Interview with Lilly Marcelin, Founding Director, Resilient Sisterhood Project and Neil Silverston, Co-Founder and Executive Director, SparkShare and a member of Impact Hub Boston.

Often, it is during times of acute crisis that we realize how interconnected things are. We have all heard that health is determined by a variety of social and environmental factors. Yet, it takes a pandemic like COVID-19 for us to see how true that is, and to see how health crises impact our emotions, our economy, and our culture.

This month, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) focus is SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being in celebration of last week’s World Health Day. As we recognize our health care workers, we also want to recognize the social entrepreneurs and nonprofits that are working to continue to support other social determinants of health during this unprecedented time. Today’s article highlights Lilly Marcelin, Founding Director of the Resilient Sisterhood Project, and Neil Silverston, Co-Founder and Executive Director of SparkShare.

Tell me about the Resilient Sisterhood Project (RSP). Why did you start this nonprofit and what is its value proposition for society?

Lilly: “I started the Resilient Sisterhood Project (RSP) in 2012 after spending many years working with victims of domestic and sexual violence and noticing that many of the women were silently dealing with reproductive health complications like: uterine fibroids, endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and other gynecological cancers.

RSP works in partnership with—rather than on behalf of–black women and young adults in our communities. We mobilize to address deeply rooted racial discrimination, health and medical inequities, oppressive cultural/gender norms, environmental/food injustice, and other social determinants of health that perpetuate the silence and inaction surrounding these diseases. We make a conscious decision to bring a unique social and cultural approach in the discourse of these diseases. Our programs and services represent a venue of support for advocacy, activism, and education. We organize both structured and informal dialogue/individual interactions to provide a culturally sensitive safe space where women of African descent can speak freely and inquire about reproductive health conditions about which they may feel some anxiety.

In response to COVID-19, this Saturday, April 18, we are hosting a webinar on “Black Women’s Reproductive Health and COVID-19.” We are also hosting another webinar on food justice and insecurity during COVID-19 later in April as well.

We are also collaborating and joining our voices with partner organizations to raise awareness around abusive relationships, especially during COVID-19, as well as to raise the plight of women who are currently incarcerated. Immigrant women are also a focus: we are working with other community organizations to highlight their situation during this time.

Beyond that, we are also sending out weekly resource guides and infographics. We want to make sure that we are keeping the community engaged and informed, while also reminding people that we are here to support them. We encourage anyone to sign up for our weekly resource guide by sending an email to: Info@RSPhealth.org. We also encourage people to visit our website (www.rsphealth.org/) and our Facebook page.

What is SparkShare’s value proposition for society? How are you continuing to support youth mental health and substance abuse prevention during this time?

Neil: “SparkShare is a network of youth and adults that provides teams of young people with the skills and connections they need to become the next generation of problem solvers.

The SparkShare network is made up of diverse teams of young people around the Greater Boston area, as well as organizational partners such as mental health providers, employers, universities, and social service organizations. Our cross-community, multigenerational network model is key to eliminating silos and building a world where people can work together across communities, developing solutions, and committing to action on their communities’ challenges: mental wellness and substance abuse, gun violence, racial equity, healthy schools, youth employment.

Though SparkShare does not focus directly on physical health, many teams in our network do focus on youth mental health and substance abuse, two targets within SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being. For example, one of our network partners, Waltham Partnership for Youth has worked for a number of years on reducing the stigma of mental health in their community. We know that if we want to help youth drive change in the world, they need to be given emotional support tools.

Like many other community organizations, before COVID-19 we used in-person events to drive community and connection. Our twice yearly Cross-Community Summits are a key part of our network building, bringing together around 150 people to build relationships to solve youth-identified issues in the community. Check out the video below to hear from youth about how SparkShare Summits helped them develop as people and leaders.

Though we postponed our Spring Summit due to COVID-19, one of SparkShare’s objectives this year was to engage the community virtually between summits. In response to COVID-19, we have amped up this virtual programming. Now youth have even more opportunities to connect emotionally via virtual events, slack channels, and regular check-ins with mentors.”

There are many targets within SDG 3; which of them does your organization focus on?

Resilient Sisterhood Project

  • 3.1: By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births
  • 3.7: By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes
  • 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination

SparkShare

  • 3.4: By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being
  • 3.5: Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol

What is your second-favorite SDG and why?

Lilly: “All of the SDGs are critical and, more importantly, interconnected. Each one of them plays into one another as key determinants of health and equity. Thus, I don’t think I could pick just one or two.”

Neil: “COVID-19 demonstrates that we can’t run from each others’ challenges. The mission of SparkShare is to reduce silos and build capacity to solve problems together. We want to show people how problems are interconnected, and that collaborating, and understanding a problem from another’s ideology or perspective could help develop more effective solutions. I care about all of the SDGs, but we won’t be able to solve any of them without working together and acknowledging how interlinked they are and we are.”

Any calls to action? How can our readers make your work more impactful?

Lilly: “We are organizing a webinar on Saturday, April 18 on COVID-19 and Black Women’s Reproductive Health. We are also hosting another webinar on food justice and insecurity during COVID-19 later in April as well. I’d encourage anyone interested, including allies, to attend or share the event with a friend.”

Neil: “Please help us continue to grow our Network by encouraging youth teams and organizations to join our Network.”