Awards Honor Equity and Advocacy Leaders

Public Health Hero Awards Spotlight Dedication to Empowering Change and Advocating for Health Equity

April 08, 2024
Left to right: Drs. Sahai Burrowes, Rhonda Renfro, and Jenny Espinoza
Left to right: Dr. Sahai Burrowes accepts the award on behalf of Dr. Robert Kalyesubula , Dr. Rhonda Renfro, and Dr. Jenny Espinoza

In conjunction with National Public Health Week (April 1st-7th), the 2024 Public Health Hero Awards, hosted by Touro University California (TUC), honored three individuals whose contributions have made a positive impact on community health.

“We recognize these individuals for activities which support the TUC Public Health Program’s vision for reducing health inequities and improving the health conditions of underserved communities,” says Dr. Gayle Cummings, Assistant Dean and Public Health Program Director. The awards highlighted three individuals:

At the intersection of criminal justice and public health, Dr. Jenny Espinoza's commitment to social justice and health equity is found in leadership roles within California's prison health care system and as Executive Director of Back to the Start. Co-led by incarcerated individuals at San Quentin, Back to the Start publishes narratives that provides a voice to stories held behind walls. The accounts of people’s lives and struggles, and how they ended up with them at San Quentin, helps foster understanding and empathy. The stories also illuminate how public systems could be implemented to create preventative interventions.

“This has been a long road together that started seven years ago as just an idea,” says Espinoza. “My wish is that everyone in the nation gets to hear or read one of our stories and that together we will have a shared consciousness of what we need to do in terms of investing upstream.”

As an advocate for youth development, Dr. Rhonda Renfro’s leadership as the CEO & Founder of Club Stride Inc. has transformed countless lives by training and empowering young leaders. By becoming active participants in civic education through Club Stride, they enable new generations to shape and create healthier and more vibrant communities.

“It's a great honor to be recognized in this way because I think equity and public health go hand in hand, and it's important to continue to center equity in every space,” says Renfro. “Our program is all about empowering young people to experience what it feels like to shape the life of their community.”

As one of East Africa's leading nephrologists and scholars of non-communicable diseases, Dr. Robert Kalyesubula founded the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS), providing essential health, education, and livelihood services to rural Ugandans. His innovative community health worker-based model has revolutionized healthcare delivery, offering comprehensive care to those most in need.

Each award recipient embodies the core values of public health – compassion, equity, and social responsibility.

“Recognizing and valuing the dedication and impact of our community heroes is paramount,” says Dr. Cummings. “Their work not only addresses health inequities and improves the well-being of underserved communities locally, globally, and among justice-involved populations but also reflects the core vision of the TUC Public Health Program.”