In September 2019, the Foundation For a Healthy St. Petersburg opened the Center for Health Equity in a large, renovated storefront at a south St. Petersburg shopping plaza with a mission to be a community space for organizations and individuals working to advance racial and health equity.
Then COVID hit and the center closed to become a vaccine and testing site. After two years, the foundation reopened the Center for Health Equity on January 20th, with a daylong community event to “learn, create and connect” together. During the morning session, community members learned about the history of civil rights and social change in St. Petersburg partnership, segregated health care, the historic Gas Plant district, the predominantly Black community razed to make way for Tropicana Field.
The newly reopened center is already in demand for events. On January 25th, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual meeting at the center. Brooks says that event will include a discussion of equitable economic development under the chamber and city’s shared Grow Smarter strategy for economic growth.
“A rebrand. A new vision. A new mission. A lot of that is today,” says Center for Health Equity Executive Director Marcus Brooks. “The Center For Health Equity is a place designed for people to learn, connect and create to advance racial equity and ultimately transform the community. We want to support our community members in tackling some of the tough challenges that happen in a community, and marginalized communities especially, that create barriers for all people to lead a healthy life. And oftentimes it’s racial in context. If we don’t tackle some of these issues around discrimination or racism, we often do a disservice to an entire community and not just those folks who are being discriminated against.”
The St. Petersburg Area Chamber Moving ahead, Brooks says the foundation wants to make the center a community space to work for positive change and have an open dialogue about issues of disparity.
“We are constantly engaging with the community,” he says. “We want to believe that this is truly a community asset. And so if the community has a need around advancing racial equity and ultimately improving the health of all people in the community, that’s what we’re here to do.”
Brooks says the center is intended to be a gathering place to collaborate and work for solutions.
“I think it’s important that people understand when we have these conversations that touch on race or disparity is that this is a space for calling in, not calling out,” he says. “It’s not designed for cancel culture. Regardless of your racial identity, we want you to come to this space and share your story. Our goal is to provide you with the tools to keep that story going and connect with others who may have a different story. It’s not to convince people. It’s to get the stories out there, find areas where we have synergy and how we can collaborate and work together.”
For more information, go to Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.