How do local community power-building organizations advance health and racial equity?

Community power is the ability of communities most impacted by inequity to act together to voice their needs and hopes for the future and to collectively drive structural change, hold decisionmakers accountable, and advance health equity.

For more than 20 years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has supported community power organizations and advocacy networks that engage in grassroots organizing, particularly with people who are low-income, of color, and/or youths. The Foundation has supported communities in their power-building efforts to mitigate tobacco use and childhood obesity and, most recently, to improve community conditions and confront structural racism.

Elevating Community Power and Community Voice

We all have dreams for ourselves and our families. But we don’t all have the same opportunities to make those dreams come true. Structural barriers and systemic racism are persistent obstacles to achieving health equity. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are leading vital movements that are galvanizing their communities and seeding transformative change. Building and bridging power within communities is essential to the health and wellbeing of people that have endured decades of racial injustice, economic exclusion, social marginalization, and health inequities.

Low-income people and communities of color have been excluded from decision-making on the policies and practices that impact their health and prosperity, through generations of systemic exclusion and disinvestment. Our learning has shown that the people most directly affected by systemic barriers and inequities are best positioned to identify the solutions and actions needed to drive change.

That’s why community power is important to how RWJF contributes to transformative change, in a variety of areas—from housing, to healthcare, to birthing, to family caregiving. The evaluation of this work, which will center on the principles of equitable evaluation, should begin to shed light on the impact we can have in community power-building and support our learning efforts to hone our strategies. Below are a few examples of the kinds of power-building work we’re supporting.


This effort helps grow the capacities of local organizations who organize and advocate for low-income, BIPOC community members (with a focus on youth and the South) to build power. The work is also deepening relationships, focusing collective attention on action to address health inequities, and driving grassroots solutions that dismantle structural racism. Community power-building organizations are using creativity, resilience and collaboration to advance policy, narrative, and systems changes across multiple issues, including housing, education, healthcare, and economic justice.

This work supports and builds power among low-income renters of color to combat the effects of structural racism in housing policy. The effort to advance housing justice will ensure tenants’ priorities and needs are centered in local decision-making to improve housing affordability, community conditions, and residents’ wellbeing.

This work supports birth justice organizations that center the voices of Black, Indigenous and other birthing people of color to change failed systems and policies so every expecting parent can envision a birth story as the loving, joyful, and healthy experience it should be. The work includes building networks, shifting narratives to unpack and address the root causes of the crisis, spreading solutions from the community, and advocating for policies and practices that work better for everyone to have healthy pregnancies and births.

Featured Grantees:

National Birth Equity Collaborative

Sister Song

Ms. Foundation for Women

Groundswell Fund

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Community power is the ability of communities most impacted by inequity to act together to voice their needs and hopes for the future and to collectively drive structural change to advance health equity.


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How does community power catalyze, create, and sustain conditions for healthy communities?

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