Community Update Profile: Afomeia Tesfai Associate Director of Policy, Alameda Health Consortium (AHC)
Name: Afomeia Tesfai
Title: Associate Director of Policy
Previously: Director of Policy, Center for Youth Wellness
Guiding quote/tagline: Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I migrated to the United States by way of Sudan with my family and the process to integrate into the dominate culture was not easy. I slowly assimilated and began trying to balance the expectations of two completely different cultures. I am the daughter of immigrants who came to this country with strong work ethic and dreams. I am grateful that I come from legacy of people who fought for their rights and liberation. Today, I stand strong and rooted because of their work ethics, drive and persistence.
2. You have a lot of experience in the public health realm; tell us a little bit about your work prior to coming to AHC.
My journey in public health began with managing and implementing health education programs to improve tobacco use in Washington State. After a couple of years, I felt a push and desire to expand my knowledge and I left my role to attend graduate school. It was there that I realized my graduate program opened the doors to many opportunities – organizing with communities, participating in workshops to address racism as a public health issue and educating policymakers. This work coupled with my academic work propelled me to deepen my commitment to serving alongside communities.
I moved to Oakland shortly after school to pursue a fellowship with Human Impact Partners. This year-long fellowship gave me the chance to apply a racial equity analysis to examine the relationship between the justice system, race and housing. We partnered with Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and many other local housing justice advocates to conduct a health impact assessment.
Prior to coming to AHC, I was at the Center for Youth Wellness in Bayview Hunters Point in San Francisco. The organization was founded by California’s first state Surgeon General, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. I led and managed a network of cross-sector organizations that became powerful advocate vehicles and credible thought leaders in childhood trauma, advising the Governor and his administration.
3. What was it about AHC that drew you to its work?
I was drawn to AHC’s long-history and legacy on the frontlines, demanding affordable, quality and accessible healthcare for communities who have been historically neglected and underserved. This long story of advocacy was the primary reason and I was also impressed by the influence, trust, and critical role our health centers play in communities across our County. I felt that AHC demonstrated values and principles that centered community needs and priorities.
4. Policy work, at its heart is to influence decision-making at all levels of government, how do you approach this?
I believe there are many strategies to influence the decision making process. As advocates, we have to be tactical and use multiple strategies to educate our elected officials to sustain our model of care and protect our communities. We often depend on stories to show the need and impact and in some instances, harm and unintended consequences of policy that is being considered. Powerful and compelling stories and lived experiences have helped us shape legislation and persuade decisions.
5. People power is an important component of policy and advocacy, how do you empower people to become advocates?
Individuals from an early age have learned to vocalize and stand up for things that are important to them. These skills continue to develop as people navigate the world. I try to draw from those experiences and have people reflect on how they already embody the skills to effectively advocate for the issues that impact and are important to them.