Guest blogger, Amber Bullock is the Executive Vice President of Program Development at Legacy. She is also the recipient of the Emory Centers National Partners Leadership Award.
I have been blessed to work with a number of dedicated and smart individuals over the length of my public health career. They have included experienced scientists, health advocates, community practitioners and many young people. Collectively, we’ve really moved a lot of mountains in the last few decades.
Technical assistance and training (TAT) is a set of tools that helps to not only impart knowledge but also provide skill sets for advocacy purposes. You can think of it as action-oriented education; it helps to build capacity at the local level. In 2002 Legacy, along with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) founded the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium (TTAC) at the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University.
TAT has been widely utilized in tobacco control (and many other public health sectors) to transfer research, knowledge and skills to organizations and individuals on the ground to solve problems, build capacity and systems conducive to tobacco control to achieve success and sustainability with their goals and objectives. Most tobacco control successes have occurred or started on the local level – the passage of clean indoor air ordinances in public spaces such as restaurants and bars is a good example of this. Community leaders were trained, which increased the capacity of these advocates to take on tobacco issues. Organizations like Legacy and TTAC have worked long and hard to create onsite and distance training opportunities, creative interactive online toolkits and resources, and support for state and local coalition building and voluntary advocacy activities. All the advances we’ve made in the last few years relating to tobacco use at the community level was because someone was there to help community leaders address tobacco related issues within their locales. Together we created a system to provide resources and guidance to help these leaders while they did the actual work.
At Legacy we’ve had much success in our TAT efforts. I’m particularly proud of the work that we’ve done with our Youth Activism Fellowship. We often speak of youth being our future, but quite frankly they are our present leaders. They’re doing the real work in their communities, and through our Youth Activism program at Legacy, we amplify their leadership skills, and give them a forum to not only be heard, but also to take action. We’ve had a number of cohorts of Fellows from various communities that we’ve taken through the 18-month experience, and it’s truly heartening to see that many of them have gone on working in tobacco control, in social justice, and other arenas.
And yet, while we’ve made great strides in reducing tobacco rates in the general population, the world of tobacco has becoming increasingly complex on many different fronts. The proliferation of flavors in new and emerging products that are currently unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the influence of menthol on various priority populations, and sub-groups of priority populations, for instance, Native Americans, that continue to have high rates of smoking are only a few of the issues that we in tobacco control have to double up our efforts for. An added complexity is that those of us who do this type of work will have fewer resources to do it with. There are fewer programs that offer TAT and there is a big disconnect when you have less to deal with more. It’s something I refer to as “intervention on a shoe string”.
In spite of these challenges, we need to continue to be a catalyst for change. By imparting knowledge and skills at the local level, we can collectively work together toward building a Smoke Free Generation. It will take time and resources but I am confident that one day we will get there.