African Heritage Festival held at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in Louisville. Cynthia Bethel-Jaiteh with her son, Khalil Jaiteh, 3, in front of the African nations' flags at the festival.

African Heritage Festival held at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in Louisville. Cynthia Bethel-Jaiteh with her son, Khalil Jaiteh, 3, in front of the African nations’ flags at the festival.| Copyright 2016 Tyrone Turner/Courtesy Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The City of Louisville on Wednesday received the 2016 Culture of Health Prize from the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for its commitment to health equity.

Mayor Greg Fischer is holding a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the prize, the foundation’s highest honor. In a statement, he said, “This recognition is a testament to the great work being done across our community by civic, nonprofit and corporate partners, with the goal of eliminating health inequities and improving the overall health in our community.”

Louisville is one of seven winners chosen from nearly 200 applicants nationwide. The prize honors communities for their efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live longer, healthier and more productive lives, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a news release.

A cash prize of $25,000 from Robert Wood Johnson will be matched by the Community Foundation of Louisville, according to Trisha Finnegan, its vice president of mission and impact.

In an innovative twist, she added, a health equity innovation fund will be established, with the goal of raising $250,000 or more from corporate matches and local contributions, so that the fund can be self-sustaining. Proceeds will be granted to feed community needs in the near and long-term. The decision on funding would be made by a community panel, she added.

“We were very drawn to the early Louisville Metro Health Equity Report in 2011, that really highlighted the disparity on difference in longevity in life, based on the ZIP code you lived in,” Finnegan said in an interview.

“That really served as a call to action for a lot of people in this community, including the core group of people working on this project,” she added. “It didn’t sit well with anybody. It shouldn’t be the case that the ZIP code you’re born in has such a dramatic effect on the life that you lead.”

That was what spurred Louisville’s journey toward health equity and served as an inspiration for Louisville’s application team, Finnegan said.

In a yearlong effort, Louisville shared its own journey toward better health for all and won over the judges, said Theo Edmonds, an artist and cofounder of IDEAS xLab, who was on the application team. The team understood that “health is not just what happens in a physician’s office,” Edmonds said. “Health takes place in those other areas, where we live, work, worship, learn and play.”

The focus quickly became, he said: “How are we including more people in this conversation? We have to think of health in the broadest possible terms.”

The four differentiating factors that elevated Louisville to the top, Edmonds said, were: making health equity the primary focus; a commitment to violence prevention; putting data-driven decision-making at the top of the agenda; and using arts and culture, combined with entrepreneurship and social change, as a strategy to improve health.

Louisville’s application team included the Community Foundation of Louisville, Greater Louisville Project, IDEAS xLab and KentuckyOne Health, on behalf of some 200 partners citywide.

“There was a huge group of people involved with this,” said Ben Reno-Weber, project director of Greater Louisville Project, “and a real recognition that we are on the cutting edge of how a community should think about equity, access, and a holistic view of ‘health’ as encompassing the entire civic ecosystem.”

The Louisville Culture of Health Prize application team is inviting those who participated in the process and those who wish to help carry the work forward to attend Louisville’s Culture of Health: Putting Good Health Within Everyone’s Reach, a free learning and celebration event on Monday, Nov. 7, 2-7 p.m. at the Muhammad Ali Center.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest philanthropy in the U.S. focused on health, will share the accomplishments of the winners nationally and recognize them at its headquarters in Princeton, N.J on Oct. 19-20. A group of six delegates from Louisville will attend, including:

  • Tony Peyton, program officer, the C.E. and S. Foundation
  • Shelton McElroy, parent engagement manager, Metro United Way
  • Alice Bridges, vice president, healthy communities, KentuckyOne Health
  • Theo Edmonds, artist and cofounder,  IDEAS xLab
  • Brandy Kelly Pryor, director, Louisville Metro Dept. of Public Health and Wellness
  • Patricia Blackshear, fellow, Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center

The other six winning communities are: 24:1 Community in the St. Louis area of Missouri; Columbia Gorge Region of Oregon and Washington; Manchester, New Hampshire; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Santa Monica, California, and the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe in Washington.

In addition to having the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Finnegan said, Louisville will be able to learn from other winners, past and present, and exchange information with those communities.

In a statement, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Robert Wood Johnson president and CEO, said: “The RWJF Culture of Health Prize communities show us that in towns and regions across the nation, individuals are coming together to find powerful ways to help people achieve the best health possible. These communities are connecting the dots between health and education, jobs, housing and community safety.”