Leadership Development


Health Equity Awakened: Leadership Institute


With centuries of persistent racial health inequities and as more local health departments identify social determinants and health equity as priorities, there is a need to support leaders in local health departments to further develop their individual, organizational, and systems level capacity to advance inside/outside strategic practices to achieve health equity.

In 2014, we expanded our capacity building work, launching a leadership development initiative now called the Health Equity Awakened Leadership Institute (formerly the Public Health and Equity Cohort). We designed this new initiative to advance health equity work in local health departments by investing in individuals and building a national leadership network.

For us, equity work is more than working with low-income communities and more than diversifying a health department. Health equity is about explicitly identifying and systematically addressing the intersecting root causes of unfair health outcomes, including oppression and lack of power. It is also  about cultivating concrete and innovative strategies to change policies and practices both “inside” and “outside” of local health departments.

Advancing this framework is not easy within highly structured government institutions – which have, at times, been part of the problem. Health Equity Awakened is about building an intentional learning community that positions emerging leaders to advance a more radical health equity practice.


How It Works

Each year, we receive nominations for motivated, inspiring, and risk-taking emerging leaders from local health departments across the country who are poised to strategically tackle structural and institutional challenges to advancing health equity. Our Leadership Fellows join a robust national network of change agents, pushing the conversation on health equity and guiding the public health community.

The Health Equity Awakened Institute is co-facilitated by a dynamic group of mentors and faculty who are established leaders in public health, leadership development, racial justice, and community organizing.  

Our goals

  1. Increase the success of emerging leaders in advancing equity
  2. Increase innovation and risk taking in public health
  3. Increase these leaders’ ability to mentor other practitioners.  

Funded by The California Endowment, the first cohort of health department leaders met three times between November 2014 and January 2015, exploring frameworks, developing projects, and deepening their analysis. Now, with funding from The California Endowment and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to launch another two cohorts, we’re underway with a new group of Leadership Fellows for 2017-2018.

For more information, contact Project Director Nashira Baril at or 510-452-9442 x111.

The 2017 – 2018 Leadership Fellows


Meileen Acosta – Solano County Public Health Department, Fairfield, CA

Katie Balderas – Long Beach Department of Health & Human Services, Long Beach, CA

Nicki Britten – Berrien County Health Department, Benton Harbor, MI

Manuel Carmona – City of Pasadena Public Health Department, Pasadena, CA

Debbie Edokpolo – Ingham County Health Department, Lansing, MI

Martha Friedman – Vermont Department of Health, Burlington, VT

Rujuta Gaonkar- Multnomah County Health Department, Portland, OR

Sarah Grosshuesch – Adams County Health and Human Services Department, Friendship, WI

Kiran Joshi – Cook County Department of Public Health, Oak Forest, IL

Sabrina Lakhani – NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, NY

Javier Lopez – NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, New York, NY

Elsa Mendoza Jimenez – Monterey County Health Department, Monterey, CA

Tram Nguyen – Alameda County Public Health Department, Alameda, CA

Heather Jue Northover – Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Los Angeles, CA

Alia Stevenson – Public Health Madison & Dane County, Madison, WI

Evonda Thomas-Smith – Department of Health and Human Services, Evanston, IL

Justin Watkins – San Mateo County Health System, San Mateo, CA

Carolyn White – Health Department, City of Kansas City, MO