Unity 2021: A Community Health Worker’s View

July 28, 2021, was Day 1 of the Unity National Community Health Worker conference (Unity), with the bonus of the National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW) second annual meeting. At Unity, community health workers (CHWs) convened to support communities in achieving health, equity, and social justice.

Durrell Fox (left) and the NACHW board at the Unity Conference in 2019.

Over 800 CHWs, community health representatives (CHRs), and promoters attended alongside our allies, partners, employers, and funders. Unity has a legacy in the field as THE reunion for the CHW workforce and allies, and, with CHWs as the majority of the planners, participants, and faculty, THE meeting for CHW leadership development. I co-facilitated a NACHW policy committee session, one of many great sessions and activities over Unity’s two days. Check the nachw.org newsletter for instructions on how to access the recorded content.

During the NACHW annual meeting, we elect the board of directors. After serving as a member of the national coordinating committee and the founding board for seven years, I decided to rotate off the board this year so that a new CHW could join and bring new energy, resources, knowledge, and networks. I will continue to serve as co-chair of the NACHW policy committee and work with the board and staff to support NACHW’s growth and development.

I’ve been honored to attend and present at each Unity conference since the late 1990’s, when Unity was born out of the Community Health Advisor Network trainings and grew from meetings on the Gulfport campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. The Center for Sustainable Health Outreach (CSHO), a collaboration between the University and the Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown, was the original host of Unity. I was honored to serve on the advisory board during the CSHO’s tenure.

Durrell Fox presenting at the 2019 Unity Conference.

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Unity has been a family event for me; many of my actual family members have attended, presented, and developed the Esther M. Holderby Dedicated CHW award, which is named after my mom-in-law and bestowed upon a CHW each year. Over the years, Esther, my wife Lisa Renee (also a NACHW board member), and one of our daughters have participated in Unity!

Unity history

I’m going back down memory lane and listing some Unity themes and meeting locations. I’m sure this will spark great memories for people who have attended one or more of the conferences over the years!

  • Early days of Unity: From the late 1990s through 2005, Unity was hosted in Gulfport, MS. The horror and path of destruction of Hurricane Katrina killed so many and destroyed so much, including the long-standing conference venue in Gulfport. That’s when Unity began to travel.
  • 2006: Unity convened in New Orleans, LA to support the city and applaud the role of CHWs in supporting families and communities through crisis. The theme was Surviving Life’s Storms: Celebrating Community Health Worker Models of Innovation, Resilience, and Strength.
  • 2007: CHWs as Essential Components for Public Health: Solving the Disparities and Access Puzzle, Tampa, FL.
  • 2008: Community Health Workers: The Winds of Change — From Grass Roots to Groundbreaking Public Health Professionals, Albuquerque, NM.
  • 2009: Community Health Workers: Celebrating Our Past and Charting Our Future, St. Louis, MO.
  • 2010: Community Health Workers: The Heart of It All, Columbus, OH
  • 2011: Back to New Orleans, LA! Change You Can Believe In: Community Health Workers Meeting Today’s Challenges.\2012/13: Unity took a hiatus, as CSHO “officially” ended in 2011.
  • 2014: Susan Mayfield-Johnson worked hard to bring Unity back, and we reconvened without skipping a beat in Baltimore. Theme: Community Health Workers: Innovative Solution to Addressing the Triple Aim (Access to Care, Reducing Costs, and Promoting Healthy Communities).
  • 2015: Community Health Workers: Transforming Communities through Trust, Compassion, and Commitment, Memphis, TN.
  • 2016: Community Health Workers: Social Change Agents Advancing Health Equity and Improving Outcomes, Atlanta, GA.
  • 2017: The Collective Power of CHWs, CHRs, and Promoters, Dallas, TX.
  • 2019: 20th Anniversary of Unity — Unlocking The Door to Healthier Communities, Las Vegas, NV.



JSI is a public health consulting firm that works to improve the health and well-being of underserved and vulnerable people and communities throughout the world

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JSI is a public health consulting firm that works to improve the health and well-being of underserved and vulnerable people and communities throughout the world