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Q and A with Kresge’s new Health Program Officer Erica Browne


Kresge’s Health Program recently welcomed Erica Browne as a new program officer. Browne, who most recently served as a faculty affiliate with the California Initiative for Health Equity and Action, will support the team’s work to advance community-driven solutions and build equity-focused systems of health that create opportunities for all people to achieve well-being.

Communications Officer Kate McLaughlin asked Browne a few questions to get to know her and to hear how she will approach her work at the foundation.

Q: What excites you most about being on Kresge’s Health Team?

A: Everything, literally! There is so much for me to learn and contribute to within our team and the foundation. I am excited to learn more about the tools of philanthropy and how they can be applied to our team’s focus areas. I am excited about the range and depth of experience of our team. And, most importantly, I am excited about the incredible opportunity to fully embody Kresge’s values of stewardship, partnership and equity in service of the bold ideas and actions necessary to actualize racial justice in our work.

Q: What passions do you bring to this work?

A: I have a deep passion for public health, creative expression and the joy of life. As a public health practitioner, I am really interested in how to creatively and strategically use the tools of public health research, practice and policy to improve community-level health outcomes. Part of that passion and practice is to hold, with compassion, the tensions that confound our shared responsibility to imagine a new health system while we diligently work to improve the one that exists. Having a sense of humor, and finding joy in seemingly simple things, definitely helps.

Q: How has your background and experience informed and influenced the role you want to play at the foundation?

A: I was born in Los Angeles and spent summers at my great grandparents’ farm in Covington, Tennessee. Both places nurtured my imagination, determination and curiosity. My great-grandparents were sharecroppers with an incredible work ethic that enabled them to eventually own a farm. My mother — like her mother, grandmother and other Black women in our family — picked cotton as a girl, then went on to become a physician. Growing up, there were so many experiences within my family, the neighborhoods where I lived, and schools I attended that shaped my sense of well-being. It was in college that I was given a language to describe the myriad social, political, economic, cultural, behavioral and biological factors that shape health. And now, I think about public health as collage, because it often feels like a practice of bringing together, to layer, seemingly disparate textures, colors, resources, people and perspectives in order to create a composite of potential solutions. The inherent contrasts and juxtapositions is where I see the most beauty and opportunity in public health work. All of my personal experiences, as well as what I have learned from my 20 years of public health experience, is what I intend to contribute to help create the conditions for health and well-being in historically disinvested and disadvantaged communities.

Q: What do you see as the most urgent need(s) when it comes to improving the health and well-being of people and communities?

A: I whole-heartedly believe that economic opportunity, substantive civic education and participation, and stories, music and art that open our hearts are indispensable to the process of building the political will and collective power necessary to improve the health and well-being of people and communities. Having previously worked within well-resourced health organizations, I am acutely aware of how institutions shape health and the social factors that confound our ability to live, fully. The crises of COVID-I9, racial injustice and economic inequity have brought into focus the need to address the structural factors that impede community well-being. And, as a result, we have an opportunity to reframe how we think about and respond to urgent needs within, and across, our communities.

Q: What is a good book that you’ve read recently that you’d recommend?

A: Gil Scott-Heron’s “Now and Then” is a short collection of poems, songs and liner notes that provide satire, spiritual reflection, cultural affirmation and history lessons all while offering a beautiful reminder of his extraordinary talent, transparency and wisdom. Reading and reciting words from his audio-recorded work deepened my appreciation for his gift of rhythm, and I would recommend this book as a poignant reminder of how so many things come back full circle.

Q: What other areas of Kresge’s work are you most interested in learning more about?

A: I am looking forward to learning more about the Social Investment Practice and the Detroit program. Because my understanding of community economic development is rather theoretical, I look forward to learning about how Kresge deploys a range of financial assets to help create more equitable opportunities for economic well-being and health. I also feel that the Detroit program will provide me with an invaluable orientation to the context of so much of Kresge’s work and unique approach as a foundation.