions about the film and said what resonated with them. One anonymous question asked, “How do we mobilize our community to trust our healthcare providers and vaccinations more?”

Burroughs hopes that sharing the film with the community and stakeholders will not only encourage people to take charge of their health by becoming active participants, but she also hopes it will change the narrative from emphasizing health disparities and disproportionality to highlighting how the Black community can forge health equity and empowerment. 

(From left to right) Joyce Clark, Pastor Barry Settle, Michelle Burroughs, Emily Dell and Dr. Columbus Batiste pose for a photograph after the conclusion of their short film, “Perspectives in Black Health” on August 11, 2022 (Image by Breanna Reeves).

Burroughs emphasized that the community needs to take accountability for their health because “no one is going to save us.”

Some community leaders who share Burroughs’ mission to educate and empower community members have already launched similar campaigns, like the local Black religious leaders and community health partners who developed the “Pastors Toolkit” to help educate their communities and combat COVID-19 misinformation or local organizations who partnered with churches to provide mental health resources.

During the discussion, other community members asked what’s next after the short film. Burroughs and her team at the Center for Healthy Communities are preparing to launch a “Stop COVID-19 in the Black Community Long Haul COVID-19” Town Hall Series for community members that will focus on different health topics.

For those interested in learning more about the upcoming town hall series, they can register their interest by completing this online form.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.