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Community Health Centers and the Civil Rights Movement

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Happy National Health Center Week 2015!  

Last year, Community Health Partnership celebrated our 21st year of incorporation with an awards event to honor community champions and exceptional health center staff.  A notable highlight of the event was a speech given by Bob Brownstein, Policy Director of Working Partnerships USA, as he walked the audience through an important history lesson of the deep ties between the Community Health Center Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. I thought it would be a great idea to finally post a copy of Bob's a way to commemorate National Health Center Week online, and to re-live his words of wisdom with all of you.

Good morning.

I’m proud and honored to be the emcee for this 21st anniversary of the Community Health Partnership, an organization for whose mission and practices I have truly boundless respect.

Anniversaries are a time for reflection… a time to remember vows and commitments. These may involve explicit ceremonies as at the marriage alter or they may be more private  – such as the ones that organizations make when they dedicate themselves to the well-being of the poor and powerless and that individuals make when they devote their working lives to those organizations.

It is, therefore, appropriate for us to take a few moments this morning to pause and reflect on the commitments that led to the genesis of community health centers. Out of what set of values and traditions were these centers born? What kinds of people first brought them into being? What did these founders stand for?

In fact, community health centers were created out of the American civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  The centers were and are connected to civil rights in two important ways. First, actual civil rights workers launched the vision of the centers and the first centers, themselves. Thus, community health centers and civil rights are connected through a common history. Secondly, the mission of community health centers, the basic work they do, is an expression of a civil rights ethic.

Let’s look deeper at both connections.

Dr. Jack Geiger is recognized as one of the true early pioneers of the community health center movement. Geiger went to Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer in 1964; he was a member of the Medical Committee for Human Rights – a group to provide medical services to civil rights workers.

So how did he move from being a medic for community organizers to the founder of the first community health centers? Where did the idea for the centers come from? It came from South Africa. While at medical school. Geiger got a scholarship to study and work at the Pholela Health Center in Zululand. That was one of more than 70 such centers in South Africa serving Africans, Indians, and some poor whites. This experience changed Geiger’s life. It showed him how the denial of health care was an instrument of political and economic oppression.  And it revealed a strategy to empower people to both secure health services and challenge that oppression at the same time.

As an aside, it also demonstrated the way that that human campaigns for justice around the globe are inter-related. I like to imagine that a child that received health care at one of the first community health centers that Geiger founded in the mid-1960’s – based on the South African model -  grew up to march in demonstrations in the United States in the 1990’s to support the African National Congress’s campaign to overturn apartheid.

 With the initiation of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in 1964 and the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, funding became available for an initial two community health centers – one in Boston and one in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The Mississippi Center was by far the more difficult one to launch. The oppressor as well as the oppressed can recognize the liberating effects of access to health care. As Geiger commented later, “they (that is, the institutions of Jim Crow) recognized that this was a very different model and it would directly empower impoverished black populations as partners in the delivery of their own health services, thus bypassing all the gatekeepers and mechanisms of control that the white power structure had up until then exercised.”

Here Geiger is expressing the second basic connection between Community Health Centers and Civil Rights. Back in the Declaration of Independence, the founders of the United States recognized the inalienable right to life – as well as to liberty. Health care is indispensable to both life and liberty. Illness can destroy life… can render people helpless… it can deny them the freedom to exercise the pursuit of happiness. By providing health services to the poor, community health centers directly provide people with the necessary preconditions for enjoyment of those inalienable rights that the declaration enumerated.

Moreover, community health centers do this in a manner that can strengthen and empower otherwise vulnerable families. To receive care at a community health center, no one need be dependent on the authorization of the local elites. You cannot be denied services because you spoke up at a city council meeting or signed a petition. You can even visit the clinic to get a bandage for the cut on your head you got at a disputed picket line.  Indeed, simply the knowledge that the clinic is there, open, ready and able to provide care emboldens people to stand up for other rights.

And there is a more subtle, but highly significant, relationship between community health centers and civil rights. By providing health care to low income constituencies community health centers affirm their value of their patients as people. To hold groups down, it is important to convince them that they are without value. It’s necessary to make them believe that they are second-class. But there are no second class doors in a community health center. Whenever a doctor or nurse or technician or health coach or manager provides high quality services to a low income family they are expressing a defiant repudiation of the claim that some of us are fundamentally lower class.  At community health centers, every patient is affirmed as a person worthy of the best medical services the center can provide. In that sense, community health centers are part of the living, breathing, ongoing reality of the civil rights movement.

Federally Qualified Health Centers add one more element to this philosophy of empowerment.  They are governed by a community board with a patient majority. With apologies to Abraham Lincoln, they offer health care of the people, by the people, and for the people.


The community health center movement has achieved impressive gains over the past 5 decades. From those first two clinics, the movement has grown to include 1,200 health centers at 8000 delivery sites serving 20 million people in every American state and territory. The Community Health Partnership is the embodiment of that movement – its traditions, its values, its mission – in our region.

But this connection to the civil rights movement teaches the supporters and advocates and workers and patients of community health centers some important lessons about the challenges ahead.


Civil rights are never benevolently granted or bestowed. They have to be fought for and won, and they must be sustained and defended every year, every month, and every day.  The access to quality health care that low-income families receive at community health centers is challenged by governors seeking to cut budgets or by political partisans who insist the efficiency of the health care delivery system is enhanced by using prices to deny access. The effort to keep community health centers open never ends. When you are in a civil rights movement, if justice is to be achievable, then rest becomes unattainable.

Establishing, operating, sustaining, and growing community health centers is an act of struggle. And in all struggles, there are those who stand up and go beyond what is normally expected, those who take service and commitment to a higher level, and those who inspire their colleagues.               

One of the most pleasant parts of an event such as this anniversary is the chance to honor some of these extraordinary people by presenting some well-earned awards. We’ll start with the CHP Service Awards. So I would like to ask Dolores Alvarado, Executive Director, of the Community Health Partnership and the awardees and their CEO’s to please come up to the stage. Dolores, herself, is a notable heroine of the community health center movement, and I can think of no one more suitable to officiate at these presentations. 

National Health Center Week 2013

Monday, August 05, 2013

Join Community Health Partnership and our member community health centers as we celebrate National Health Center Week (August 11-17, 2013)!

Each year the second week in August is dedicated to celebrating the services and contributions of Community, Migrant, Homeless and Public Housing Health Centers. While there are countless reasons to celebrate America’s Health Centers, among the most important and unique is their long success in providing access to affordable, high quality, cost effective health care to medically vulnerable and underserved people throughout the United States.

For more information or to RSVP for any of the following events, please contact Grace-Sonia Melanio: or (408) 579-6014.

August 10, 2013

“You’ve Got Talent” National Health Center Week Celebration

Ravenswood Family Health Center
1798A Bay Road
East Palo Alto, CA 94303
1:00-4:00 pm

The Ravenswood Family Health Center celebration will include a talent show featuring community members, fun for kids, and favorite local food vendors.  For more information visit or

August 14, 2013

Summer Learning Session

“Community Health Centers Take Action: Case Studies of Clinical Models Addressing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities”
Community Health Partnership
100 N. Winchester Blvd., Suite 368
Santa Clara, CA 95050
12:30-1:00 pm- Lunch Reception
1:00-3:30 pm- Panel Discussion

Interact and hear from policy experts and community health center physicians to learn about models and methods for incorporating the use of Health Information Technology for reducing health disparities in community settings.

Congratulations Angelica Diaz!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Congratulations to our own Angelica Diaz, CHP’s Women’s Health Program Coordinator and Health Educator on receiving a honorable mention recognition from the American Public Health Association (APHA) for her abstract  “Access to breast cancer screening through a community based mammography program among underserved women in Santa Clara, CA.”  Not only does this abstract highlight the life-saving work of our Women’s Health Program, but it punctuates the talent of our staff at CHP!

If you’re at the APHA conference in San Francisco this week, come to her session! Details below:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012 : 12:30 PM - 12:50 PM
Angelica Diaz, MPH(c), Women's Health Partnership, Community Health Partnership, Santa Clara, CA
Elena Alcala, MPH, Women's Health Partnership, Community Health Partnership, Santa Clara, CA
Linda Pham Chuang, MPH, CHES , Women's Health Partnership, Community Health Partnership, Santa Clara, CA
Maripaz Nazareno, RN, Women's Health Partnership, Community Health Partnership, Santa Clara, CA

The Community Health Partnership (CHP) sought to increase access to mammography screening and reduce late stage breast cancer diagnosis among underserved women in the county of Santa Clara, CA through its Community Mammography Access Project (CMAP). This project is based on a centralized community-based medical model linking community health centers (CHC) within consortium to a mobile mammography unit. The CMAP delivery model includes three key partners: CHP, a network of CHCs, and St. Joseph's Medical Center Mobile Mammography Program.

The mobile unit rotates among CHCs and local sites where underserved women age 35 and older are linked to breast screening services. Through CHC in-reach, women are recruited for these full-day CMAP breast cancer screening events. Outreach occurs through Patient Navigators who recruit women to breast health education workshops where they are linked to the CMAP events. Women receive one on one support from Patient Navigators to identify resources, navigate the health care system, address cultural barriers, and establish a medical home.

Uninsured women are referred to CMAP's self-pay program to receive a free mammography. This community-based mobile unit strategy proved beneficial in increasing the number of women receiving breast screening. CMAP is a best practice model in prevention and wellness across the lifespan with the support of partners that are geographically located where underserved women live, are trusted by the community, and are able to address cultural and linguistic barriers. CMAP remains the only county-wide community mobile mammography resource working in collaboration with CHCs in the area. 

Community Health Centers and Clinics- Strength in Numbers!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I know it’s been awhile since we’ve visited this blog space, but I feel as if our comeback is quite timely!  We just updated our member health organization contact list to reflect the new sites our health centers have opened this past year, and it’s my pleasure to share it with you.  This new list is available for download.  As you scroll through the list, you’ll see we represent 11 non-profit community health organizations with a total of 41 sites in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. 

Last week, my colleagues and I attended the California Primary Care Association (CPCA) Annual Conference.  What an incredible experience!  This conference assembled community clinics and health center (CCHC) leadership, staff, and patients from all over California, representing over 800 sites.  This year’s theme: Boldly Moving Forward.

One day, as I walked through the conference’s crowded Exhibit Hall, I thought about how huge we are as an association.  I also thought about the upcoming election, and how as community health center and clinic advocates, we have so much at stake.

Both CPCA and our national association NACHC have been doing a fantastic job getting all of us on the same page about one of the most important practices in health care advocacy…registering our patients and community members to vote.  Encouraging people to vote is another impactful way community health centers empower patients to be advocates for not only their own health, but the health of their families and communities.  Imagine our strength in numbers!

 We all have to do our part.  October 22 is the registration deadline to be able to vote in the November election.  If you haven’t registered, or know someone who needs to, California now offers online voter registration.

One of our member health organizations, Ravenswood Family Health Center recently produced a video for NACHC’s National Health Center Week Video contest that highlights the importance of patient involvement and voting.  They’ve been more than doing their part, also offering voter registration in their clinic lobby.  Perhaps I’m a little biased, but I love this video.  Let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

Two More Advocates!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays! I hope you’re reading this from a comfy couch at home or somewhere pleasant on vacation. If you’re reading from your work station, don’t feel alone! It’s ok, because our Partnership office is open too. It feels good to be with my work family, though I’m missing two individuals in particular today- Joseph and Son.

Joseph and Son were the Partnership’s undergraduate interns during this past fall semester. They completed their service last week. Joseph, a student in his senior year came to us via the Communication Studies department in hopes of obtaining communications experience. Son arrived from the university’s prestigious Health Science department, seeking health policy research experience for his final semester. I am grateful to them both for all their help these past few months. In addition to all their internship duties, too countless to name, Son and Joseph were key to the success of our awards event for Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and assisted with the Partnership’s contribution towards the recently published Santa Clara County Vietnamese Health Assessment.

Over the summer, on this blog I posted a report written by another former intern Steve Yang, about community health centers. This gave me the idea to invite Joseph and Son to write an entry for the blog. Their creative task: to share something they’ve learned during their time here at the Partnership. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside these star students; their intellectual curiosity and willingness to learn is inspiring. We are very fortunate to have them as the next generation of health care advocates.

Here are their entries:

Joseph Barton
Communication Studies, San Jose State University

I just had the most amazingly eye-opening semester this past fall. My name is Joseph Barton and I’m a Communication Studies senior at San Jose State University who recently completed a very cool internship at Community Health Partnership. I hate to admit it, as I am in my thirties and have voted regularly since I was eighteen, but I knew little about our existing health care system and the upcoming reforms prior to this semester. Not anymore! The team at CHP took a student looking to possibly get into public relations or maybe marketing, and turned him into someone who actively supports and advocates for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and would now love to work in health care. I’ve learned that community health centers (CHCs) are the backbone of health care in our country today, and I’m very proud to have been involved with CHP. I think everyone who puts their heart and soul into working for a community health center should be extremely proud, too! You guys have gotten so good at doing outreach, connecting people with necessary services, providing care for those who need it most, and being such a valued and important piece of society, that our country’s leaders are basically taking what you’ve done and expanding it to millions of people with the ACA…Bravo!

There is obviously still much work to be done, as the changes that lie ahead won’t necessarily be easy. But I believe the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Individual Mandate and our country will continue in the right direction and ultimately be better equipped to provide the quality health care that everyone deserves. I’m looking to be a part of that now, for sure! But no matter where my career takes me in the future, I will now always vote and advocate as someone now hooked… my eyes are wide open and I’ll forever be a proud supporter of CHCs!

Son Phan
Health Science, San Jose State University

Before I took this internship, I didn’t really see community health centers (CHCs) as places that provided comprehensive and effective care. I always thought it was much better to just go to a hospital or a local doctor’s office to receive care. This is due to the fact that CHCs are located in low-income areas and I felt like they were not as equipped to take care of me. After being an intern at Community Health Partnership, my whole view has changed and I recognize how important CHCs are to the health of our whole nation.

CHCs provide comprehensive and preventative care. This is important because, as proven in several studies, the presence of a community health center in a region has shown to reduce the number of emergency room visits and long-term chronic health problems. If those two problems are reduced, it will save the U.S. a lot of money that we can spend on other things such as education. In fact, about $122 billion in total health care costs would be saved between 2010 and 2015 by CHC’s because of their ability to help reduce costly care such as emergency room visits and their ability to provide care at lower costs. Additionally, with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it is expected that 32 million more Americans will be provided with health insurance. That is why CHCs play a major role in helping to deliver more efficient care for society by taking on some of the newly insured patients.

Community health centers are important as we move forward with healthcare reform. If we want to provide efficient and quality care for every single individual, CHCs must be in the equation. They provide quality care that could prevent future health problems. Best of all, they are able to do this at a much lower cost. We must continue to provide funding to community health centers and give them the necessary resources to succeed.