A conversation with community resident researchers

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Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative approach to research that brings together the university and the community in the research process and recognizes the unique contributions and expertise of each partner.

Through partnerships between academic institutions, community organizations and community residents, the goal of CBPR is to address community needs, improve health outcomes and eliminate disparities.

Engaging Richmond is a partnership between community members and researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University and is based in Richmond’s East End. Since the project’s inception in 2011, the members of the Engaging Richmond team have used mixed methods research to explore the social and environmental factors that influence health.

Based on community-identified priorities from the research, which was funded by a Center for Translational Science Award grant from the National Institutes of Health, the team is developing targeted dissemination strategies to bring evidence to policymakers and change agents.

The following is a conversation with community resident researchers from the Engaging Richmond team, including Brenda Kenney, Chanel Bea, Valerie Burrell-Muhammad and Chimere Miles, as well as Albert Walker, the community-academic liaison with the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

Describe your experience with the Engaging Richmond project.

Brenda: I love the team. We came into this project as community residents with a lot of passion for helping people in our community. It’s been an awesome process collecting information, going out into our community, interviewing residents and putting focus groups together. We’re a strong resource and a team of community resident researchers.

Chanel: I learned what community-based participatory research really is and our team learned how to do it. We’ve learned about cultural competency and ethics, we learned how to code data and how to present that data as community members. I keep saying community members because that is the basis of community-based participatory research versus there being an academic research team. There needed to be community members performing the work.

Chimere: My experience has been challenging, wonderful, eye opening, tearful, humbling and exiting. The research actually included the community from the beginning to the middle and end and in the continuation of our work. In my day-to-day life, I find myself using the skills I’ve learned through being a part of the research process.

Why did you become interested and ultimately a part of this project?

Chanel: I have a greater vision for my community than what’s already there. I want to see it thrive, and I saw this as an avenue to push in that effort to advocate for my community. It was also an opportunity to learn more about the community in which I was not born, and it gave me a whole different perspective of my community than what I originally had.

Valerie: It tied in with everything I’ve been doing as a resident in the community around community engagement. It was just the perfect segue to all the work I’ve been doing within the community. I’ve been actively involved in this community since the 1980s.

Chimere: I really want to know where all those research numbers come from. You always here so much negativity about the East End, and I know it’s much better than what you see on the news. I know there are a lot of acts of kindness – the family roots are deep here. I wanted to be a part of something that I felt would have a great outcome.

How have you benefited personally and/or professionally from being a part of the research team?

Brenda: I’ve learned that working together as a team, you can get so much more done than just working as one by yourself. Everybody brings a piece of themselves to the table – putting it together, bringing resources together – this creates a wonderful outcome.

Chanel: I’ve grown. I learned a new skill – I now know how to do research. I’ve also been afforded the opportunity to sit on various committees and boards. I co-convene a group with Richmond Promise Neighborhoods called Early Childhood through 5th grade   one of their results-based action teams. I’m also on the Maggie Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty. I’ve had the opportunity to do a poster presentation on community-based participatory research at the Baltimore Convention Center. Those were opportunities I can’t say I would have had if I had not done this work with the Engaging Richmond team.

Albert: I came to the Engaging Richmond team after the nonprofit I managed in Church Hill closed. Once closed, I was essentially out of work. I started out as a research assistant just like everyone else on the team. When the VCU researchers decided they would want to move forward and stay engaged in the East End, they invited me to come and work full time. I’m retooling and professionally growing in the research arena and it’s rewarding.

Has the community benefited from the work of the Engaging Richmond team?

Chanel: Absolutely and in a lot of ways. Having this research team right in the community, right at our fingertips, community members know they have a voice. It’s just not a research team highlighting or creating more problems, we are a team that’s trying to help. It’s inspiring to work with the VCU researchers. We all come from different background and interests, so coming together highlights this diversity and gives you a different way of thinking.

Valerie: It’s sometimes hard for me to see how the community is benefiting on a day-to-day basis, but I know that there been some benefit because of our work. We’ve been able to get information out there so people know about it as opposed to not knowing. It has also allowed people in the community to participate, and that’s a big plus.

Albert: To see how different groups are moving forward with the Engaging Richmond priorities is amazing. The message is getting into the community, mainly in service projects surrounding the priority areas. It’s working in the East End. It would be nice to have something on a larger scale throughout the city. We want this model to happen in other communities, because it benefits the community in the long run.

Chimere: If you consult with the community, you get more holistic, great things that they really need. Community members will actually tell you what they need. That’s the great thing about having the university at the table because they know the other half, the business side. We have the needs and sometimes the university has the contacts, and a person like me can make those connections for a great outcome. It’s a good process. It has allowed me to become part of something I feel passionate about.

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