« December 2018 Issue

From South Carolina to Obama Administration, 20 Years of Advocacy with Community Catalyst

By: Anton Gunn, Board Member, Community Catalyst


In a way, I joined the Community Catalyst family before Community Catalyst even existed.

When I was in my twenties, I worked as a community organizer for South Carolina Fair Share, a multi-issue grassroots advocacy organization that educated constituents and advanced public policy to improve the health and well-being of South Carolinians.

Community Catalyst Board Member, Anton Gunn, delivers a speech at a rally to protect the ACA.

In August of 1996, my boss sent me to Boston – where I met Rob Restuccia, Sue Sherry, Kate Villers and Marcia Hams – all of whom would soon lay the foundation for Community Catalyst. I was a community organizer at the time. A few years later, I became the executive director of SC Fair Share. In 2008, I attended the first-ever Community Catalyst Southern Health Partners convening. The rest is history.

Two years later, President Barack Obama appointed me to work at the Department of Health and Human Services. As the Affordable Care Act began to take shape, I saw first-hand how Community Catalyst played a central role in advocating for consumers during passage and implementation of the law, which has extended affordable, comprehensive coverage to millions of people across the United States. After I took a fellowship to lecture at the Harvard Kennedy School, I was asked to join the Community Catalyst Board of Directors, and I’ve watched the organization grow its consumer advocacy in the following years.

Social justice is engrained in everything I do. I grew up listening to hip-hop and it made me an activist. Music inspired me to create social change, and when I got into organizing, I saw first-hand how debilitating lack of access to health care could be. I grew up in a home where access to health care was never an issue. But I learned that in the United States, having health coverage is a privilege, and not everyone can afford it. I was angry that some families were denied access. I believe that if you’re healthy in your mind, your body, your spirit, you will live out your God-given potential.

I’m a local organizer first, so while federal policy is exciting, I’m more interested in staying connected to states and local communities. That is why Community Catalyst and I have maintained such a strong relationship over two decades. Many people talk state-based work, but not a lot of people do it, especially not well. Community Catalyst’s staff and board bring diversity of thought to all their work. Since its conception in 1998, the team at Community Catalyst has brought people together from all types of work in health and health care. They are innovators through and through, with the foresight to see what’s coming down the pike and seeking and bringing together new partner organizations as they gear up for the fights ahead.

For instance, the health justice movement is changing to more explicitly address health disparities in communities of color. People of color have always been here, but people in positions of power often make policy changes that don’t improve marginalized communities. We have to better understand unique needs in communities of color, and work to elevate leaders who will address health equity. Many organizations are tap-dancing around health equity, but Community Catalyst addresses it head-on. They work with health systems while challenging health systems.

This year, I had the opportunity to join Community Catalyst at their annual Southern Health Partners convening in Atlanta, Georgia. Connecting with advocates face-to-face showed me the strength that Community Catalyst continues to foster by bringing people together, as they have for 20 years.

News from D.C. can be distracting, and there are many who are discouraged, understandably. But for the last 20 years, Community Catalyst has encouraged its partners to be proactive, reminding them of previous fights they have won in the face of adversity. They keep partners grounded amidst the recent hostility. As Community Catalyst continues to lead the health justice movement, I expect us to capture even more victories and continue to move the conversation toward a more equitable delivery of care and wellness for all.

O N   T H E   W I R E

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Please take a moment and read this inspiring message from our former executive director, Rob Restuccia.

We hope it will inspire you to make a contribution to support our next 20 years of impact and advocacy for access to quality, affordable health care for everyone!


Katherine Howitt, former Associate Director of Policy, was highlighted in Kaiser Health News discussing how the midterm election results showed health care was important to voters, prompting Medicaid expansion in more states.

Research Director of the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation (the Center), Marc A. Cohen, PhD, co-wrote a blog for Health Affairs that takes an in-depth look into how motivation and self-determination lead to better health outcomes and lower health care costs for patients with medical and long-term services and supports.

Community Catalyst Board Member Joia Crear-Perry, MD, wrote an article in Essence Magazine explaining the connection between racism and infant mortality among Black women and children.

Center Director Ann Hwang, MD was quoted in an article discussing how advanced primary care leads to better results in accountable care organizations in Fierce Healthcare.

The Center named Elena Hung, founder of Little Lobbyists, as its Speak Up for Better Health Award winner and honored three others whose advocacy has improved the lives of people with complex health and social needs. The honorees were mentioned in both Salem News: “Business Briefcase” and Corvallis Gazette-Times: “At Our Best (September 15).”

Join us in welcoming:

Tori Bilcik, Communications and Development Associate; Dana Clarke, Director of Human Services; Alexis Garcia, Program Associate; Laura Hale, State Advocacy Manager, Dental Access Project; Myriam Hernandez Jennings, Consumer and Community Engagement Advisor; HaiYen Nguyen, Accounting Associate; Nina Oishi, Program Associate; Madison Tallant, Program Associate, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation; Sarah Trieweiler, Executive Assistant; and Jill Wohl, Director of Development.

We are delighted to share the following promotions:

Tera Bianchi to Program Director, Dental Access Project; Ashley Blackburn to Policy Manager; Jessica Curtis to Senior Advisor; Lucy Dagneau to Project Leader for Together for Medicaid in addition to her role as Associate Director of Communications; and Eva Marie Stahl to Associate Director of Policy.

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