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A Slow, Solid Build: The Long Island Community-Academic Partnership

Updated: Apr 2, 2020



Roosevelt is a vibrant community that prides itself on its small town-feel, deep cross-generational connections, and its multicultural flavor. Roosevelt has also been an attractive site for outside organizations to target their programs. Communities of color have historically been the real-life laboratories for researchers in medicine, public health, and social sciences, often without the knowledge or consent from the people who live there. This approach follows a familiar pattern. Organizational representatives funded by foundations or federal grants, swoop into their targeted area (like Roosevelt), get what they need and get out. This approach leaves the residents tired and wary of the next project that promises benefits that never come. 


Seven years ago, I was a new assistant professor in public health at Hofstra University. I was aware of the concerns and potential negative consequences of researching a community. My move from New York City to Uniondale forced me to notice the racial residential segregation in Nassau County and the dramatic health disparities between black and white zip codes. While working at the New York City Department of Health, I learned not everyone is thrilled to have an outsider come into their community to make folks “better” and that if I was going to be successful, I needed to connect and collaborate with trusted community members and organizations. One

of the best moves I made was to connecting and collaborating with a long-standing and respected organization, Roosevelt Community Redevelopment Group (RCRG), and a newish player on the scene--Choice for All and its CEO, Jacob Dixon. 

In the summer of 2012, I was in the basement of the firehouse in Roosevelt, sitting with a group of teenagers who worked at the local farmers market that was run by RCRG. At this point, we had regularly been meeting for a few weeks. We were looking at and commenting on photographs taken with their mobile phones of places in their community. As we viewed each image, I would ask what does the picture show and if we should keep it. The process was often nerve-racking as comments would overlap, boredom lingered, and coming to a consensus seemed impossible. After several weeks of back-and-forth banter, we successfully determined which pictures and comments they felt best represented their community's best assets and areas for improvement.

This project used a participatory method called Photo Voice, which works with a group of community residents to examine an issue of concern visually by going out and taking pictures of the assets and needs within the community. The photos are then displayed along with the captions and can be used by the community for advocacy and addressing change. Jacob created a display of the pictures and their ‘voices’ that were presented by the students at a community meeting and dinner attended by local legislators, businesses, and non-profit organizations. This was my first experience with community-based participatory research (CBPR), a collaborative approach that involves community members and researchers on an equal basis through all aspects of research. The premise is that community members possess expertise equal to that of researchers; if research and action are to take place within a community, its members must be involved throughout the entire process.


I was drawn to using CBPR approaches but realized that I had a lot to learn. In 2015, I came across an application for Community Based Participatory Research Partnership Academy, a week-long on-site training at the University of Michigan that included mentoring and support for one year. This competitive program required one academic and one community member to apply. Jacob and I applied and were one of 12 national teams accepted to the program. During the program, Jacob and I developed our own version of community-based participatory research to use on Long Island. LICARP (Long Island Community Academic Research Partnership) had the first meeting February 2016. We brought together representatives from Hofstra University, community-based organizations, and the Long Island Federally Qualified Health Center to address the health disparities that exist in our suburban neighborhoods.

Over the past three years, we have conducted focus groups (led by both community members and researchers), analyzed the results, presented them at community meetings, developed a process for prioritizing the health concerns of the residents of Roosevelt as they see them, and identifying the vision statements for improvement and specific interventions. Community members were equal partners in the research process each step along the way. Though the progress has been slow by some standards, the trust and integrity that we have developed cannot be bought. Our actions to work with community members have enabled us to develop reliable programs that resonate with residents as actions being done with them, rather than to them.


Based on community feedback, we have determined areas of focus to be:

  • Increasing Food Access: Research study on the effectiveness of interventions in increasing healthy food options in corner stores

  • Increasing Physical Activity: Improving road and sidewalk conditions

Additionally, LICARP is focusing on these areas:

  • Research Justice & CBPR: Hosting a conference in 2020 to introduce LICARP’s integration of research justice and CBPR as a tool for authentic engagement

  • Community-Based Medical Education Research: Provide capacity for medical residents and medical students in suburban health, nutrition, and health education 

We have been fortunate to get support from the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. The Executive Dean, Larry Levy, understands the benefit of bringing together suburban communities of color with hospital systems and universities in a mutually respectful and beneficial way. THIS is the future of community engagement and community health. Respect. Equality. Collaboration. We are doing it.

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