A healthy neighborhood is where people eat quality food, play in clean and safe parks, have timely access to proper medical care, and receive a sound education in good schools — all of it in a violence-free environment, claims a top policy maker in the world’s largest health department in an urban setting.
“Everyone would be able to reach their full health potential,” says Dr. Aletha Maybank, associate commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and founding director of its new Center of Health Equity.
Statistics show many of the health issues facing New Yorkers, including obesity, diabetes and maternal mortality, disproportionately affect communities of color, and the trained pediatrician with two medical mission trips to Haiti under her belt and her own Wikipedia page wants to alter the trajectory of public health through system changes, community partnerships, interagency collaboration, and delivery of better services in underserved districts.
“It’s not about being equal, it’s about being fair and equitable because not all communities have the resources to implement something that is universal,” says Maybank, a Clinton Hill resident whose advocacy has helped to install 28 miles of bike lanes in Brownsville, pilot a community health worker program in public housing, and expand the number of doulas or birth companions for new moms in central Brooklyn.
She helped to design and install “breast-feeding friendly places” at dozens of community facilities, including one at Councilman Robert E. Cornegy, Jr.’s district office in Bedford Stuyvesant last year.
“It was the first community lactation station of its kind in any government facility in the city,” says the lawmaker. “Dr. Maybank is a woman of distinction for bringing compassionate expertise to issues of infant and maternal health.”
Maybank — a blogger, and a health contributor to Ebony.com and Arise TV — is in high demand as a public health speaker, appearing on MSNBC, BET, and HuffPost Live, her accomplishments lauded by, among others, the National Coalition of 100 Black Men, the Network Journal’s 40 Under 40, and the Hip Hop Loves Foundation.
Three years ago, to offer children of color a role model, she helped to create the “We Are Doc McStuffins“ campaign, inspired by Disney Junior’s popular black Doc McStuffins character. The cartoon preschooler provides primary health care for stuffed animals, including diagnosing her little brother’s teddy bear with acute “dusty musties” and prescribing a good laundering!
“It changes the narrative about who can be a doctor,” says Maybank, who is in her 30s and who was profiled for being a real-life Doc McStuffins on Disney Junior for Black History Month, along with her co-founders of the Artemis Medical Society, a group supporting female physicians of color and aspirants.
The Woman of Distinction’s candid dialogue about public health and its inequities raises new questions about how to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life for all of us.
“Health is important to everyone, but the challenge is how do you maintain it?” says Maybank, who is helping to provide us with the answers where we live, work, play, and pray.
OCCUPATION: Associate commissioner.
COMPANY: New York City Health Department.
CLAIM TO FAME: Highlighting injustices in public health.
FAVORITE PLACE: The beach.
WOMAN I ADMIRE: My mother Judith Maybank, one of the most courageous people I know.
MOTTO: Be well.
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