Aaron Brown is training to be a doctor, so it’s no surprise he has a vision for a healthier community. But it’s a vision starts with conversations, not prescriptions, and he isn’t waiting until he graduates to get started. 

On November 10, Aaron, a second-year student at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, is taking a “different kind of health fair” into the Champaign-Urbana community—one that focuses on meeting people where they’re at and building trust through listening. 

“The main goal of the event is to let everyone know they have a voice in their health,” said Aaron, who has several Carle Illinois classmates helping him, along with a key collaboration with the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. “I want us to have discussions with people about some of the barriers that make it difficult to be healthy.” 

Aaron already has a sense about what some of the barriers to health might be—he experienced them growing up in Virginia in a family of seven that faced financial challenges. 

“Sometimes you have to make the choice between paying the bills and taking care of health problems,” he said. “And for many people in the African American community, the biggest barrier to health is you’re always taking care of others, and putting everyone else first. You don’t have time to take care of yourself. I saw my mom doing that.”

When Aaron was in college, he lost his mom due to heart failure from chemotherapy complications. Her life has been a driving force for Aaron, motivating him to go to medical school and to organize the Carle Illinois Community Health and Wellness Fair. 

Sam Banks, the Executive Director of the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, underscored the importance of trust and understanding when it comes to health and wellbeing.

“There are many dynamics at play when it comes to addressing community health issues, like fear of the health system, intimidation, and a lack of trust,” said Mr. Banks. “One of the key things we noticed when Aaron visited us at the Boys and Girls Club for the first time was how he connected with the kids and families we serve, because he comes from similar circumstances. He understands their struggles.”

Some Carle Illinois clinical faculty will also be at the event, sharing their medical expertise. Dr. Jennie Hsu-Lumetta, a faculty advisor for the health fair, said that up to 80 percent of chronic diseases like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes can be managed through lifestyle behaviors, including diet, exercise, stress management, better sleep and building supportive relationships.

“I’m excited about the Carle Illinois Community Health and Wellness Fair and Aaron’s approach to this event,” said Dr. Hsu-Lumetta, a primary care internist, board certified in obesity medicine with an interest in lifestyle medicine, and a certified health and wellness coach. “The goal is to help people move the needle from illness to wellness—to have more energy, to eat healthier and to be able to be more active. Listening to people’s stories and getting them to share in their vision of what wellness might look like for them is the key to starting their journey towards a healthier life. The health fair will provide resources that can support this path to health and wellness.”

And it’s something that Aaron is primed to do. 

“My upbringing was hard in a lot of ways, but it’s also a beautiful piece of what I’m doing now with the health fair,” Aaron said. “I can listen to people and help them feel comfortable opening up. I feel like my mom could have been helped if she had something like the health fair. I hope that someday maybe I can help save someone’s mother.”

The first Carle Illinois Community Health and Wellness Fair was held on Sunday, November 10, from noon until 4:30 p.m. at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, 201 E Park St., Champaign. Financial support for the quarterly event was generously provided by the Lumpkin Family Foundation