Ribbon Rouge aims to close gaps in health equity for Black Albertans

The Ribbon Rouge Foundation has launched a new community initiative that aims to secure health equity for African, Caribbean, and Black people.

Through the Black Equity in Alberta Rainforest (B.E.A.R.) program, the grassroots organization will collaborate with post-secondary institutions (NorQuest College, the University of Alberta, The King's University, and Mount Royal University) to generate the research needed to better understand how anti-Black racism affects access to health, wealth, and well-being. It will also work to understand how the current resources and initiatives across the province could be improved.

"It becomes a challenge when you're confronted with issues, but we also don't have the right information or evidence to figure out how to tackle these issues," said Funke Olokude, executive director of Ribbon Rouge.

There are nine sub-projects through B.E.A.R., explained Olokude, which range from community asset mapping to qualifying and quantifying Alberta's Black-related health inequity. Another will look at mapping the province's justice system and how that extends to immigration, mental health, and other issues.

The final two projects will pull the data together from the first seven projects to develop solutions and policies that can respond to the needs of African, Caribbean, and Black communities.

Ribbon Rouge Foundation and Mitacs also plan to fund 13 interdisciplinary reports that will be informed by the projects, in hopes of creating change.

"A tangible thing that we're hoping for out of one of the reports (on the justice system) is to look at intersectional factors that can impact people's health when it comes to access to services or what kind of services we are providing individuals," Olokude said. "Sometimes not everyone who's going through the justice system needs to be in jail ... there's mental health conditions, trauma."

A province-wide advisory board that Ribbon Rouge is setting up will also provide input for the reports to ensure that what is garnered from the research is accurate.

A portrait of Funke Olokude

Funke Olokude took over as executive director of Ribbon Rouge in October 2021. (Supplied)

Olokude also wants to make sure that the research done through the B.E.A.R. program belongs to the people it's about. Research logs, reports, and data from the projects will be available on Ribbon Rouge's website or by request. The reports will also be translated into infographics, research posters, and more.

The launch of B.E.A.R. comes at a time of transition for Ribbon Rouge, a nonprofit that is focused on social justice through the arts. Last October, Olokude took over from founder Moréniké Ọláòṣebìkan, who started the organization in 2006 to raise money for HIV relief in Africa and saw it through an evolution toward addressing the disparity in HIV infection among African, Caribbean, and Black communities compared with other Canadians.

Olokude has spent the majority of her first six months in the job planning and learning, and as she looks forward, she's hoping that her work with Ribbon Rouge will eventually mean there won't be a need for the organization.

"Whatever affects the African, Caribbean, Black community affects all Canadians and Edmontonians when it comes to health. There's an economy cost to racism, and to marginalization," Olokude explained.

"My long-term goal will be to bring new ways where we can connect and heal from trauma, especially in different art forms because ... art speaks to all of us."