Raheem Baraka is the founder and Executive Director of Baraka Community Wellness (BCW), an organization committed to reducing health disparities and healthcare costs for vulnerable communities. BCW provides wellness solutions for at-risk individuals and communities that engage, educate, and empower through developing and implementing programs that address the social and behavioral determinants of poor health outcomes with a focus on lifestyle and behavior, food access and education, and environmental contributors.
Raheem is a native Bostonian who has a deep passion for community health and helping to create solutions to solve disparities within communities of color and those that have been disenfranchised. He is one of 18 leaders participating in Food Solutions New England’s Network Leadership Institute and he has also been recognized for his work and dedication to community health and prevention initiatives by through multiple awards, including most recently the 2016 Boston Alliance for Community Health’s Community Leadership Award.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: I truly have a distain for disparity and inequity. Injustice and systemic challenges related to race and class are driving many problems in health care today. Work on upstream solutions that impact communities towards positive outcomes downstream is the smart, moral, and right thing to do.
Q: What are your most urgent concerns?
A: The new presidential administration! Will the Affordable Care Act stay intact? What will the future landscape of healthcare delivery and the models look like if there is a shift in access and support for several elements that are much needed within most communities of color? We have many initiatives underway under our Healthy Families Healthy Communities program that range from enhanced food access delivery to fitness and health coaching and all the way to a deeply comprehensive cooking education program in partnership with Brigham & Women’s Hospital. Our aim is to continually provide programs that are equitable, highly accessible, authentic, participant-centered, and outcome driven.
Q: How can the Food Solutions New England network help you overcome those concerns?
A: We are much more powerful together. To be associated and aligned with organizations that have the forward thinking vision of creating a new narrative around what local food systems can be, while addressing local and urban economic sustainability, is of extreme value to me. Our organizational approach of looking at these overall issues of food sovereignty through a healthcare lens coupled with the "50 by 60" Vision inclusive of racial equity and food justice looks to surely help overcome the issues of preventable chronic diseases and the compounded challenges that affect the communities we deeply care about.
Q: What has been your experience with the Network Leadership Institute?
A: Incredibly exciting. I love the energy, the camaraderie, the varied viewpoints, the creativity, the Backbone Team. I am very focused on logic, deliverables, and outcomes; I’m eager to put systems in place and make them operational – “go go go.” I’d love to see “50 by 60” come to fruition and even 50 by 40 would be great. There are a lot of moving parts – it’s a large territory with many stakeholders and we’re up against system that is happy with the status quo, hence there are challenges. But I am optimistic that the common good of this work can collectively disrupt all levels of the system from policy down to growers and urban markets.