Sterling Ta’Bon (’20 MSPH) shares how his experience in the public health program equipped him with the necessary knowledge and tools.
Campbell University made an impact on me and prepared me to serve others. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from Campbell University in 2018, I had the opportunity to extend my training at Campbell in the Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) and become a two hump camel. While at Campbell Public Health, I also served as the Graduate Assistant for Adult & Online Education at Wiggins Memorial Library, as an Interprofessional Student-Facilitator for the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (CPHS) and as the resident DJ and Host of multiple CPHS events.
The MSPH curriculum and framework have become a catalyst for the thought processes and actions that I utilize as a public health official. At Campbell Public Health, we had numerous discussions about social determinants of health, interventions for migrant farmworkers who lack access to proper protection from chemicals in the fields of NC agriculture, and asset mapping to help facilitate community resources available in the rural city of Dunn, NC. These topics gripped me daily. I was enlightened by professors such as Dr. Tillman, who provided me educational terminology on systemic racism and its effects on the health of minority communities. These interactive discussions with my colleagues fanned the flame that was already burning inside of me to be a model healthcare professional in my community. My experiences in the Campbell public health program equipped me with the necessary knowledge and tools to navigate a world that, since COVID-19, now knows the importance of public health to our society.
Attending school in the rural South, I was aware of the potential barriers, biases and perceptions that have evolved in the rural areas of the south. As I traveled north from my home in Sumter, SC, about 40 minutes outside of Campbell University I was greeted by the waving of the Confederate Battle Flag, a reminder of our country’s Civil War. This symbol, which still waves today and represents an ideology and belief that one group is superior to another became a motivation for me to make an impact. While Campbell University provided a euphoria of safety and education, I feel that my skin color strikes fear into those who I love and want to love, even with the education and training of my two degrees.
I immersed myself in the articles and readings presented by my public health courses. I learned and studied the depths of racism as one of the leading causes of social and health disparities affecting minority and under-resourced communities. These disparities in health status and health outcomes among minorities have been well-documented in publications including the 2003 Institute of Medicine Report and the Sullivan Report – Missing Persons. The notion of “unequal treatment” facing minorities in the health care delivery system is supported by compelling data. Those courses provided me with the terminology, as well as qualitative and quantitative data on the lived experiences, to better understand what I face as a higher melanin American citizen.
“The MSPH curriculum and framework have become a catalyst for the thought processes and actions that I utilize as a public health official.”
As a black, male, health professional, I am tasked with mending the relationships of previous decades of distrust between patient and provider. For centuries, the black community has often found itself to be disposable subjects for science and medicine, from the cruel treatment of women as test subjects, to the Tuskegee Experiments, to the emerging environmental threat to communities who have been bathed in factory chemicals and toxins that are spread on nearby farms. The historical misperceptions of health care providers have caused black communities to succumb to higher rates of health disparities including heart disease, cancer, and unintentional accidents. The representation of black health care providers has a major role in providing a better quality of life for our entire community, both economically and socially.
These disparities will continue to grow unless we can influence medical education with black and other minority faculty in the classroom, serving on admissions committees and mentoring children across education. Health services research demonstrates evidence that minority health care providers are more likely to serve minority and medically underserved communities. Even, the Institute of Medicine has recommended increasing the number of minority health professionals as a tactic to help reduce health disparities. It is essential that our communities are served by a more diverse team of health care professionals.
It is my mission and role as a health official to be a valuable resource and reliable entity to the community. As the co-founder and director of the grassroots nonprofit, DiamondStackz Organization, I am able to utilize my passion for providing youth mentors and opportunities to advance their skills. Our nonprofit utilizes sports and community engagement to enhance leadership skills. Additionally, I was recently appointed as the Community Activity Coordinator for the Sumter Leaders of Faith Task Force. Our organization’s purpose is to mend and reconcile race relations within the Sumter Community. I plan to lead by example and help all in my community.