Why are so many people in low-income minority communities asthmatic, diabetic and dying earlier than their counterparts from different races and socio-economic backgrounds?
This is a question that Arneta Roger (pictured here) has often asked herself. As someone who grew up with a chronically-ill mother, she saw early on that social inequalities have a devastating effect on health.
So when the opportunity to serve as a fellow at the Women’s Policy Institute came up, she embraced it. Naturally, she joined the Health Reform Implementation team and worked on AB 2204 (Hernandez), a bill that would have required the California Department of Public Health to use a health equity tool as part of their decision-making process. The tool would consider social, physical, economic and environmental determinants when looking at incidences of chronic diseases throughout the state.
An invaluable learning experience
Even though the bill didn’t pass, Arneta and her teammates learned a lot about the legislative process and public policy and they remain optimistic.
She particularly appreciated the opportunity to speak directly to legislators and introduce their policy idea. “Everyone we talked to acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and that some structural shifts need to occur…It shows that there is a grassroots desire to mitigate health disparities and that policy has a large role to play in the process” she said.
Arneta says that her work with WPI allowed her to gain experience as an effective advocate at the statewide level. Although she studied public policy in college and has a lot of experience with health policy, she cites the experiential learning that she got from WPI as invaluable.
“The most important thing I learned was about relationship building,” she said. “The roles of the many players in the legislative process were more complex and influential than I had imagined, and knowing how and when to engage with them was critical.”
Fierce and inspiring teammates
“I worked with a fierce group of women. We were all women of color and represented low income communities of color across the state,” Arneta said.
The team picked a bill to work on that reflected this diversity. They even brought a diverse background of experiences – some members were experienced in health policy, while others brought knowledge of economic policy, youth development and grassroots organizing.
Next steps for Arneta
Arneta’s experience in the program contributed to her decision to get a law degree.
“While I knew I planned to attend law school before participating, my experience in WPI showed me that there is a critical need for women like myself, women who are willing to insert a social justice framework into law and policy,” she said. “It also affirmed my belief in the importance of having more people from diverse communities represented in the legal professions.”
Arneta hopes that continuing her studies will help her better understand the intersection of the law with communities on the margin, specifically when it comes to health. She plans to use her law degree to give a voice to communities she sees as disenfranchised and manipulated by the justice system.
When asked if she’s ready for law school, Arneta answers: “I think that navigating my way through law school will be much like navigating my way through the politics of Sacramento.” We think she’s ready!