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Cultures of engagement: The organizational foundations of advancing health in immigrant and low-income communities of color.

  • Author(s): Bloemraad, Irene
  • Terriquez, Veronica
  • et al.

A rich civic infrastructure of community-based organizations (CBOs) can help generate, diffuse and maintain a culture of engagement and health that benefits marginalized populations most at risk for illness, disability, and poor health. Attention to CBOs advances "meso-level" frameworks for understanding health cultures and outcomes by going beyond attention to social networks and social identities. We focus on three mechanisms: CBOs can (1) empower individuals by developing civic capacity and personal efficacy; (2) foster solidarity by building networks, social identities and a shared commitment to collective well-being; and (3) mobilize people to have a voice in health-related policies and programming, thereby affecting community well-being. We draw on theory and research in sociology, political science and psychology, and we illustrate the utility of a CBO approach by examining survey and semi-structured interview data from participants in youth civic groups in 13 low-income, predominantly immigrant communities in California. Interview data illustrate the ways in which CBOs enhance members' civic capacities, provide a sense of empowerment and efficacy to engage in healthy behaviors, develop solidarity among diverse participants, and elaborate networks among those committed to community well-being. We also discuss CBO-led campaigns in which youth mobilized for change in policies and practices of local institutions to illustrate possible community-wide health consequences of CBO engagement. CBOs can thus generate individual-level well-being effects, and reduce structural barriers to good health through changes in the broader environment.

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