Clarkston, Georgia, is often described as the most diverse square mile in the United States. The city—home to many refugees and immigrants from around the world—has a population of approximately 17,000 residents who speak more than 60 languages. These residents face a range of challenges including language barriers, inadequate housing, economic hardship, cultural adjustment, access to health care, and mental health difficulties. All these challenges impact residents’ health.
With Clarkston’s diversity, a primary challenge for local government is understanding the varied public health needs of residents from different backgrounds. Therefore, the Prevention Research Center at Georgia State University (GSU PRC) works in tandem with Clarkston’s residents to address these challenges and improve public health.
On May 14, 2022, GSU PRC took a collaborative approach to partner with the city to host a successful Clarkston Summit at GSU’s Perimeter Campus. The idea for a summit was first proposed by Dr. Heval Kelli, a cardiologist, member of GSU’s PRC Community Advisory Board (CAB), and former refugee, who shared with the PRC some of the residents’ challenges and experiences. GSU PRC then organized an event that allowed the community to share their ideas and concerns. The PRC acknowledged that solutions to the problems facing the refugees and immigrants of Clarkston would best be solved by the residents themselves. They provided a welcoming space and facilitated conversations in which community residents could discuss problems and brainstorm solutions.
To address access barriers for residents attending the summit, GSU PRC collaborated with a variety of local organizations to offer childcare, transportation, vendors, security, interpreters, and COVID-19 vaccinations. The organization also worked with medical students and physicians from Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta to provide courses like Stop the Bleed and CPR trainings in Somali, Dari, Pashto, Burmese, Spanish, and Arabic. Additionally, GSU PRC worked with the CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) and the IRC (International Rescue Committee) to administer 200 COVID-19 vaccinations to residents at the summit, exceeding expectations.
In planning the summit, GSU’s PRC CAB, and key community members, provided input, strategic planning, and implementation. Also crucial to the summit’s success: help from community members such as Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks and Vice Mayor Awet Eyasu, Stephanie Brown-Bryant, Principal of Indian Creek Elementary, and local immigrant and refugee organizations.
The Community Attended and Shared
To facilitate community dialogue, the organizing committee structured the one-day summit around the community’s needs, desires, and dreams. Community members shared their ideas and voiced their concerns and problems. Given the cultural and language diversity, GSU PRC provided on-site interpreters to ensure that all residents could share in their preferred language.
Community residents attended three morning panels. Panels focused on resettlement, education, health issues, a resource expo, and community trainings. The youth panel was instrumental in sharing concerns about health issues the youth of Clarkston face. In these spaces, members voiced concerns about language barriers between schools and parents, the need for adult education, lack of transportation, and cultural challenges. The community shared additional concerns regarding inadequate and unaffordable housing, unemployment, mental health, and poor health outcomes.
Community residents then developed solutions to these problems. The solutions included developing a MARTA (Metro Atlanta’s public transportation) app in common community languages, using off-duty buses for transportation to social service providers, hiring mental health system navigators, and developing a system that recognizes education and professional training in countries of origin, so that new arrivals can contribute to the community by continuing their education and careers in Georgia.
GSU PRC listened to the community and is working to address resident concerns. They are offering grant-writing assistance, so that added funding can further extend and launch community requested programs. The GSU PRC secured $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Education, with the help of Congressman Hank Johnson, to expand English language instruction in the community, as well as $100,000 from DeKalb County, Georgia, to launch a mental health program in partnership with the IRC, placing clinical counseling graduate students on-site to deliver much needed care. GSU PRC is also offering Stop the Bleed and CPR trainings in more languages, launching a free diabetes clinic for Burmese- and Spanish-speaking residents, and continuing to support a women’s preventive health program in partnership with Grace Village Medical Clinic.
As an extension of the Clarkston Summit, GSU PRC has set up monthly community conversations with residents, so that they can discuss refugees’ and immigrants’ specific needs and resources in the short and long term. The goal is to continue the dialogue from the summit—by inviting the community to lead discussions around the changes they want to see. This dialogue will help the community develop specific solutions that can benefit everyone across the diverse ethnicities living in Clarkston.
GSU PRC and the city of Clarkston are planning for their third summit, to be held in 2024. They are taking the lessons learned and attendee feedback from the 2022 summit to make the third summit even more fruitful.
GSU PRC is one of 26 PRCs supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the 2019–2024 funding cycle.
Data USA: Clarkston, Georgia. DataUSA. Updated on March 22, 2023. Accessed April 11, 2023.
City of Clarkston. About Clarkston. Updated on April 1, 2023. Accessed on April 12, 2023.