Cultivating community resilience through health equity

Community Resilience

April 28, 2022

Last week’s blog post looked at how HCCC project teams collaborate within their communities to improve access to food and health services and build resilience. This week, we sat down with Ami McReynolds, MBA, chief equity and programs officer at Feeding America, Sara Bader, MCD, CPHQ, senior manager at HealthBegins, and Sadena Thevarajah, JD, managing director at HealthBegins, to define community resilience and how equitable access to food and health services is key to achieving it. 

Resilience is more than a community’s ability to withstand and recover from “adverse situations.” According to McReynolds: “It is about creating a collective vision for the health and well-being of a whole community, taking meaningful action together, and holding collective accountability in bringing the vision to life.”

Bader and Thevarajah added: “We have to understand that ‘adverse situations’ don’t just occur randomly. Often, they’re created and exacerbated by social arrangements and structures that put people in harm’s way.” 

The HealthBegins duo emphasized that in a society that has never been racially equitable, recovering from adversity and getting a community back to “where they once were” will only further inequity. Therefore, it’s imperative to center the conversation of community resilience around the question: “How do we prevent harm to communities in the first place?”
“In protest movement circles, there is talk of moving from the ideal of resilience to building community resilience and resistance as a way to advance community coherence, equity and health rather than to merely ‘recover,’” Bader and Thevarajah said. “Under this new framing, communities could gauge when they need to adapt and when they need to resist and push forward against the ‘adverse situation.’”

So, what can communities do to improve food and health systems to better support community resilience? While there is no one perfect strategy, there are some places to start:

Achieving a collective vision for health requires an understanding of the systems and structures that have historically marginalized communities and continue to drive health disparities. Bader and Thevarajah said we must  first try to “understand the social and structural drivers of health equity…[including the] concrete mechanisms by which structural violence creates harm to individuals and communities.” 

Barriers to equitable food and health care access include systemic racism, geographic and economic barriers, awareness, stigma, and physical access. 

“Organizational ego and‘the way we’ve always done things’ are also institutional barriers,” McReynolds said. 

Organizational leaders should think critically about the barriers and identify if their own organization is contributing to that harm. 

Bader and Thevarajah suggested thinking about partnerships: “Partner with community organizations to address the broader social and structural factors that create harm.” Improving access to food and health services requires partners from a variety of sectors to band together to change the environmental conditions and systems that can improve health and well-being.

“The more robust – and arguably more resilient – communities are the ones where many organizations and coalitions have come together to fight for and invest directly in better, more equitable access to health services.”

Similarly, McReynolds emphasized that within the food system, communities must focus on building new systems and structures by partnering and sharing power with neighbors with lived experience. “It is critical that we center and amplify historically marginalized voices and ideas to ensure equitable access to food for all individuals and families,” McReynolds said.

According to McReynolds, some effective strategies in bringing these voices to the forefront of conversations around health and well-being are: 

  • “building a culture of community inclusion by creating opportunities for engagement, reducing barriers to participation, and seeking out missing voices;
  • ensuring diversity in representation of voices at the decisionmaking table; and
  • providing training and mentoring opportunities to those in the community.”

Bader and Thevarajah added that once you’ve gotten the right people to the right table, it’s then all about accountability: “Create and support systems to be held accountable by your community to do your part to address adverse situations and prevent adverse situations.”

For resources on achieving community resilience in the health care sphere, Bader and Thevarajah suggested the following: 

For tools geared toward those working within the food system, visit