Q & A with Jamila Bryant, Local Initiatives Project Specialist at LiveWell Colorado

Jamila Bryant joined LiveWell Colorado as a graduate student during the summer of 2016 to complete her practicum. In her current role as Local Initiatives Project Specialist, Jamila provides critical research, analysis, technical assistance, and programmatic support for the HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign, the Double Up Food Bucks program, and other key initiatives at LiveWell. Jamila completed her capstone project in April 2017, where she had the opportunity to evaluate a physical activity program in Weld County School District 6. In May 2017, she earned her Master of Public Health degree—as well as the “Outstanding Contribution by a Student” award—from the Colorado School of Public Health for the Colorado State University campus. We sat down with Jamila to learn more about her experiences, passions, and goals in public health work. 

What led to your involvement with LiveWell Colorado?

I first heard about the organization through the Colorado School of Public Health. I attended a talk on campus at Colorado State University by Wendy Peters Moschetti, LiveWell’s Director of Food Systems, and I was immediately interested in the organization. When it became time to do my practicum—which is similar to an internship—one of my professors suggested LiveWell. I reached out to Olga González [pictured below], then Director of Community Engagement and current Director of Equity and Inclusion, and asked if there might be an opportunity for me to work with LiveWell. I began working with Olga and the LiveWell team that summer.

What led you to pursue a master’s in public health?

After I received my B.S. in Exercise Science I joined the United States Air Force. After six years of honorary service, I decided to leave active duty and transition into the Air Force Reserves. As a civilian, I struggled to find the right job.  I wasn’t using my degree, and I felt like I wasn’t making an impactful contribution to society. As I performed job searches, I found that I was mostly drawn to positions that required a master’s in public health, so I decided to go to graduate school. I chose the Colorado School of Public Health because it’s one of the few programs in the nation with a concentration in physical activity.  I’ve always lived an active lifestyle and learned the importance of being physically active, therefore I decided to enroll in the Master of Public Health program and concentrate on Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles. I also knew Colorado was one of the healthiest states, so I figured I could learn a few things if I moved here and go to school.

How has your experience with the Colorado School of Public Health and LiveWell Colorado impacted your understanding of public health issues in our state and beyond?

Being immersed in the school’s public health program, and having the opportunity to work with LiveWell for the past year, I’ve gained invaluable experiences that opened my eyes to the complex health issues many communities face. I used to think that living a healthy lifestyle was simply a matter of personal choice, but now I understand concepts like health inequity and the social determinates of health that contribute to individual decisions, and make it difficult for many individuals to make the healthy choice because it isn’t affordable or available to them.

Why is it important to apply an equity lens to public health work?

Health equity is a vital concept in public health work because not everybody is afforded the same opportunities to live a healthy lifestyle. Before [entering the master’s program and working with LiveWell] I didn’t understand this, but now I see how certain communities don’t have access to healthy food and/or safe spaces to be active.  I’ve learned that if we want people to make healthy choices, then we should work to provide everyone with equal access to the resources they need to live a healthy lifestyle.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be working with LiveWell through the summer of 2017, primarily helping with the Double Up Food Bucks program and continuing to assist with the organization’s various health equity efforts. I am also in the Air Force Reserves and will be leaving for a military assignment in October to Middle East.

When I return, I plan to pursue a career in health promotion and community engagement. I really enjoy working with people in the communities–there’s so much work to do and such a need for good leaders and boots on the ground. I want to be a part of grassroots efforts and community-led change to make communities more conducive for a healthy lifestyle.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’d like to say it’s been an honor to work at LiveWell Colorado. The organization is well known and has a positive reputation for doing important work around the state in regards to healthy eating and active living. But what’s made an even bigger impression on me is the people who work here. Everyone is so passionate about what they do. Seeing the passion displayed on a daily basis from the LiveWell Colorado staff really makes going to work exciting and meaningful in a way I’ve never experienced before.