Synergy of Social Justice and Public Health: Dr. Troutman Offers High Praise

in Faculty, SSW News Releases
September 6th, 2013


(L-R) Dean Emeritus Hubie Jones laughs with Dr. Adewale Troutman

“I love talking to social workers because you guys get it. You understand it, you live it, you breath it. You understand all the implications of societal forces on issues that you work on,” said Dr. Adewale Troutman, president of the American Public Health Association. A human rights, health equity, and social justice activist, Troutman was the keynote speaker at the Second Annual Hubie Jones Lecture in Urban Health, held April 27, 2013. He opened by speaking about his childhood growing up in the South Bronx.

“We were so poor. True to our urban environment, there was very little green space; we used public transportation; and we were surrounded by domestic violence, alcoholism, abandonment, poverty and racial tension,” he described.

Troutman discussed his involvement in the civil rights movement, which fueled his interest in equity and justice. “I thought I could change the world. And I still do. I believe the power of one is extremely important: the opportunity to do what you can do can in fact make a difference in the world,” he said.

Troutman identifies himself through his commitment to social justice, human rights, community activism, health equity and national and global health. His life’s work has been a testimony to this fact. Troutman has over 40 years of dedicated practice through action to the principles of universal freedoms, and the elimination of racism, injustice and oppression. His experience includes special consultancies with the World Health Organization in Thailand and Japan, health assessment missions in Angola, Jamaica and Zaire, and training in India and Austria. His commitment to justice has evolved into his nationally recognized efforts to create health equity and the supremacy of the social determinants of health, the founding of the first Center for Health Equity at a local health department, and the creation of the Mayors Healthy Hometown Movement. He is also credited with the passage of one of the strongest anti-smoking ordinances in the country.

Encouraging the collaboration between public health and social work, Troutman applauded the public health social work dual degree program at Boston University. “An MSW/MPH is a direction we should all be taking — prevention is a guiding light,” he said.

In his presentation, Troutman spoke of reframing the following:

  • Health vs. Healthcare
  • Individual vs. Population Health
  • Market Justice vs. Social Justice
  • Rights vs. Privileges
  • Biological/Behavioral Determinants vs. Social Determinants
  • Creating Health Equity vs. Eliminating Health

“Social justice says societal factors affect what happens it us as individuals and populations. It needs to be part of the equation for us to understand what we need to do,” said Troutman.

Emphasizing equality, Troutman shared different case studies surrounding community health initiatives and discussed health policy. He also encouraged the audience to engage the medical community, identify non-traditional partners in the community, and recognize the importance of empowerment and capacity.

“We are all connected in public health, and it is our responsibility to continue to fight for policies and resources that create opportunities for people to live healthily and prosper,” he said. “You can’t have anything without a vision. We talk a lot about health equity and social justice, but how often do we visualize that? It takes a risk.”

Troutman closed by sharing the following poem:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental
To reach out to others is to risk involvement
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self
To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss
To love is to risk not being loved in return
To live is to risk dying
To hope is to risk despair
To try is to risk failure
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their servitude, they are a slave, they forfeited their freedom.

Only the person who risks is free.


About Dr. Adewale Troutman
Dr. Troutman has a Doctor of Medicine from New Jersey Medical School, a master’s in Public Health from Columbia University, a master’s in Black Studies from the State University of New York in Albany, and board certification from the National Board of Public Health Examiners. His career has included clinical emergency medicine, hospital administration, academic, and public health practice. He served as an Associate Professor at the University of Louisville’s School of Public Health & Information Sciences, while directing the Metro-Louisville Department of Public Health & Wellness.

Troutman has had multiple publications including “What if We Were Equal?,” co-authored with former Surgeon General and Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. David Satcher; and numerous awards and recognitions. He is featured in the nationally televised PBS series Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? Troutman also serves on a variety of boards including the National Board of Public Health Examiners, the Health & Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Health Promotion Disease & the Committee on Infant Mortality, the Board of Directors of Public Health Law and Policy, the Executive Board of the American Public Health Association, the African American Heritage Center and is an active member of the Black Caucus of Health Workers (BCHW) and he has also served as a former BCHW President.

About the Hubie Jones Lecture on Urban Health
Wrapping up the month of Global Days of Service 2013, the endowed lecture is an annual symposium addressing vexing health issues distinct to the urban context featuring prominent national and international leaders toiling at the intersection of health and social justice. The series honors the vision of Hubie Jones, dean emeritus of Boston University’s School of Social Work, who inspired and shaped the School’s urban mission during his 16-year tenure and who continues to influence and define the social and civic landscape of Boston as a leader, bridge-builder, and advocate.