Friday at San Antonio CityFest

Friday at San Antonio CityFest

This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here.

City policing, access to health equity, and the future of San Antonio drive Friday’s conversations on San Antonio CityFest’s final day of civic engagement events.

The third annual San Antonio CityFest, a virtual urban ideas festival, runs through Friday. Its weeklong lineup of events, panel discussions, and entertainment features an array of topics including public health, business and job growth, transportation and development, and recovery from the economic and health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic.

All CityFest 2020 programming is free and open to the public, with pre-registration required. Once attendees are registered they will receive an email giving them access to the festival web app. Registered attendees are also invited to download the Whova app for more opportunities to network, ask the panelists questions, and take the festival anywhere they go.

10 a.m.

San Antonio Report Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick speaks with Elizabeth Provencio, the City of San Antonio’s first assistant city attorney; Michael R. Smith, criminal justice professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio; Oji Martin, founder of Fix SAPD; and Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officers Association, for a panel on “Policing in San Antonio.

11 a.m.

San Antonio Poet Laureate Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson” and The Foreign Arm come together for a lively poetic performance, followed by a conversation with San Antonio Report Arts and Culture Reporter Nicholas Frank on the inspiration behind their work.


A panel on “Health Equity in South Texas” where city leaders and health professionals discuss the community’s joint effort to provide equitable access to health care.

San Antonio Report Managing Editor Graham Watson-Ringo is joined by Dr. Somava Saha, Well Being In the Nation Network executive lead; Dr. Colleen Bridger, City of San Antonio assistant city manager; Dr. Erika Gonzalez, South Texas Allergy & Asthma Medical Professionals president and CEO; and Jaime Wesolowski, Methodist Healthcare Ministries president and CEO.

2:30 p.m.

San Antonio Report Photo Editor Scott Ball and staff photographer Bonnie Arbittier will co-moderate “Photojournalism During a Public Health Crisis” – a discussion with Bria Woods, executive producer at KAVU-TV in Victoria, and photographer Chris Lee about how the pandemic has prompted new ways of documenting current events.

3:30 p.m.

For the final event of San Antonio CityFest, San Antonio Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard moderates a conversation with city leaders in “Future of the City.”

Panelists include Brian Dillard, City of San Antonio chief innovation officer; John Burnam, Burnam | Gray co-founder and principal; Ximena Alvarez, U.S. Census Bureau media specialist; Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, San Antonio Economic Development Foundation president and chief executive officer; and Alex Birnel, MOVE Texas advocacy manager.

The full schedule is available here.

Samantha Ruvalcaba


Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary’s University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications. 

CityFest: Turning redlining into ‘greenlining’ with health equity

CityFest: Turning redlining into ‘greenlining’ with health equity

This story was originally published by San Antonio Report and can be found here

Take a 1930s map of San Antonio’s redlined communities – used to avoid “hazardous” loans in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods – and compare it with a map of families currently living below the poverty level and coronavirus cases. A disturbing pattern emerges: structural racism in action.

Across the country, communities of color have been disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of economic and health outcomes, said Dr. Somava Saha, executive lead of Well Being in the Nation Network. “If you look at those places, what you’ll see is that they lack the underlying conditions of [a successful] place,” such as a clean environment, healthy food, and access to health care.

Depending on how communities handle the pandemic, Saha said, “this is either a moment where we are going to erase those red lines or … we’re creating the future redlining maps. … That’s the charge for all of us in this moment in history, is to think about how we use this moment to ‘greenline’ the areas that have been redlined.”

The City of San Antonio’s response and recovery plan is aimed at erasing those lines, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and interim director of Metropolitan Health District. “Literally everything we’re doing is steeped in a focus on equity. … I love calling it greenlining.”

Saha and Bridger spoke during a panel discussion on Friday as part of the San Antonio Report’s five-day urban ideas festival CityFest. They were joined by Erika Gonzalez, president and CEO of South Texas Allergy & Asthma Medical Professionals, and Jaime Wesolowski, president and CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, to discuss Saha’s keynote address on health equity and possible paths forward.

Saha, who is a primary care doctor and public health practitioner, likened public health to a fire.

“We [could be] the best-organized bucket brigade trying to put out a fire, [but] there is a tanker full of gasoline going into the fire at the same time,” Saha said.

Similarly, doctors typically address the patient in front of them but not the underlying cause of the illness, she added. “What would it take for us to strategically shift those underlying things in the environment that are driving poor outcomes?”

These maps show (from left) racial segregation via redlining policies, poverty, and coronavirus cases in San Antonio.
These maps show (from left) racial segregation via redlining policies, poverty, and coronavirus cases in San Antonio. Credit: Courtesy / Dr. Somava Saha

Doctors treat children with asthma with medication – that’s an example of a “downstream” need, she said. But if someone digs further and finds out that their home has dust and mold that is causing the asthma, moving the child to a different home is a “mid-stream” solution.

“If we both remediate [substandard housing] and also create policies that make it possible for those places to [sustain] high-quality housing – and often mixed-income housing – then we begin to change the underlying legacies of disinvestment that got us here,” Saha said. That’s one of the so-called “upstream” solutions.

Saha is working with Methodist Healthcare Ministries to formulate an equity plan for the hospital system to address internal equity and start looking outside its traditional role of treating patients. The hospital system and nonprofit that serves 74 counties in South Texas is looking to broaden its scope to include upstream solutions.

“We need to evaluate not just health outcomes but those upstream social determinants of health … food, housing, education, the list goes on and on,” Wesolowski said. The nonprofit will undergo an internal equity, diversity, and inclusion audit starting next week.

This graphic shows how downstream, midstream, and upstream health interventions are connected.
This graphic shows how downstream, midstream, and upstream health interventions are connected. Credit: Courtesy / Dr. Somava Saha

This equity work will involve partnerships with local governments, businesses, nonprofits, and – most importantly – the underserved community, he said.

Door-to-door outreach to low-income communities of color is a priority in the City’s recovery plan, Bridger said, but one of the main barriers is trust.

“Redining happened in the ’30s and here we are today and we’re still seeing those same communities suffering from those same problems,” she said. “They don’t believe us when we say, ‘Oh yes, this time we’re going to help you.’ … The only way to build trust is by saying what you’re doing to do and then doing what you said you were going to do. We’re just now in that transition from the saying to the doing part.”

A key element to building that trust is forming relationships with neighborhood leaders and doctors who are established in those communities, Gonzalez said. Building those networks will help the city roll out its plans to stem the spread of coronavirus and help underserved populations take advantage of workforce development programs and other assistance that is available.

“We’ve often used the Promotoras with our health workers in the community who speak the language, who understand the culture, who look like the people they are trying to help,” she said.

That trust should work both ways, Saha said.

Successful programs that see 50 to 75 percent improvement in health outcomes “are often the ones that are led by or have substantial leadership by those people with lived experience of inequity.”

Health leaders need to trust that the community knows what it needs, she said.

Wesolowski, of Methodist Healthcare Ministries, has learned that an important piece of equity work is listening. “We can’t come in there and tell them what they really need.”

Iris Dimmick


Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at