It Shouldn’t Feel Radical to Fight for Equity.
It Shouldn’t Feel Radical to Fight for Equity
The Activist Lab congratulates Abigail Kim, the winner of the 2018 “Student Award for Excellence in Practice” for her outstanding and innovative public health practice. Abby received the award on May 18, during the SPH student awards ceremony. The Student Excellence in Practice Award honors an MPH student who has gone above and beyond in contributing to the health of the public. Through her advocacy work, community engagement, and public policy endeavors, Abby has shown exceptional drive and promise in creating lasting improvements in the health of our communities.
Many students in our community are translating their knowledge, skills, and passions into action. We are proud to celebrate Abby as a leader among them.
Activist Lab: What does winning this award mean to you?
Abby: It’s a huge honor! During my time at SPH, I have been advocating for issues related to substance use disorders through multiple advocacy organizations. This includes the Student Coalition on Addiction, Supervised Injection Facility Massachusetts Now (SIFMA Now) and the Life on Albany Committee. Seeking out these mission-driven groups enabled me to begin advocating for local, state, and institutional policies informed by the experiences of active drug users and community members as well as evidence-based medicine. I am grateful to have worked with these groups; they are all doing such amazing work to advance policies and dialogue surrounding addiction. To be recognized for the role I played in creating change is incredibly motivating.
Activist Lab: Why are you passionate about substance use disorders?
Abby: My interest originated from my current research on individuals with an alcohol use disorder at the BU SPH Department of Community Health Sciences and Boston Medical Center. My role, as well as the glaring and uncomfortable realities of the opioid crisis on the BUMC campus, forced me to confront the truths of the entrenched systemic and socioeconomic factors compounding substance use disorders.
Substance use disorders continue to be widely stigmatized, and misperceptions of their treatment remain despite the existence of evidence-based therapies. Those with a substance use disorder face barriers in accessing and remaining in care and receiving medication treatment. They are forced to navigate a confusing and fragmented addiction treatment system that is largely privately run. In our community, factors like involvement in the criminal justice system, homelessness, and co-occurring disorders further complicate treatment.
In our state, about 2,000 people are dying every year from an opioid overdose. In our neighborhood, overdose is the leading cause of death among patients served at Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program. That is appalling. We should be doing a much better job treating substance use disorders and preventing overdose deaths.
Activist Lab: Thinking back on all that you accomplished, what was your proudest moment?
Abby: One of my favorite MPH courses was Consumer Advocacy and Organizing for Health System Change, taught by Representative Christine Barber. Right after the class ended, I was able to use the skills I learned to lobby her to co-sponsor a critical addiction-related bill. That was a pretty cool full-circle moment. That being said, my accomplishments are shared with all other activists who are working on issues related to addiction, and we still have a long way to go.
Activist Lab: Do you plan on continuing this work in your career after SPH? How?
Abby: Yes! This summer I will be a Rappaport Public Policy Fellow in Senator John Keenan’s office at the State House, focusing on policies related to opioid use and overdose. There are important bills currently being discussed in the State House that have vast implications for the opioid crisis, so I am excited to work with a legislator who is committed to incorporating public health approaches into substance use policy.
Oftentimes it feels like a radical act to believe that the systemic flaws in our society that disadvantage and overlook individuals are surmountable. However, it has always felt like a worthwhile fight, and I plan to continue to dedicate my career to the pursuit of equitable treatment and opportunities for those populations that are most marginalized.
Activist Lab: What’s your advice for the next student activist who wants to effect change?
Abby: I think students first need to recognize their power to effect change. It’s incredible how knowledgeable and passionate students at BUSPH are, but that doesn’t always translate into action. Legislators and advocates need to hear from people like us, who are informed, motivated and innovative. I also have had the great pleasure in learning from experienced activists in our community by joining local grassroots organizations, and I think anyone interested in activism should start there. They are the best teachers.
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