Health activist collaborates to leverage change

Chris Juhn/MSR News Clarence Jones

Clarence Jones of the Hue-MAN Partnership believes in strengthening community well-being through collaboration, a concept by which he virtually lives. In fact, Hue-Man began through the combined efforts of Jones, Mad Dads’ VJ Smith, and Del Gates, initially in collaboration with U Care but currently with Blue Cross Blue Shield. His idea of public health is something of an all-purpose watchword that transcends the conventional notion.

“[Public health] is population health,” said Jones. “Physical health, mental, spiritual, financial. It encompasses all those things that impact lives within an area or community.

“Hue-MAN is not an African American-only organization. All of us have hue, and all of us are human.”

Jones has a long history as a health activist. His activism includes establishing an academic fatherhood training program with the National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families through Concordia University; developing diversity training for major corporations including NSP, Control Data, Coca Cola, Eaton Corp., Grand Metropolitan and Wisconsin Power & Light; and devising the 2015 Sister Spokesman health fair.

Dedication to community awareness of health issues extends to his weekly KMOJ radio program “Community Health Dialogue.” Installments have included: “Talking about Sexual Health with Your Kids; and Adolescent Sexual Health with Jill Farris of Teenwise Children’s Mental Health: What Should Parents Know?

He has also interviewed Cari Michaels with University of Minnesota Extension’s Children, Youth & Family Consortium and Health Disparities in Minnesota, and former Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

 Jones (CJ) spoke to the MSR at length about his commitment to community and the contributions of Hue-MAN.

MSR: What is most significant about Hue-MAN?

CJ: Over the last 10 years, we’ve done more than 100,000 screenings and over 250 community events. One thing about it is, our work is never done in the dark. Transparency is always there. We make sure our funders are present, and community members. So, when we make a statement we can back it up. We’ve had reports; papers have been written about us, books. We have done a lot of work.

MSR: Tell us about the Q Mobile?

CJ: It was a gift from U Care. That’s how we made those screenings. We were everywhere. We were out there 25 times a year, going to various health fairs, events and things like that. It still operates, but, it’s back with U Care. And we thank them.

MSR: What about opioids? Talk about its impact on Black communities. What are solutions?

CJ: It’s devastating, because there hasn’t been a conversation to expose the real impact [and] make a difference. People are taking opioids and don’t know they’re opioids. When they’re uninformed you’ll always have a problem.

There’s enough technology and information, individuals who understand the impact. We just have to empower them, engage them in putting out effective messages. We have been working on that issue a long time, but our goal has always been around the community’s narrative versus what we hear about it.

We did “Opioid Lunch and Learn” [at the Center for Changing Lives]. We’re working with Medica and with Blue Cross Blue Shield. We’ve been working with the University of Minnesota to develop an informational technology project, “My Strengths + My Health.”

We’re in the process of creating a 1,000-person survey [ascertaining] what our communities say about the use of opioids as opposed to what other people say. We don’t call it opioids. We call it something else. Heroin. Oxycodin.

…We need your [the authorities’] help, but we’re not using language we both understand, which is important to identify the problem. We don’t want another crack epidemic [with mass incarceration] as a response, in which it’s a crime for us but a medical experience for them. We work with organizations to address issues from a community’s perspective, utilizing research and evaluation as tools.

“Hue-MAN is not an African American-only organization. All of us have hue, and all of us are human.” — Clarence Jones
Chris Juhn/MSR News

MSR: What if it’s not your specific community?

CJ: You have to find trusted messengers. Certain people are more effective with certain groups. If I’m an African American, I might need to work with Native Americans or Asian Americans to reach those communities. That’s cultural competency.

And being Black doesn’t mean I can talk to everybody who’s Black. I’m not really good with talking to young street men, but I care about them. So, what we did, Hue-MAN found somebody who could talk with them and we [supported] that person. They received and respected that.

MSR: How do you chose what to concentrate on?

CJ: Part of our strategy is to ask the community to identify which issues are important to them. We do focus groups and forums. A lot of what happens with funders is they’re giving money to organizations to address these issues that may not have people to perform a particular project.

But, if I know of a project on cardiovascular health, I can connect them with another project talking about the same things. We can get together to make sure our people get what they need. That’s the whole idea around collaboration. You leverage the money, power.

MSR: What’s next?

CJ: We’re getting ready to become a 501(c)3 [nonprofit].We’re at the point where it’s more effective for us, to provide services, reach more people, and be more supportive of our partners. One is struggling in St. Paul—Open Cities Health Clinic. We want to do all we can to help them, because we need clinics in our communities.