Community leaders challenging health inequities selected for the 2021 class of the Healthy Communities Fellowship

February 24, 2021

Ten experts addressing health inequities around the world will participate in year-long media and communications fellowship program

Tsion Ghedamu

Washington, DC, February 24, 2021 The Aspen Institute today announced the 2021 class of the Healthy Communities Fellowship, a program designed to amplify the voices of community leaders addressing health inequities. “ COVID-19 has exposed long-standing and deeply rooted inequities throughout the world, we need to learn from more community leaders who have deep expertise and can positively shape the field. This fellowship really allows fellows to use their voices to make an impact in their communities,” says Peggy Clark, Director of the Aspen Global Innovators Group. The third cohort of ten fellows includes advocates for maternal health, mental health, mitigating provider burnout, public health prevention, promotion of healthy families, and combating of racism. They will participate in a year-long program designed to sharpen and amplify their messages through public speaking, writing, and networking.  

Erasma Monticciolo, a 2020 Healthy Communities fellow stated, “Through Aspen’s Healthy Communities Fellowship I was able to connect with leaders from across the nation doing work to promote improved health and access for historically marginalized communities. While 2020 posed great challenges for each of us and our communities, we were buoyed by the support that we received from each other and the wonderful team at Aspen.” 

This initiative is supported by the Johnson and Johnson Foundation as part of their effort to help build resilient community-based health systems with thriving frontline health workers.

Meet the Healthy Communities Fellows:

The 2021 Healthy Communities Fellows come from New York, California, Alabama, District of Columbia, Oklahoma, Brazil, Liberia, South Africa and Connecticut. They will participate in a curated media and communications training to bring new conversations and ideas on addressing health inequities to major public platforms. Learn more about the fellowship at

Wania Mollo Baia
Sirio Libanes Hospital
São Paulo, Brazil

Dr. Wania Baia, director at Sirio Libanes Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, realized she needed to activate people’s agency to enhance the joy in work of her staff. While she was a participant of Especialista em Melhoria, IHI’s 10-month Improvement Specialist program offered in Portuguese-speaking countries, Baia saw the opportunity to use her institutional power to identify the structures within the hospital that are leading to burnout. She focused on increasing the number of professionals in the critical care unit who agree that they participate in the decisions made in the unit’s work processes. She is a married with 3 children and dog and lives in São Paulo, Brasil.

Monique Castro
Indigenous Circle of Wellness
Commerce, California

Monique Castro is a citizen of the Diné (Navajo) Nation and Xicana, born and raised on the ancestral homelands of the Tongva People (aka Los Angeles). She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, certified professional coach, social justice consultant, facilitator and advocate with over 14 years of professional experience in the areas of health, wellness, community organizing, and education. Her approach centers an Indigenous world view and core values. She is a collaborative and relational-leader with an exceptional track record building and maintaining sustainable relationships with Native-led organizations, Tribes, higher education institutions, and community members throughout California and nationally.

Phiwe Dauwa
Grow Great
Midrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

A licensed registered nurse and midwife who worked in the Neonatal Intensive care unit (NICU) after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing obtained from the University of the Free State. In September 2019 she started working at Grow Great- a national campaign that aims to galvanize South Africa towards achieving zero stunting in children by 2030. Her current role is project coordinator in the Grow Great Champions division, which aims to encourage behavior change in Community health care workers (CHWs). My responsibilities include training CHWs around South Africa, communications, data capturing, event planning etc.

Nikia Grayson
CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health
Memphis, Tennessee

Dr. Nikia Grayson, DNP, MSN, MPH, MA, CNM, FNP-C (she/her/hers) is a Reproductive Justice informed public health activist, anthropologist, and family nurse-midwife who has devoted her life to serving and empowering people in underserved communities. Nikia has more than 15 years of experience working in public health and nursing, with her more recent work focusing on reproductive rights and justice, birth justice, and midwifery. Nikia has a deep love for midwifery and growing the workforce of midwives and birth workers of colors in the south. Nikia is the Director of Midwifery Services at CHOICES Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, where they have opened the first non-profit comprehensive reproductive health care center in the country and the first birth center in the city. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for SisterReach, the only Reproductive Justice organization in Tennessee.

Aza Nedhari
Mamatoto Village
Washington, DC

Aza Nedhari, MS, LM, CPM is a forward-thinking and visionary Certified Professional Midwife and Family Counselor with a proven track record of exhibiting her strengths in innovative thinking, operationalizing equity, strategic planning, advanced problem solving, and organizational development. Ms. Nedhari offers 18 years of progressive and intentional work in reproductive and maternal health, human service program development and evaluation, and curriculum design. Aza has proven her ability to cultivate and lead teams through a transformational servant leadership framework, with an eye towards fostering growth, resilience, and self- determination. She is currently the co-founding Executive Director of Mamatoto Village.

Chauntel Norris
Alabama Prison Birth Project
Birmingham, Alabama

Chauntel Norris is a DONA trained birth doula, Lamaze trained childbirth educator and a Certified Lactation Counselor. She serves as the Manager of Advocacy, Forward Vision, & Change for the Alabama Prison Birth Project where she works to ensure that incarcerated mothers are supported both physically and emotionally and are able to express their milk and get it to their babies. Chauntel is the Co-Founder of Baobab Birth Collective, a Kindred partner of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) Community Transformer, and serves on the board for the Alabama Breastfeeding Committee.

Denise Smith
National Association of Community Health Workers
Hartford, Connecticut

Denise Octavia Smith, MBA, CHW, PN is the founding Executive Director of the National Association of Community Health Workers where she currently leads national advocacy on Community Health Worker capacity and roles to center community voice, drive equity and strengthen public health response during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Smith has contributed to national initiatives and research to integrate community health workers into the ACA marketplace and during COVID-19, improve trust and communication between providers and patients on cost and value in treatment options, and elevate patient and community governance in learning healthcare systems. As a RWJF Culture of Health Leader, Denise pursues a culture of health where individuals have self-determination and dignity, where communities meaningfully contribute to system design and governance and where societies eliminate structural barriers to well-being. 

Marion Subah
Last Mile Health

Marion Subah, a Health System Strengthening public health professional, is a fellow of the West Africa College of Nursing (WACN,) a Certified Registered Nurse Midwife, a Certified Maternal Child Health Registered Nurse, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and member of the Education Committee of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) with over 40 years of experience in reproductive maternal newborn child and maternal (RMNCH) service delivery, management, education and training for performance improvement, from community to national level. She is leading and managing LMH portfolio in Liberia, including offices in three counties and a staff of 130 persons, overseeing robust technical, programmatic, financial, administrative, and operational, systems and processes in developing and attaining LMH Liberia’s annual performance targets, with strategic development and implementation of MOH engagement in advancing a high quality technical and health systems approach in planning, designing implementing and evaluating a coordinated and collaborative MOH led, with other key stakeholders, a sustainable and scalable National Community Health Program.

Celina Trowell
Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals (CYP)
Brooklyn, New York City

Celina is a lifelong resident of Brownsville, Brooklyn. A proud “life student” of radical Black imagination, abolitionist tradition and theory, she believes deeply in the need for communal healing, an internal process of restorative healing within individuals and communities that are historically oppressed, and a transformative response to the external systems that perpetuates oppression. This framework has informed her engagement in community, faith work and organizing by working to educate, stimulate, activate, and agitate to challenge carceral responses and systems that are by products of systemic racism. 

LaBrisa Williams
Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative
Tulsa, Oklahoma

LaBrisa Williams is the Executive Director of the Tulsa Birth Equity Initiative, an organization whose mission is to equip families in Tulsa to have healthy births with dignity and reduce maternal health disparities She fills gaps that have historically been ignored and connects birth workers with resources and supports to increase access to Doula of color to address health inequities in Black and Brown communities in Tulsa to build healthier families. She has a passion for innovations that will ensure equity in maternal health. LaBrisa currently works and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Johnson & Johnson Foundation
The Johnson & Johnson Foundation is a registered charitable organization that reflects the commitment of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies to keeping people well at every age and every stage of life by blending heart, science and ingenuity to profoundly change the trajectory of health for humanity.  Please visit here for more information: 

The Aspen Global Innovators Group
The Aspen Global Innovators Group widens access to health and prosperity for people living at the world’s margins. Our network of innovators brings overlooked challenges into plain sight, then creates programs, policies and partnerships to address them. Breakthrough programs include: New Voices Fellowship, which brings expert voices from emerging countries into the global development discussion; AMP Health, which works with health leaders in under-resourced countries advancing to the last mile; the Artisan Alliance, supporting the world’s most untapped start-up community; and Aspen Ideas Health, a premier creative forum on health at the Aspen Ideas Festival. For more information, visit 

The Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, CO; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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