MSU epidemiologist hopes task force builds bridge between community, law enforcement

The city of Flint recently created a 9-member advisory task force to bridge gaps between the community and law enforcement. Flintside will be talking with each member of the task force in the coming weeks about their reasons for joining and what they hope to accomplish.


Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, Associate Dean for Public Health Integration at Michigan State University, has a simple but important reason for wanting to use her background in public health to help the city of Flint: she’s from here.


“As a returning Flint resident, I have a commitment to Flint,” said Holden when describing her special connection to activism within the city.


Holden was one of nine residents named to a community advisory board to the Flint Police Department by Mayor Shelden Neeley that was launched this summer in response to nationwide civil unrest and protests caused by police brutality. Furr-Holden’s professional background and familiarity with the city bring important perspective to the task force. She comes from a law enforcement family and has done extensive research on the impact of policing in neighborhoods.


“It doesn't work. Over-policing has a very sharp but short-term gain, that's followed by long-term problems,” she said. “And so the goal is to build a strong bridge between the police department and the community that they serve. The goal of police is to protect and serve. I think, not just in Flint but in many places we've overemphasized the protect and we've lost the service.”


Holden emphasized that a major goal is to offer the community a place to raise issues, but also to be a part of bringing ideas and solutions to the forefront.


“Our real goal is to help bridge the gap where we work collectively and together to create solutions where communities have a ready place, not just to voice concerns, but also ideas,” she said. “The people that live in the community should have the biggest say in what their communities look like and police play a big part in that.”


In April, Holden was also asked to join Michigan’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. Holden sits amongst a variety of healthcare professionals, race relations experts, community leaders, and public health researchers on that task force. As a team, the task force has partnered with community stakeholders to ensure the most vulnerable communities throughout the state have access to COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and quality health resources to mitigate the spread of the virus.


During her time on the task face, they have been able to extend testing locations across the state, particularly in minority neighborhoods. They have also launched an initiative in partnership with (FEMA) and Ford Motor Company to distribute millions of masks across the state.


The task force has also played a role in the declaration of racism as a public health crisis in the state of Michigan. The Flint City Council also adopted that declaration over the summer. They have also called for the executive order calling for implicit bias testing training and feedback for all healthcare workers.


“Our goal was to go as far upstream as possible,” Furr-Holden said.

Other roles for Furr-Holden include serving as the director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, a Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center (TCC) funded primarily by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) for the purposes of curating research on health disparities. The center focuses on chronic disease prevention in Flint. Holden has also contributed to many projects like Strengthening Flint Families, The Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center, and Alcohol Policies to Prevent and Reduce Youth Violence.
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Read more articles by Brianna Nargiso.