Jimena Loveluck, MSW | She/Her/Hers
Steering Committee Member
Vice President of Community Research & Innovation at UNIFIED – HIV Health and Beyond in Ypsilanti, MI
Michigan Forward in Enhancing Research and Community Equity (MFierce), is a partnership of community organizations, youth advocates, and public health researchers working together to reduce STIs among young sexual and gender minority youth in Southeast Michigan. MFierce is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Community Approaches to Reducing STIs Program and is a project of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
MFierce is a coalition that utilizes a shared decision-making process among all partners to address STIs in our region. MFierce is comprised of three entities; a Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities team, a group of Youth Advisory Board (YAB) members who are youth advocates, ages 20-30, and a Steering Committee of organization and agency representatives. We are currently implementing the Health Access Initiative, a LGBTQ+ cultural responsiveness training and technical assistance program for local clinics and health centers. Our second initiative is developing the Advocacy Collective, a LGBTQ+ youth health advocate organization.
In the spirit of promoting LGBTQ+ affirming resources and services, check out this great event this month: The San Francisco Department of Public Health, Population Health Division is hosting a webinar titled “PrEP for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Individuals“. Click here for more details.
How did you get involved with MFierce?
I started working with the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan in 2010 when I was the President/CEO of the HIV/AIDS Resource Center (HARC) and our organization became a community partner on several HIV prevention research projects. I was particularly drawn to the community-based participatory model of research and the partnership that developed with the Center and other community partners, including AIDS Partnership Michigan (APM).
I became involved with MFierce at its very inception when I found the funding announcement from CDC and talked with José Bauermeister, the former director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, about applying and the opportunity it would provide to create structural change related to HIV and other STIs. The ongoing work of MFierce and the long history of collaboration between HARC and APM also helped steer our merger in early 2015 to become UNIFIED – HIV Health and Beyond. I have been a member of the Steering Committee since the project started and am so proud to be involved in this project with other community partners, Center staff and the Youth Advisory Board (YAB).
The MFierce Coalition uses a community-engaged approach where decision-making is shared among the three entities. That sounds complex. What are the most important take aways from using participatory processes?
A true participatory process takes a lot of work – listening, compromise, self-awareness, cultural humility and dedication. It’s about equalizing the decision-making process between community partners, researchers, community members and youth. That comes about with a common goal that is beyond any one researcher, Steering Committee or Youth Advisory Board Member – reducing disparities in HIV and STIs in our communities.
What is the most exciting thing that you’ve experienced while being a part of MFierce?Working with members of the YAB has been exciting and rewarding. The YAB has played an integral role in the project from the very beginning and the community planning process has been enriched by their many contributions. As we implement the Youth Advocacy Collective, I am excited to see how they are learning and sharing their expertise to improve health services for LGBTQ youth.
When I talk to people about MFierce, I tell them…
It’s about creating structural change. Then when I get confused or funny looks, I highlight the work we have been doing to increase access to culturally responsive care and decrease HIV and STIs. Of course, I also talk about our fabulous partnership with community organizations, the Center and the youth which are at the core of our project’s success.
How do you define “justice”?
Early on in my HIV work, I had the honor of taking a course with Jonathan Mann at the Harvard School of Public Health when I was living and working in Boston. That would have been around 1996. He helped solidify my view of health as a human right. Justice is when everyone’s human rights are protected, respected and advanced. Justice is also about equity and if we truly had equity in health, we would not see the significant disparities in HIV and STIs that we can find in every part of our country.
What else is going on in your life that you would like to share?
On a personal note, I just celebrated my 27th wedding anniversary and could not ask for a more supportive partner. On a professional note, I am looking forward to representing MFierce and UNIFIED – HIV Health and Beyond at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Denver later this fall.
Can you tell us about some of your heros/sheros/queeros?
I know this will sound corny, but my mom is definitely my shero. She instilled in me a commitment to social justice and has taught me the importance of lifelong learning. She also made sure to preserve our Chilean culture and Spanish language while raising four kids on her own. Another hero would be Elmer Freeman, my social work mentor. He welcomed me as a social work student and intern when I first moved to Boston in 1988, became my employer and colleague after I finished my MSW, and has continued to be a friend and mentor who introduced me to community-based participatory research before I knew I would be doing this kind of work myself.
If you could look into the future, what would you tell your future self?
Don’t worry so much about pleasing other people and be your authentic self. Challenging and painful experiences will make you stronger, and always trust your instincts.
And the most important question of our time, if you were a crayon, what color would you be?