To build a stronger, more united movement for health justice, we need community leaders at the center. But advocacy work isn’t easy – especially for community leaders who have been impacted most by racism, classism and other forms of oppression.  

That is why Community Catalyst is thrilled to welcome its 2024-2025 cohort of the Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship: Taller Salud, Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and Be Inc. Collective. 

Community Catalyst’s Restuccia Health Justice Fellowship (the “Fellowship”) was created to build collective power and impact through leadership development and infrastructure support. The Fellowship builds the power and capacity of advocacy leaders and their organizations who are actively working to reshape the U.S. health system to better reflect and respond to their community’s needs. It aims to deliver inspiration and strategies centered on race equity to inform broader, systemic changes needed in the health justice movement. This is the third cohort of the Fellowship since its launch in 2021. 

The Fellowship prioritizes organizations and leaders of color who are working to reshape the health system, inviting leaders and diverse teams to address the historically discriminatory roots of our health system.  

Those who are most impacted by harmful systems often are best positioned to create solutions that resonate with their community. However, advocates and organizations of color often experience double the work – their advocacy is both personal and professional.  

One of the Fellowship’s most unique aspects is its culture, which emphasizes authenticity, wellness and community connection. The Fellowship culture encourages leaders to show up as they are, to practice self-care and collective care, and to build trust with other Fellows.    

“What I’m most excited about in this Fellowship is the healing process and the healing journey.”
Ailla Lokebol, 2024-2025 Fellow with Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese

“What I’m most excited about in this Fellowship is the healing process and the healing journey,” said Ailla Lokebol, a 2024-2025 Fellow with Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese. “That we as minorities can learn how to get through all these health injustices that we do experience. Learning how to heal and reflect on that is what I’m most excited for.” 

Get to know the Fellows, their organizations, and what excites them most about the program below. 

Taller Salud 

Taller Salud is a Puerto Rico community-based feminist organization dedicated to improving women’s access to health care, reducing violence within the community and encouraging economic growth through education and activism. The organization’s mission is to elevate women’s leadership in order to co-create well-being, integral health and opportunities for individual and collective development. 

Taller Salud’s goal during the Fellowship is to develop a new strategic plan, including disaster planning, to support the implementation of new staffing structures and workplans through a values-based lens. 

Angela Cruz, a 2024-2025 Fellow with Taller Salud, is excited that the Fellowship holds space for both personal and professional growth alongside other advocates. 

“Exchanging ideas, collaboration and mutual support can be incredibly powerful in bringing about meaningful change in our community and our organizations,” Angela said. “I am committed to embrace the vulnerability and the growth as we collectively strive toward a more just and compassionate world.” 

Taller Salud’s work emphasizes the importance of comprehensive health care that considers physical, emotional and spiritual aspects. The organization also advocates for environmental health, the guarantee of a violence-free life and the development of prosperous communities that offer opportunities and resources for all. 

Yamilin Rivera, director of communications and development at Taller Salud, is looking forward to connecting with other advocates and amplifying their collective impact through the Fellowship.  

“I’m fighting for a future where everyone, regardless of their background, has access to quality health care and can live with dignity and respect,Yamilin said

A group of four people pose in an office hallway. From left to right: person is wearing a black top and beige dress with a necklace. The second person is wearing earrings, a long blue tunic top with black pants and a multi-colored robe. The third person is wearing a top with an assortment of flower graphics and black pants and a flower hair clip. The fourth person is wearing a pink dress with a necklace.
Ailla Lokebol, Michelle Pedro and Melisa Laelan with Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese have been chosen as 2024-2025 Fellows, with senior staff support from Jenitha Debrum (pictured second from the right).

Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese 

Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM) empowers the Marshallese community through culturally sensitive programs on education, leadership, policy advocacy and holistic services. The organization works to improve the health and wellness of the Marshallese community with a focus on diabetes prevention, access to health care and teaching a healthy lifestyle.  

During the Fellowship, ACOM plans to create a new strategic plan to guide their efforts, driving future organizational change and encompassing updated human resources policies and practices. They also plan to integrate the effects of historical harms and foster relearning through a framework of race equity, health justice and healing justice. 

ACOM strives to help Marshallese integrate in the social fabric of their community and proudly share the story and culture of the Marshallese.  

“What grounds me is the power of the people and the richness of our culture,” said Melisa Laelan, a 2024-2025 Fellow

Melisa was inspired to become an advocate after watching her mother experience injustices in the health care system.  

“When I first started this work, I was fighting for my mother,” Melisa said. “Years later, now in 2024, I have not changed the ‘who’ in that question of who I’m fighting for, I actually have added to that list of who those people are. I think I’m fighting for the people in the present moment that are struggling as well as the future generation.” 

Michelle Pedro, another 2024-2025 Fellow, said her family, coworkers and community help her stay focused and connected to the mission of the organization.  

“I fight for a lot of the people who don’t speak English and are afraid to put themselves out there because they feel like they will be judged or turned away,” Michelle said. “I fight for a lot of my elders who are tired of fighting … I fight for people who are sick.” 

Be Inc. Collective  

The mission of Be Inc. Collective (Be Inc). is to empower families to thrive, rather than simply survive. Be Inc. is committed to supporting the mental health and well-being of Black and Brown communities through cultivating healing-centered spaces where families can embark on their journey toward collective healing.  

The organization serves the communities of Sewell, New Jersey, the surrounding South Jersey communities, and the greater Philadelphia area.   

Once a month, Be Inc. Hosts Family Cafés, an opportunity for the community and families to gather, build meaningful connections, explore topics of interest and issues impacting the community, and enjoy children’s workshops or therapeutic groups for 9-12th graders.  

As part of the Fellowship, Be Inc. plans to replicate and expand their Family Café model, inclusive of building a team of young adult facilitators to lead and strengthen organizational capacity. 

Geneva Brown McDowell, a 2024-2025 Fellow and project manager with Be Inc., is excited about reshaping her thought processes and frameworks, as well as the opportunity to share a safe space with other advocates.  

“The idea that this Fellowship is building community for advocates is amazing for me,” Geneva said. “That’s not a reality in most places, that there are safe places for the advocate, that there are places where that advocate can learn and grow and be transparent and taken care of in the midst.” 

Be Inc. seeks to provide a framework for interrupting the cycle of intergenerational trauma and helping families thrive. 

“I’m fighting for us to be healthy and well, to be able to navigate our health and well-being, and to have what we need to thrive and not just simply survive,” said Siomara Wedderburn, a 2024-2025 Fellow with Be Inc. Collective, adding, “I’m fighting for healing in our families, in ourselves and in our communities.”  

Learn more about the Fellowship, as well as past and present fellows, here