The Centre for Environmental Health Equity congratulates Joyce Rock, inaugural recipient of the 2011 3M Health Nexus Leadership Award

by Jeff Masuda

Joyce’s longstanding commitments and contributions to the health and social justice aspirations of the community that inhabits Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside exemplifies the spirit of this new award in advancing the social determinants of health to inspire change in communities across Canada.

I am personally pleased that Health Nexus has chosen to use the inaugural award to bring national attention to a community that has proven to be fertile ground for innovative, grassroots health promotion action that responds to some of the most pressing and unjust health inequities in the country.

One of the most vexing obstacles to transforming Canada’s health (and non-health) systems in the direction of equity is a stubborn resistance to shift policies and practices in ways that can effectively respond to the complex and intersecting influences of the social determinants of health. Indeed, numerous studies, and expert committees have long recognized that no single program or policy initiative can effectively confront health inequities. Yet, one-off programs and policies are often exactly what one finds at the community level, as fiscal scarcity and bureaucratic conservatism continue to stifle the creativity and innovation that are so essential to making a community thrive.

joyce-rockThis is how Joyce’s approach to community development and health promotion has always been a little bit different, and alot more
effective than most. Flying in the face of cumbersome bureaucracies and unwieldy application processes are programs, advocacy efforts, and partnerships led by Joyce whose designs are based on the first principle of respecting the inherent humanity of all people, no matter what labels are attached to them. For Joyce, infusing the idea that everyone is possesses a right to basic humanity is an obvious precondition for any community interventions that attempts to advance the social determinants of health. See the Right to Food (hyperlink) as but one illustrative example.

Joyce has been a valued collaborator of CEHE for many years. The first time I met Joyce Rock was in 2007, when she was a gracious host to me in supporting our early efforts to seek research partnerships in the Downtown Eastside community. It took precious little time to see the obvious and deeply rooted connection between Joyce’s health promotion philosophy and its material manifestation as the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House where she was Executive Director.

The Neighbourhood House was, and is, more than just a community “drop-in” centre. It is the community’s “living room”. I recall being struck by the colourful walls of the Neighbourhood House, adorned
with invaluable information and inspiration for its clients from community artwork, to crucial phone numbers and addresses of service organizations, to photos of smiling DTES residents participating in Neighbourhood House activities.

As a constellation that is comprised of myriad mutually reinforcing health promotion programs and strategies, the Neighbourhood House has literally inscribed the social determinants of health into the streets, the organizations,and the people of the entire neighbourhood, if not the whole city of Vancouver and beyond. It is in this sense that Joyce’s influence in the community and in Canada through the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House and more recently the Kitchen Tables Project is an inspiration for all of us. While Joyce has since departed from the Neighbourhood House, it continues to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of DTES community inhabitants today, and Joyce continues to provoke creative approaches to health equity for the DTES community in many other ways.

The 3M Health Nexus Leadership Award is a timely and appropriate affirmation for Joyce’s work. It is an honour to call Joyce a close friend and valued mentor and I look forward to continuing to emulate her health leadership in the future.