Where do good ideas come from? It takes a community.

I had the distinct pleasure of participating in Leadership Metro Richmond’s Leadership Quest Class of 2020 where leaders from the community learn about leadership, the state of the Greater Richmond community, the players, and how to build coalitions to make impactful change. During the course of study, groups of 10 immerse themselves in the topic of a particular community ailment (pp. 18), interviewing local experts, analyzing data, exploring solutions, authoring a report, and presenting it to the class. After graduation, newly empowered leaders go out into the world, armed with knowledge and a network, to do the important work of improving life for Richmonders.

My group’s topic was Food Deserts, which we later re-termed Food Equity as we learned many more factors than proximity to affordable and healthy food impact a person’s ability to achieve a healthy lifestyle. We interviewed people in the community from Shalom Farms, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Residents of Gilpin Court, The Market at 25th, Duron Chavis, Fit4Kids, The Richmond Food Justice Alliance, Feedmore, and staffers from various departments in the City of Richmond. The takeaway from each of these interviews was that access is just a small part of the problem of food insecurity.

We learned that access to transportation, stable housing, access to healthcare, wage security, time availability, cultural upbringing, family make-up, mental health status, and so many other factors contribute to a steady supply of healthy food to a family or lack thereof. Frankly, it became quite overwhelming to learn that solving this problem would take so much more effort than just thinking about how to feed people.

As the class dispersed and we all resumed our day jobs, we were in the midst of pandemic disruption, social unrest, economic uncertainty, and a whole lot of burnout. I personally wanted to take action but kept finding myself drawn back into the chaos of business or merely talking about some ideas I had looking to generate support from my peers.

America’s Healthiest City was an idea born out of the realization that health means a lot more than just physical well-being. Many factors contribute to the well-being of an individual and a community. If you don’t work to address all of them collectively as a community, success is only a dream. This project’s aim is to rally the community around a 10-year effort to make the Richmond Region the healthiest in America by every measure.

In order to succeed, we should be aiming to improve air quality, poverty rates, food insecurity rates, housing access and affordability, mental health outcomes, opioid overdose rates, workforce development opportunities, transportation, resource hubs, obesity rates, physical fitness, youth and adult literacy, and so much more. In order to succeed, we all as Richmonders need to work together and allow every strategic decision to be put through the filter: “how does this decision make our community healthier?”

America’s Healthiest City is a digital hub for community members to rally, for businesses and organizations to become ambassadors, and for everyone to share and check out ideas about how exactly to achieve success in 10 years. We hope that involving everyone in this cause will not only make our community a healthier region that is attractive for others to invest in, but also bridge divides, help us find our commonalities, and drive our society toward a better overall future. We’ll share media from across Greater Richmond to spark new ideas and help Richmonders find places and events to help drive this mission home.

If you represent an RVA business, a nonprofit, an academic institution, or a local government agency from any municipality, we invite you to become an ambassador. I hope that we can crown ourselves with the moniker “Healthiest City in America” by 2033. Success starts with your commitment. Please consider adding your name.

Will Melton is the CEO of Xponent21 and an active participant in driving meaningful change in the Greater Richmond community. Will believes that health is about more than just physical well-being and aims to create space that encourages all of us to move together toward a more prosperous and full life.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Pezoa


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