Shaping Seattle | Jamal & Jeremy Discuss Public Health, Health Equity & COVID

38 min readFeb 11, 2021
An aerial photo of Seattle with the title, Shaping Seattle, written across it

[Shaping Seattle is a podcast that highlights the work of Seattle Shapers and other local impact leaders in the greater Seattle area. Leading off the first episode of the Seattle Shapers podcast, Jamal, and fellow Shaper, Jeremy, talk Health, Politics, and just enough Conspiracy.

Jamal is a Program Analyst at Gates Ventures. He will admit he does and does not get why people listen to things he says. If you were to ask him his opinion on why people listen to him, he’d say, “I’ve been around white people for too long” and if you were to ask him why people shouldn’t listen to him he’d say, “I wasn’t finished speaking.” Find Jamal on Twitter and Vacant Soles.

The host, Jeremy Schifberg, is an experienced social entrepreneur and management consultant, focused on health care delivery reform and community health. He served most recently as Principal and member of the founding team at The Health Initiative, a social enterprise working to spur new, coordinated investments in health. Find Jeremy on LinkedIn.]

Episode 1 | Public Health, Health Equity and COVID (Recorded: December 2nd, 2020)

Jamal Yearwood: [00:00:00] America can’t handle universal healthcare.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:00:15] All right. Welcome! My name is Jeremy Schifberg. I am Seattle-based. I work in healthcare and community health, and I’m a member of the Seattle Global Shapers Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum. And, this morning I’ve got the privilege of hosting duties today. So I am very glad to be here with Jamal Yearwood, Jamal, how’s it going?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:00:35] Hey everyone, Jamal Yearwood. I also work in Seattle. I work in global health. So on the kind of opposite side. Yeah, Jeremy, but happy to talk today and just learn more about Jeremy and then it gets talked about a little bit, my views and perspectives.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:00:49] Awesome. So Jamal, maybe just to build off of that intro a little bit, just maybe start by telling us a little bit about, a little bit about you. So where are you from? What do you do? Where do you work?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:00:59] Yeah, so I’m a long-winded person. So I’ll try to keep this brief. So I’m from Saginaw, Michigan. I moved out here to Seattle to do this interesting fellowship at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which now is really famous in the news. But when I started working there, I feel like no one knew what it was, but it’s a disease modeling institute at the University of Washington.

And, uh, it’s most in the news at this point are most famous in the news for being one of the institutes or one of the research consortium, that’s doing coronavirus modeling. And so while I was at the Institute, I did none of that, but I did do a lot of health system modeling and global health work in general.

I graduated this past summer. Congrats to me. Thank you everyone. And now I work at Gates Ventures, which is the private office of Bill Gates, and he has a couple of projects in there. One of them is called the Exemplars of Global Health. It’s a little plug for our work, but yeah, there we’re trying to understand what it is that drives, countries to be positive outliers and different metrics of health.

And so I’m specifically working on nutrition work now.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:02:05] Got it. Awesome. Bill, Bill Gates. I feel, I feel like I’ve heard of that name. must be like a local businessman or something like that. Um, okay, so you, you’re a health and global health person. I’m a healthcare person. We’re recording this first thing in the morning, just in the interest of getting the juices flowing let’s come out firing.

I want one quick hot take on anything healthcare-related. I won’t ask for a rationale, whatever comes to mind, and then we can dive into some other questions from there.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:02:32] Okay. Hot take. America can’t handle universal healthcare.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:02:38] Ooh. That is pretty spicy.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:02:41] I’m not even saying that we don’t want it or we’d have to figure out the logistics. I’m saying we can’t handle it. That’s my challenge to you America.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:02:53] Right. Challenge challenges you right off the bat. I promise I wouldn’t ask for a rationale, but I can’t. I promise we won’t, we won’t come back to that cause that that’s a little too spicy just to leave him. But I do want to maybe start by getting a little bit more detail about the path that you took to working where you are now.

So, you’re someone that, that worked in global health and I’m curious how, how you got there. So what, what was your path to working in global health? Was it always. Something that you knew you wanted to do, or what drew you to the field in the first place?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:03:21] I never know what I want to do. So definitely didn’t know I wanted to work in global health, so I’ll start there, but it was, I’d say actually kind of a traditional way to get into global, global health. And that at least from the US perspective, I think, you know, going into school and to undergraduate, a lot of people are focused on careers or specific professions. A great thing about colleges that you get this experience to learn about so many different other things and see the world in this big view. And at least I was bumping into a part or a period in my life where it felt by almost going to medical school or by being a doctor, it was a little prescriptive into what my rest of my life would look like.

I had studied abroad. I was also a Spanish major and when I was working abroad, did different volunteering and started understanding more. About this political aspect of health, which really in the end, it’s kind of what global health is the foundation of all global health. And as I did more work there, I came back actually, and I did an internship with the CDC. And the CDC, it looks essentially at global health or takes a global health lens, but within the context of the United States, but also has huge global health, part to it’s to how it operates. As we see how it coordinated the response within the United States, but, generally, the CDC is thinking about how to best protect the United States interests.

And so to do that, like a lot of things, you need to work with other partners around the world. And so that was really fascinating to me. I like talking with people. I really like to talking politics. I already was pretty involved with health and with my curriculum and whatnot. So towards the end of my, undergraduate career. I started looking more at how I could do, all three things at once. And one of my friends had just started a master’s of public health. And the one thing he told me to do is to not apply straight out of school. And so I didn’t exactly do that, but I did apply for this fellowship. And regardless ended up going straight out of school to doing my master’s in public health.

Uh, there was great things about that. There’s problems with that, but in the end it made me who I am.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:05:21] Got it. I can’t help myself. And I’ll partially blame you for this question because you did start us off with a really spicy take. But you had some experience with the CDC. You’re someone who’s passionate about the intersection of healthcare and politics. I’m curious. You must have an interesting vantage point.

What’s your take on the past year, given the pandemic that we’re in now, there’s been a lot of talk about the role of the CDC. A lot of folks talking about how it’s been politicized in ways that it hasn’t in the past. I’m just, I’m curious for a year, feel free to take this any way that you want, but you just, you’ve got this interesting vantage points.

I’m curious for your read on the past year and the role that the CDC has played.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:05:55] I’ll preface this with saying that there’s a lot of people who have a better opinion on this and have more insight to this than me, but I am very saddened to see what’s happened to the CDC this year in particular. Someone that never worked there, but had a lot of respect for the institution, from what I’ve been able to gauge and read from the inside, the CDC seems like it’s kind of been, like I say decimated, but it’s taken a huge cut in terms of scientific integrity this past year and a cut that I think most worrisome, that may be long-lasting well after the current administration. From reports, it seems as if this could be a cut that could really hamper the CDC and its global reputation for, a decade, maybe decades.

And I think in particular, just chatting with some friends, I know who work in global health or work, in public health in general. Offhand, a couple of them have said , I used to always really want to work for the CDC one time or later in my life. And they said, I don’t really think I want to do that anymore.

There’s been a kind of consistent theme I’ve been seeing where there’s more young people interested in social issues, right. And wanting to make an impact and less people going into the government for that same exact reason, because they find that the government is not suited or that it’s not providing the real path forward to making any of these changes.

So, whether it be in the context of the CDC, politics in general, local government, in some ways it feels sad that I’d feel like I’d know more and more people who are interested in making social change and who are also less interested in working in the government for that exact same reason.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:07:29] Hearing you expound on that. It occurs to me that maybe it’s worth pausing for just a minute , and, level setting for anybody listening, because although, public health is certainly having a moment here right now in the United States. I do think for those folks who are outside of the field and of the distinctions between traditional health care, public health, global health, all of these races may not always be clear. Yeah, Jamal, I’m curious if you could just spend a minute talking through the distinctions between public health, the traditional health care world and your world of global health.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:08:00] Let’s start with the traditional, I think because it’s the one that people interact with the most. So the traditional healthcare setting for a lot of people, I mean, we’re really taking a US specific lens here, but, it’s going to be your care providers. They’re going to be your nurses or doctors, and it’s going to be that point of care when you’re sick or when you’re looking to get preventative measures. You’re going to be getting, what we call traditional healthcare.

Now, public health, is now taking one step above that. And so it’s looking at the health of populations, it’s saying yes, of course the basis of our society is like the individual person, but the individual person interacts with other people in a way that it affects other people’s health.

And so what becomes the health of the public changes really quickly when you take that lens. So all of a sudden things like traffic. The understanding that when someone gets in a car accident, that they could harm other people and they can harm their environment in such a way that hurts other people, all of a sudden becomes a public health issue.

And there’s more obvious examples where infectious diseases, I think, public health first started, um, or like the basis or genesis of a lot of public health is thought about in the context of sanitation. John Snow, who was a scientist, a researcher, he was famous for this study in London that essentially looked at, they looked to sanitation as the reason for, the spread of phenomena.

Being a bad public health student. I don’t remember it was cholera or it was the plague, but one of the two diseases. Was able to map it through the sanitation system of one. And at the time this was the late or early eighteen hundreths. He was able to understand that while they were trying to essentially put out all these fires with the extinguisher.

The fires were just reigniting each time someone with the disease would expunge some type of excrement or whatnot into the sanitation system and things wouldn’t be washed away or safely managed. So when you start taking a lens of public health from that, you started to see that all these things are really relevant today, right?

When we look at the Flint water crisis as a public health emergency, when you look at, of course the Coronavirus, it’s a public health emergency. And now when we look at global health. Global health is that same lens now applied in the health of the world. So when we started looking at the health of the world is, becomes a really big question, but also very important one. The health of countries and people it’s not just dependent on diseases that transmit between them, but also on the environment that they live in. That if people don’t have, agricultural means, or if they don’t have forces that are protected so that they can sustain themselves, then all of a sudden you’re going to see people migrate and change their behavior in a way that could affect their health.

And so this is one of the big questions that’s being asked now for the next hundred years or for our generation is like, how has the health going to be changed of the planet? Or how has it, health of people are going to be changed as the health of the planet changes.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:10:47] It’s interesting. I wonder sometimes if folks who, you know, work in other fields, when they hear global health, I wonder is this something that feels really far away to people, you know, like might conjure up the image of the Gates foundation or USAID and stuff that happens right other parts of the world, but, especially , we’ve seen really acutely over the past year that there’s a chronic under investment in public health , or an upstream investments in community health here in the United States. So I’m curious we are in the middle of a pandemic, are there things given your experience that you think we in the United States can learn from global health as we figure out how to continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:11:26] That’s a great question. It’s going to make me pause and reflect for a moment. The United States while it’s really hard to answer that question just because of the United States for such a long time has been the country that other countries learn from. And I don’t think this may be back to our, my initial hot take is that, I don’t know if we are well set up to learn from other people.

I just don’t know if we have the willpower, desire. There’s obviously the need to learn from the other countries that are performed better than us. Yeah, there’s a unique thing to being American. This is idea of where the self is, the center of the universe, and then through the self that we can achieve anything, and not just any self, the American self and the American way of doing things. I hope there’s so much to learn about, the coronavirus epidemic from other countries and the way that they’ve handled it. Will the United States try to learn anything? Some people will for sure. The institution of the United States. I don’t know. I don’t know if it can.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:12:30] Sometimes it feels like all roads lead back to a hot take. And I feel like we’re getting close to one here, so I want to keep, I want to keep diving in. I do think it’s a great point. And I do think, You know, if ever there was a time, right? I mean, we’re about to enter this phase of figuring out how to hopefully, how to distribute, effectively inequitably COVID-19 vaccines.

When I think about reading some of the news nowadays in the United States about the challenges that folks are anticipating around cold storage, supply chain and distribution to rural communities and making sure we have access to healthcare. And in particular, this vaccine and in quote unquote, last mile communities in the United States, it’s hard not to think that these are challenges that folks all over the world have been tackling for quite a long time.

You know, thinking about how to get vaccines or critical medications, too hard to access places or places where infrastructure is lacking. So if there ever was a time to learn from the global health field, it certainly feels like now is an acute moment to do so. So I hope you’re right. That some folks and in particular some critically important folks, take that opportunity. I wanna focus a little bit on, the domestic health care system here a little bit, because I know you mentioned in your time at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, IHME, you did work around health system, quality and performance. And as someone who works in the domestic health care world, I know that, measuring health system quality is actually something that we really struggle to wrap our heads around here in the United States. Especially thinking about your typical, US citizen, trying to figure out how to consume or how to use health care. It’s often pretty opaque as to where to go for quality care.

How are you even to know what quality looks like? When accessing healthcare in the United States? So I’m curious what, what’s something you’ve learned in that work, looking at health system, quality and performance globally that might apply here in the United States.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:14:15] That’s another great question, Jeremy. I think the first to talk a little bit about the first part of your question, and hopefully some random magic idea will come in the second half of what I’m going to say now, I think the first part of what I’ve learned from looking at and try to measure health care quality is that quality is relative.

Quality is always relative to what your neighbors getting, what other countries can doing, what you think you can get. So when we’re talking about quality, it’s often times of looking at resources, like how much money are you spending? How much time are you spending and what are you getting out of it?

So if you’re taking a lens from that, that’s when the US healthcare system really gets to get, start, get dissected. And in some ways it starts to hemorrhage, right? It’s well-known we spent exorbitant amount of money on health. We also have exorbitant amount of money flowing around us and there’s a lot of inequality that happens because of it.

When it comes to health, it’s something like, particularly, I think that like people get angry about, at least I get angry about just because we know that there’s all this money and we can look at countries to the north, Canada. We can look at countries to the south, Mexico. Who have much more equitable systems and are getting things done in a way that completely over performs what we would be doing if we were putting the same amount of money into our system as they are.

And so when I think about quality that in the United States, and things about like how it applies and how it can be utilized. You have to look at who is getting the worst quality. I’ll never forget. This was one of the great lessons I learned. When I was, uh, at CDC or doing an internship with CDC was, one of my professors, he’s at Columbia and I was actually posted there for the summer. He had written this huge article at the time. This was in the early eighties. Um, and when, the AIDS crisis was just starting here in the United States and people didn’t really have a full grasp of it, but, inequalities became a huge thing in that period.

And when he was looking at inequalities, he was based in New York City and he has this famous article and I’m going to misquote it a bit, but, it was a front page of New York times. And it was, it showed that, black men in Harlem had the same life expectancy as people in Bangladesh.

And so at that time, I think, uh, black men, Harlem had a life expectancy of like 44, 45 years of age. Meanwhile, if you went to like the upper West side. What a couple stops away on, you know, on the subway. You’re, you’re shooting up to like 75, 80 years, right? This seems like a historic story, but this is actually happening right now as well.

King County has the largest discrepancy between life expectancy. I think in all of the United States as to some of the work that was being done, I mean, kudos to the team that actually did this work. I wasn’t involved with it, but read their paper many years back, but I believe it’s something like, you know, at the highest range, it’s I think 85 years or maybe 88 years in King County, for the highest life expectancy and the lowest life expectancy in South King County, it was like something like 58.

It was almost a 30 year gap between the life expectancies. And I was like, wow, this is still going on. This is it’s still just keeps going on. And so. We talked about quality. Like I think you have to center it on like the people who aren’t getting that quality care. Cause right now it’s always centered on the top.

Like a lot of things in America.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:17:43] I’m so glad that you brought this up because as someone who works in health and health cares, I mean, some of the most powerful data and data visualizations that I’ve seen are exactly those subway maps that you mentioned, right. Where you can look at life expectancy, like two subway stops away.

And the truth is to your point, right? This holds true in just about every major city, at least that I’ve seen in the United States. Right? Whether you’re looking at the subway map in New York or to your point, you’re looking at neighborhoods and in King County here locally, or you’re looking in Boston, or you’re looking in Chicago, you see the same massive, massive discrepancies over the course of 20 minutes riding the train.

It’s really, really staggering. I’m curious. We’ve known this for decades, right? The field of public health, certainly the field of global health has known that your neighborhood matters more than your genetics when it comes to health care outcomes, or I might be portraying that, but something to that effect, right.

That’s something we’ve known for decades. I’m interested for your thoughts on this. We’re having a moment now because of COVID-19 where suddenly it’s, it’s a little bit more in the popular focus, right? Suddenly people are like, Whoa. If you look at COVID mortality data comparing the white population with black folks or LatinX folks or native and indigenous folks in different communities. Right? The difference in mortality rates is staggering. We’ve seen that from the beginning of this pandemic. Do you see that being like, do you see the awareness of that growing on a popular leader?

Yeah. Are you optimistic about our ability to address those inequities or are you going to roll your eyes at that question? Which would also be totally fair.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:19:09] I mean, I can just center it back on the what’s now not sitting so much of a hot take, right? is America ready? Is even going to handle it quality? yeah, I mean, et cetera, back up that question. I, I am very happy that more people are becoming aware of this. It’s something actually, I said at the beginning of the summer, I’ve written down.

I was, you know, I think this was early June. So the protests around George Floyd’s death and Brianna Taylor’s killing were like quite the height of that. Right. And I remember writing down that, for a lot of people, they may be seeing the rot for the first time and I’m not going to come at people for only now realizing that like what the situation here is at play, but I said, what comes next?

Now can only be attributed to desire. You can’t say it was an ignorance at this point. We totally see the landscape. That’s one blessing of COVID. Everyone sees the landscape, you can not deny it. And so the solutions that you propose next. To me signal exactly what your intentions are and what your desires are.

If you give me a half-ass solution, or if you give me a quarter solution, that’s going to only like move things up the needle a little bit. Then I also can assume with some confidence that that’s actually like what you would in your best case scenario, what would happen after like what you know, to be in the field?

Whereas perhaps in the beginning, like if he gave me only a half a solution and give me only a quarter solution, I would say maybe you only see half the problem. Maybe you only see a quarter of the problem. At this point, I think everyone can see the problem or has the opportunity to see the problem. And so if you’re sticking your head in the sand, you’re telling me what you’re looking for.


Jeremy Schifberg: [00:20:44] Yeah, no really powerfully put and back to our earlier conversation, it’s like every decision we make from here on out, we get to decide if it’s going to be with those inequities in mind or not. Starting with a vaccine that we’re going to need to figure out how to distribute, who to distribute to in priority order, how to communicate, how to overcome understandable mistrust in the healthcare delivery system.

in order for this all to work and the decisions that we make in the coming weeks and months are going to be really critical to that end, for sure.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:21:12] Jeremy. I wanna hear your take on this. What do you think? What do you think is going to come next for the virus? Do you think we’re going to start with those who need it most? How do you see this playing out?

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:21:20] I’m cautiously optimistic, I think to your point, I think the way you framed that is exactly right. Right. It’s like the information is there, it is unavoidable. And so it’s just a matter of are people gonna stick their head in the sand? Or not, there’s really no way of being there.

There’s no way of looking back two years from now and saying we had no idea that these inequities existed or that the way that we distributed a vaccine was going to exacerbate those inequities. We know full well, what the situation is right now. To answer your question, you know, I think it was just yesterday that the, um, Is it the CDC or the FDA’s advisory board came out and made some recommendations around priority population groups to receive a COVID vaccine.

And I know the national academies of science and engineering and medicine had their recommendations that came out a couple of months ago. And, thinking about how to distribute the vaccine to different, to different population groups is something I’m doing a little bit of work in right now. And I think folks, his eyes are wide open, right?

I mean, I think, there seems to be pretty clear consensus about focusing on certain high risk populations for focusing on, frontline healthcare worker folks in nursing homes first. I think what’s less clear, is how in particular racial inequities will be addressed as it relates to COVID vaccine distribution.

It seems like it’s relatively clear cut. There’s relatively clear consensus in terms of which professions or, which populations of folks who are at highest risk, highest like medical risk based off of their age, based off of their comorbidity profile based off of what they do day to day in terms of working in a healthcare setting.

And you see some of these groups that are charged with figuring out how to distribute a vaccine scene, right? Every state was required to submit to the federal government, their plan for distribution, and many of them have language included that nods to racial inequities. Right. It’s okay. Well, we’re going to form a committee to help us figure out how to address these inequities that we’ve seen emerge in the COVID vaccine pandemic and or the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ll figure out how to distribute a vaccine to address those.

I haven’t seen a whole lot of, actual clarity about how to do that. And I, you know, I think one thing that I alluded to earlier that’s tricky is that there is a lot of historically rooted, very understandable mistrust of the traditional healthcare delivery system in a lot of communities in the United States that frankly has been earned through decades of maltreatment.

And, that’s something that needs to be overcome or it needs to be addressed head on if we’re gonna, not only be able to distribute the vaccine effectively, but achieve some degree of, of population or herd immunity, through a vaccine in the not too distant future. I’m cautiously optimistic because, like we’re staring at it face on, but I, you know, I’m yet to see real, tangible plans to address those inequities, here in the coming months.

To your point though, there, there are no excuses at this point. and I guess that’s something at the very least. setting aside, I just, because I feel the need to throw in curve balls every now and then setting aside the, uh, I think we started off on, on measurements of health system quality and performance setting aside that stuff for a moment. What’s a health-related belief that you hold that has no scientific or data basis at all. So for me, for example, it might be like chicken soup as a cure, all for just about any ailment. but I’m curious what it is for you.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:24:20] I maybe have too many of these for some that works in health. Um, I think the most like understandable. And I think, uh, well actually this one, it there’s probably some health help basis. My dad growing up would take this like shot of this concoction that he would make, like every morning.

And I’m now saying it out loud, I forgot to take it this morning. So set a reminder on my phone later to do that. But yeah, the shot it’s really funny because I recommend it. And I like, almost anyone that’s came over to my apartment or live with me in college to like, had to take one of these shots at one point.

But what’s in, it is like, it kind of changes up and down. So, generally like have jalapenos or kind of pepper, raw garlic, ginger tumeric, lemon juice and then sometimes I could put a little honey in there just to like soothe the throat, and so then I’ll just blend it up or juice or whatever. I got, pour it out and take a shot of that every morning.

I have no idea what it does for me, but like in my head it does everything. I don’t need to take any multivitamins because I take that shot.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:25:32] I love it. And honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is we started with a hot take this morning, and now I shutter to think how hot the take would have been had you started with that shot before delivering the thing. I mean, that, that concoction sounds like a one-way ticket to the spiciest of hot takes imaginable.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:25:50] I don’t know how many times, like I’m thinking back to college where it was 8:00 AM and I had nothing in my system and I took one of those shots and I sprinted out the door into my morning. It’s a really great way to start your day.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:26:05] at the risk of a terrible segue, I’m clearly not a natural for this host role. I do want to delve into something that I’ve been interested to ask you about for some time now, because we’re both part of the Seattle Global Shapers Hub, right. Which is, which is really focused on local impact.

One thing that you’ll hear folks say, in healthcare is that all healthcare is local, but, you know, you’re someone who talks to you who works in global health, right. And who works in global health from afar as it were. And I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about that juxtaposition between local impact and the kind of big global systems change work that you do in the global health world. And do you aspire to have some of, both of those in your life, right. Local impact and global systems change impact, and how do you kind of reconcile working on these big issues, in communities where, you know, health plays out in a local way.

but you’re working on them from afar.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:27:00] Yeah, this is like an ongoing question in global health. One of the things that, I’ve been asking, at least they’re trying to ask and global health institutions, and really just any institution when people are working on a problem that doesn’t directly affect them is what’s their exit plan. what’s, what’s our exit plan for what the work we’re doing.

And global health, like I haven’t heard much of an exit plan, but I also think the question is only now starting to be asked or no serious manner. Cause I think people are. Again, like starting to understand what the facts that we are, an information that’s continuously produced. That there’s only so much that can be done from afar.

But there is work that can be done from afar. Mainly. I think some of the, like, I guess I’ll talk quickly about the utility. I think the global health has, is in this global system change, like for better, for worse. We live in a very interconnected society that’s, market-based honestly, at this point, the market in a lot of ways is how a lot of things get tagged too.

And when I say the market, I’m talking about GDP, I’m talking about financial markets, I’m talking about like, transnational corporations and those things are always kind of going, in the head of people. If with all the money that’s been accumulated here in the United States, if there’s an, a way to try to reduce some of the harm at the markets caused and some of, I guess like places that have been historically I don’t even know what the right word to use is, but just sort of historically neglected or colonized. Like I think that’s a utility that, or maybe not even a utility, I think it’s, it’s, there’s a mandate there, right?

There has to be some. Some work, that’s going to give back to that and so I think a lot of the work in my eyes, like at least what I’m trying to do. And I think a lot of people around me are trying to do is to like, make things easier. I don’t know if we can solve the problems, but like make things easier.

And so this goes back to answer the local, global question. Where again, I think to your point, like all healthcare is local, but your local healthcare can be made easier by people who are like at the state level or national level, in some instances at the global level. And so in ways that, global forces are making things harder, Like what, how can we make things easier for people to do the work that they probably already know needs to be done and probably have the best methods to do so.

I mean, this is kind of happens within the Seattle shapers. We take a very local approach, to, you know, working on social change. But I think this organization in tandem with other organizations and things I’ve done in the past definitely informs like how my, how I do my work in global health.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:29:31] Got it. And in your work either at Gates Ventures now, or at IHME, have you seen particular examples of that kind of global resources or global institutions enabling local institutions elsewhere in the world or empowering local institutions elsewhere in the world to be able to deliver health, better for their communities?

Are there examples that you’ve seen that are worth elevating or learning from.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:29:54] There’s so many examples and counterexamples. So they all kind of happen at the same time. Unfortunately, this is like global health is very political. Health is political by nature, you know, where we’re talking about the lives of people. Yes, for sure. I don’t know if it’s worth giving any specific examples, to be honest.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:30:13] All right. Fair enough. I’m curious though, just on the, and you alluded to this a little bit in, and referencing your work with Seattle Global Shapers, but on a more personal note, how do you think about you know, how you spend your own time or what kind of impact you focus on as you think about, I want to have an impact locally in King County where I live.

I know that’s important to you based off our work together. You know, it’s also really important to invest in these big systems change efforts, right? If we’re ever going to move the needle on these big, hairy problems that exist all over the world. And as for you personally, like how do you think about spending your time across those two different worlds and what do you aspire for yourself as you move on in your career?

In terms of having a portfolio of work that manages across local impact and big systems change, impact.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:30:57] That’s a great question, but I think I already know the answer when I’m done talking. I’ll know if I’m correct, but I think I know what my internal answer is. So it’s only kind of came to me like three weeks or maybe a month or so ago. And I was trying to make a decision, on like, uh, like a lot of people do I continue education and sure.

I just graduated with a master’s degree, but so many people in global health, go on and do PhDs. And so it’s like a question in front of me . As I was like, assessing this decision for myself, I was trying to understand, like, what is it I’m going to get out of the PhD and like, why am I like trying to do this?

Or why am I considering this? And so I started thinking more like, what would it look like the day after? And I have to credit, one of my friends were asking me, he goes, what does it look like the day after you get your PhD? Like, how does that feel? Think about it, you know, do you feel great? Are you excited to start the work? And to be honest, I wasn’t super excited. I was like, ah, I do the PhD. I’d be pretty psyched cause I did it. But like they afterwards like start that postdoc. I was like, doesn’t sound fun at all. Like I don’t really want to do that. And be assistant professor after that, no, not that either. You know, there’s a lot of things you can do with PhD, but what really, I guess, revealed in thinking idea through is that like, The day-to-day of doing research. I actually really enjoy a lot. And I think for a lot of my life, I think I said this earlier, but I haven’t had really a plan. You know, I just do what feels right.

Whatever it feels good, like in the day and like, think very short-term. and I think that’s really important. I think that’s really important to like on a day-to-day level be doing work that makes you feel good about yourself, or just give you some type of energy at the same time. If you can have for at least for I’m speaking for myself, if I can have a plan.

Where if I keep doing day-to-day work and I can just put my head down that three years from now, I also simultaneously like achieve a larger goal that can help make my day to day, either sustain itself or feel any better than I might. I’m gonna make that a goal. And how that relates to the question now is that’s how I see this local global impact happening or like, right.

That a day-to-day level. I think I got to have like, be involved in my community and the people around me. I want to be like, talking to people I want to be seeing impact. I want to register that there’s a change on things. And that’s like super important for like the type of person I am.

And then at the same time though, like to combat existentialism and like fears of the future when I look up, you know, every six months or so, it’s sweet to be like, yeah, I’m also like working my way towards this other larger goal. Like that three years from now, or maybe five years from now that like, I’ll achieve this thing, or maybe I’ll have this, like this experience and that experience, are they going to allow me to like, keep having this day-to-day feeling that life is just worth living and like it’s great being here. Yeah, I really see that’s how those two things link up for me like staying local then also thinking ahead.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:33:42] Love it! Well maybe one more question on this thread of kind of bringing the local and the global together. I’m curious what it’s like working on global health in Seattle, right. As someone who isn’t a global health practitioner, myself , from the outside looking in, it’s okay, we’ve got the Gates foundation here.

Path is here. Other IHME is here. A lot of other really prominent organizations. This community feels like a little bit of a hub when it comes to global health. And I’m curious, have you found that to be true? And what’s your experience been like? working in the global health field here in Seattle.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:34:14] Yeah, it’s hard for me to say I’ll preface with saying that since this is like my first and, this is like my city when it comes to global health. Right. I haven’t done global health in DC, which is like also another hub and I haven’t done it in New York or Geneva, but in terms of I can speak, I guess, how the experience has changed over the years is that like, I’m really, I can tell that Seattle becomes.

It’s growing, you know, in a lot of different ways. Sure. Of course in like, the tech sector and whatnot, but it’s also growing in terms of global how, people I think are recognizing that there’s like this, when you’re around other people doing like similar works, like there’s this like natural collaboration or competition, whatever you want to call it, that makes people, I think, do better work.

as the institutions have grown, like, as you mentioned, like IHME and Gates Foundation and Path of as they’ve grown and changed over the years. I’ve seen how that attracts more people to Seattle in the first place and recognizing that is a place that like good global health work can be done.

One of the things I think is the other big sticker here is at the University of Washington is the global health department. There’s also a huge, another component, to also producing global health leaders. And that if you have not only a place where people can come to work, but they can come to study.

I think that nexus is what is like making Seattle, like, as you kind of alluded to like a global health

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:35:32] Got it. all right, well, it’s now time to move into the last section of this conversation. So we’re going to do a set of rapid fire questions here. Feel free to pause. If you need to take a shot of garlic, tumeric, jalapeno, cayenne pepper, or whatever else you want to mix in. But I’m going to ask you these questions in rapid succession.

And we’re just looking for your first gut response. So no need to overthink here. Ready to roll.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:35:56] I want to add in really quickly, I totally forgot that Aloe Vera is also essential to put into that shot mixture. If you’re writing and taking down notes. Yes.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:36:06] It sounds good. Yeah. It feels like that’s a necessary, uh, balancing element there. So I’m glad you fit, fit that in less than you listeners go off and are just running off the rails with the wrong

Jamal Yearwood: [00:36:17] I’m sorry if you had already taken the shot, but is what I forgot to tell you did bad.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:36:24] All right, let’s do this question. Number one. What book or author are you reading or following today?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:36:30] I’m going to go with the gut reaction All About Love by Bell Hooks. I finished this book, maybe two weeks ago and it was one of those books. I was reading it in the park. And as I got, I mean, I started it and as I got through like chapter one or two, I had this moment where I was like, am I on the Truman show?

Like, is someone like, is there going to be like a studio audience, like laughing, like, ha ha like he’s reading a book about his life. But I was like, wait, what, how is someone written about like my life, like 20 years before I was even born, you know, I think it’s, and when I say my life, I actually think it’s like almost everyone’s life.

But it talks about love first as a verb, not as a emotion, which I thought was like a really important distinction. And then it talked about, the difference between loving someone and then like, having gone through the process of Cathexis, which is like a very new word, but like having new words helps me, I guess separate things in my head, but like this process of Cathexis hooks, says it’s like, what makes people care deeply about other people?

But doesn’t actually mean that they like practice love as a verb for them. And so she makes that delineation and explains like a lot of dysfunction, like all general relationships, like whether it be romantic, like interpersonal family, When someone says love, but then they’re like, what they’re really acting from is like this deep care.

And they’ve been through this process of Cathexis and I was like, yeah. Wow. I can think about like times I’ve done that times. Like, parents like friends and it’s just like, I was like, yeah. Wow. Okay. Well, I can start trying to center myself more on this verb. So shout out to that book and Bell Hooks.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:38:04] I love it. Plus you’ve blessed us with the image of Jamal and reading in a park in Seattle and starting to look around with paranoia for the camera, for the children’s theater cameras, which now I’m not going to only get out of my head. okay. Question number two. Here we go. what leader are you looking up to right now?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:38:21] This is an awkward question for me, because I feel like, this year has kind of been the death of leaders to me. I feel like everyone that was a leader at one point, I’m just like, why was I following you? And why can’t I just build those things for myself or so honestly, I think most of the leaders in my life, like when I think about people who are leading.

Right. Not leaders, but people who are leading, I think that’s a better way of thinking. I’m like, Oh, a lot of friends, there’s people in the shapers hub I can name off, but they’re all like, people that we know, but it’s almost a lot of friends. , it’s strange in some ways, to like call my friends leaders, but, I think we are challenging ourselves to lead.

And so for on that basis, I’ll call us leaders.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:39:00] That’s a great answer. All right. How much sleep are you getting these days?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:39:03] Last night was kind of rough mate. Um, had an early call. That’s the one thing with global health man. Especially we’re out here in Seattle. People will give us no slack man. and at the same time, I understand this are working around the world, but yeah. There’ll be like 4:00 AM calls, 5:00 AM calls, just because they’re like, you know, if I have to connect with someone that’s in Ghana or connect with someone even like, I feel like, not surprising people on the East coast are unrelentless when it comes to like scheduling calls.

Let’s start at 8:00 AM Eastern time. And I’m like, you know what that means for me? Please, please give me some Slack. I’m a night owl in the first place. So anytime like someone’s scheduled an early call, really like wrecks me. But last night I think I got, I think I probably got six hours. I’ll take a nap midday though.

You know, it’s quarantine. I can do what I want.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:39:56] Okay. And any East coasters listening in, please have some mercy on us. Poor West coast folk. Um, yeah, Mo one of the more important takeaways here as someone who is also a night owl. If there was one wish a

Jamal Yearwood: [00:40:12] wait really quick. What is, what does a night? What’s a night owl versus a normal owl. Aren’t all hours like kind of night owls.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:40:22] You know, I’m not a bird expert. Yeah. That might, that might require an entirely different podcast. that’s a good question though.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:40:32] we’ll get the producer to a number of conscious circle back around later.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:40:36] I mean, we have night hours and we have early birds, so there’s clearly a lot of diversity in the ABN family . Question number four here. If there was one, wish a genie could grant you that’s okay. If there is one wish genie could grant you what would it be?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:40:51] Oh, man, this is just. I feel like I just got to go off the history books and just like, not take the wish because I feel like I’m going to screw it up. Like somehow or origin go very micro, like actually, no, I was going to say like, could I like not have gray hair? But like, I kind of liked the idea of having gray hair one day.

Like, I don’t know. I want to do it like very like non, you know, at the same time. What if I like solve climate change and it actually works. Like, like, that’d be great, but like, what if I solving climate change, the genie kills half the population, like that’s where I’m like, ah, so I’m gonna, I’m gonna like go real small here and be like, get rid of the pink Starburst.

I don’t like that.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:41:36] Wow. that is both an incredible answer. And there is a lot to unpack in the last 30 seconds of your answer to that question that we’re just going to have to take off in another conversation. All right. last rapid fire question, it’s early December when we’re recording this.

It is that time of year where we’re told to be grateful. Jamal, what are you most grateful for today?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:41:56] thank you for forcing me to be grateful, Jeremy, and, um, you know, I I’m grateful, for my family and the relationships, how they’ve grown over the years, I think. Maybe I, I think when I was younger, I kind of expected like my relationship with my parents and my sisters would kind of be like stagnant or like whatever it was like, that’s how it’d be.

But I think we’ve all been changing, like in tandem with the world changing. And so I think I’ve been very happy at a minimum that like, not only are we were changing, I feel like we’re growing closer and, growing together. So I’m really grateful for that.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:42:30] Oh, well, that was beautiful. One last bonus question here. You’re from you’re from Saginaw, Michigan. I know you’ve got some hometown pride. There it is. So what’s one thing, one thing that anyone listening should know about Saginaw.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:42:46] Man, one thing, it’s the best city in the world. I mean, to be born in. I dunno if I’d moved back, but like I’ll claim it til the day I die. Now, Saginaw is great. Uh, one thing, I mean, is that, I mean, we punch above the belt, man. We have, we got, we got headers in every single industry. My boy Draymond out here.

We got the boy Stevie wonder, Venus. And Serena Williams, both born there. I don’t think they really claim it though. From the neighboring cities. I mean, that’s not sagging also. I won’t even mention her, but I’ve already spoken Madonna. She was born, not, not too far away as well. There’s a mid Michigan.

I’d say that they like, there’s some pride from mid Michigan people working hard. And, even though I type behind a computer, most of my days, I like do it with a Carhartt jacket in my head. Like, I’m like, yes, I’m a Michigan man.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:43:42] Love it. All right, Jamal. I appreciate, appreciate you taking the time with us this morning. This has been a ton of fun. Where can our, um, where can our listeners find you on social media or otherwise?

Jamal Yearwood: [00:43:54] You should just type in my name. I think the last time I Googled myself, which is every three days I was still the top result, but yeah, if you type in Jamal Yearwood, you will find me somewhere. Like I don’t really care to connect with people on LinkedIn. That’s not super interesting to me, but I just started tweeting, I think, Oh, my name on Twitter is tweets by Jamal.

I don’t know if there’s underscores in there, but it’s called @tweets_by_jamal. but on Instagram, this is actually a really great time and Instagram. Uh, I think I’m a lot more active there and it’s, it’s J woods, but like I have all these weird. Like underscores and like, I think there’s three O’s and woods.

And then there’s like a Z it’s tough having like the name Jamal Yearwood apparently on Instagram, but it’s totally fine. And like whole bunch of their platforms, but on there more importantly, there’s a new account. I just started. It’s called the vacant souls. That is an Instagram totally dedicated to the shoes that I’ve been taking pictures of over the last couple of years, but also have like got a lot more intentional within the last couple of months.

I just find on the street hanging from wires and we’re taking submissions, like love to take submissions from there. So people have been sending me photos. and yeah, that’s like a really fun thing that like I’m excited to do. Like later today I’ll post some more pictures of it.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:45:14] Very cool. thanks a ton, Jamal. This has been a blast and friendly reminder to get that concoction taken care of here shortly and apologies for the early morning call.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:45:26] Yeah, no worries. We’re going to actually go to market with that concoction. if anyone takes it now you can do it for free, but like within a week or two, I’ll start needing payment.

Jeremy Schifberg: [00:45:36] All right. Patent pending on that one. All right. Thanks.

Jamal Yearwood: [00:45:40] Thanks Jeremy.




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