The Time Is Now: Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship

  ·  Health Policy Hub   ·   Alexis Major

Photo credit: Community Catalyst

Two years ago today, Rob Restuccia, the founding and longtime executive director of Community Catalyst and, before that, Health Care For All, reflected on his life's work and faith in the future in this powerful op-ed published in The Boston Globe on February 25, 2019. Rob passed away six days later from pancreatic cancer. In the op-ed, Rob wrote: "Though I will not live to see it, I am convinced the march toward universal, affordable, equitable, quality health care is unstoppable. The next generation of advocacy leaders will continue the work I leave unfinished." Rob's affirmation of faith that we can and must make progress resonates with me and, I'm sure, with many of you today.

Faith. It can take a strong will – the kind of will Rob always embodied throughout his life and to the very end – to keep our faith and keep fighting for change. Rob understood the importance of the fight and the need to share power. He believed advocates play a critical role in uplifting the voices of consumers to share their "stories of hardships and then translate their experiences into compelling arguments for changing the system." In his final months, as Rob became at peace with the terminal nature of his disease, he envisioned the Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship (The Fellowship) program, building out his vision in conversations with some of his family, friends, and closest professional colleagues.

Rob believed that if we equipped diverse teams within local, state, and national health advocacy organizations with the tools, resources, and teamwork to transform their organizations, our collective work would be multiplied. As I reflect on 2020 and what is to come, I feel inspired, and I am in awe. Rob knew before his passing that the work of health advocates would continue, and although no one could have predicted the last year and a half, I could not feel more strongly that the timing for this Fellowship is now!

As the nation mourns the deaths of over half a million people and rising due to COVID-19, and the racial inequities laid bare by the pandemic, many also mourn the continued visibility and impacts of racism. Racism in America remains evident in our health care system, in our policies, systems, and institutions. Still, I remain hopeful and optimistic, and like many of you, who perhaps once thought that our work was done or that you could stop and take a breath, realize now more than ever that our work has just begun.

Investing in diverse community leadership is essential to progress. This Fellowship is designed to deepen that commitment, with an emphasis on supporting Black and brown health justice advocates' leadership. It is very much what Rob originally envisioned, coupled with the expressed needs from local, state, and national advocacy partners of Community Catalyst who provided input during the developmental phase. The Fellowship will provide general operating support, resources, and guidance to organizations to implement an organizational transformation that they seek, like developing a strategic plan, launching a capital campaign, board development, recruiting, and retaining a more diverse staff team, to name a few. The Fellowship will encourage organizations to think big picture and longer-term – something many groups expressed having minimal time to do, given immediate priorities. It is a chance to plan and strengthen their existing foundation or build one for the first time, but this time with support.

What makes the Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship different from other fellowships and leadership development programs is that it sits at the intersection of health equity, racial justice, organizational transformation, and teamwork. Its focus on teams of organizational leaders, rather than a single leader, is both unique and meant to accelerate and sustain organizational change.

For the last few months, since beginning in my position as Program Manager of the Fellowship, I have shared this vision, hope, and possibility with others. As I share with you today, I remain moved, inspired, and my skin reacts with goosebumps to the work, possibility, and partnership ahead.

And though Rob may not be here with us today, I am lifting his commitment to social and racial justice; I lift his ability to see the humanity in others, I lift him.

So, I ask you to join me in three ways; first, this spring, be on the lookout for announcements made about The Fellowship. Second, on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, the second anniversary of Rob's passing, I ask that we do what Rob would have wanted: He would have said, "don't mourn, organize." So, together we will celebrate his life, all that he accomplished so successfully, and we will celebrate the work of advocates. Finally, be inspired and feel renewed as we push towards collective change that we seek – like structural change within the health care system that will make it more equitable and racially just.

Together.

Alexis Major, Program Manager, Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship