Over 450 diverse leaders gather in College Park, MD, to address health equity, prosperity and ACEs

abc2_TiffA young woman from North Carolina, Tiffany Shields (3rd in from the R), attended her first conference ever August 4-5 at the University of Maryland, College Park. She stood up and told the room that she was nervous about coming, didn’t expect people to be especially welcoming, and thought she’d probably be bored at least part of the time. Instead, it was clear from her beaming smile and enthusiasm that she loved the experience.

Of the hundreds of conferences I’ve planned and attended, this one—Historic Assembly on Health Equity and Prosperity— was far and away the most unusual and inspiring. There was poetry, music,

theater, storytelling, and more conventionally, exercises to develop a national action plan to achieve health equity and prosperity. For a flavor of the event, scroll through a collection of photos, tweets, and drawings by Ellen Lovelidge of entre Quest. Click here for more information about the assembly and how to join the equity and prosperity movement.

Ellen Loveridge of entre Quest
Ellen Lovelidge of entry Quest creating one of many visual representations of the Assembly proceedings.

The meeting was part of the umbrella initiative, 100 Million Healthier Lives, convened by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The vision of the initiative is “to fundamentally transform the way the world thinks and acts to improve health, well-being and equity to get to breakthrough results.” IHI grew out of the quality improvement work of Dr. Don Berwick and is best known for the development of the Triple Aim, “a framework for optimizing health system performance,” that includes population health, the experience of individuals have in the system, and costs. The Institute for Alternative Futures and 100 Million Healthier Lives convened the Health Equity and Prosperity initiative.

I’ve never been to a meeting where poems were written spontaneously and read aloud. The poem “I Will Not Die an Unlived Life” by Dawna Markova was discussed and reflected upon in small groups.

There was an interactive theater performance where the audience could ask the actors—remaining in character—questions about their lives. The play was so real that we felt the characters were answering the questions, not the actors.

There were “pop-up talks” where people told their stories in interesting pairs, asking each other questions in lively conversation. One pair was Fred “Freddie” Spry, Master Barber/CEO, H.A.I.R (Health Advocates in-Reach & Research) and Mat Patsky, once with Lehman Brothers where a colleague told him his career would be ruined if he continued to press on social issues. Spry turned his life around after prison and now runs a community institution (i.e., barber shop), involving several members of his family.

On day two of the meeting, action planning took shape. People gathering in workgroups were asked to develop an aim—achievable by 2020—in one of 12 health equity topics. Those with the most votes would influence priority setting of 100 Million Healthier Lives.

L to R Cynthia Stitt, Gaston County (NC), Yansy Salmeron, Brown University, Kathy Awkard, Montgomery College
L to R Cynthia Stitt, Yansy Salmeron, Brown University, Kathy Awkard, Montgomery College working on ACEs focused aim.

The group I participated in chose “Ensure every child thrives from cradle to career” and developed this goal: “85% of the targeted communities will develop an action plan that reduces adverse childhood experiences and builds childhood resilience through empowerment.” Cynthia Stitt, a nurse, maternal child health specialist, actor, filmmaker from Gastonia, North Carolina, made our successful pitch and in her remarks, added that the cradle included the mother’s womb since the child’s future is influenced by what happens before birth.

Another group also worked on this topic and developed this goal: Develop “All Start”, a national program for ALL children 0-3. Of the 20 options people could vote on electronically, these two topped the list. Others in the top five addressed increasing the number of people of color in leadership roles, reducing food waste, and using policy to increase community investment.

Soma Stout and Monte Roulier
Soma Stout, Institute for Healthcare Improvement and Monte Roulier, Community Commons

A constant throughout the meeting was the warm and inclusive presence of Dr. Soma Stout, executive lead of 100 Million Healthier Lives and external lead for IHI. She provided guidance on how the breakouts and exercises would work and how each component fit into the larger scheme. She described how we could stay involved in the effort and pointed to abundant resources—such as the “Bright Spot Library” of successes and lessons learned about community initiatives. She encouraged the participation of organizations and individuals, urging us to join the online community, and expand the current social reach of 1.44 million by tweeting with #healthequitynow and #onehumanfamily throughout the meeting and as part of a Thunderclap. The reach was increased to 2.9 million by the end of the meeting.

The Assembly included 11 partners: Institute for Alternative Futures, Samueli Institute, Institute for Healthcare Improvement 100 Million Healthier Lives, Community Initiatives, Academy Health, National Collaborative for Health Equity, Stanford Center for Population Health Science, Healthy Companies International, Prevention Institute, Center for Health Equity, Health Advocates In Research.

A gathering “Scaling to 100 Million Healthier Lives” will be held November 17-18 in Phoenix, Arizona. ACEs Connection Network, which comprises ACEsTooHigh.com and its companion social network ACEsConnection.com, is a partner of 100 Million Healthier Lives.


  1. Thank you, Kathy, for your comments. And yes, we must continue our efforts to impact our youth from cradle to career. It was such a great conference and the best part is that it was only one part of the process created by 100 Million Healthier Lives to keep us working together. Elizabeth


  2. Thank you Elizabeth for this thorough, and dare I say, amazing recount of the HEAP conference last month. The experience of #100mlives has turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving for me. How serendipitous that I should come across your article today, after having participated in the 100mlives.org conference call just this Thursday where we, among other things, recapped this extraordinary experience. Thank you for reminding me of our groups efforts to continue to impact our youth from cradle to career.


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