Fall in St. Louis arrived suddenly, entering the scene just as October made itself known on calendars and phone screens. Undeterred by the chilly evening, a assembly of citizens, some wrapped in scarves and hunkered in foldable chairs, sat between the silvery walls surrounding the Public Media Commons at St. Louis Public Radio. They listened attentively as Sally Altman introduced Jason Purnell, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.
Purnell has been the principal investigator of For the Sake of All, a multidisciplinary study on health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis. The project released a final report on its first phase in May 2014. This report emphasizes that not only do African Americans have significantly worse health outcomes than many other St. Louis populations, but that this disparity is relevant to the whole city.
The study asks questions such as: How does a divided city cause differences in health? How does health influence school dropout? How can we save lives – and save money – in St. Louis? Not all the answers are good, but the policy briefs include recommendations to change that.
When asked about the response to the project thus far, Purnell replied that while the response has been significant, “we were aware of a need to tell this story in as many different ways as possible so that we could reach segments of our community for whom the topic of disparities is new.”
This need brought about the creative collaboration with Benjamin Kaplan, who oversaw the making of a short, animated film based on the For the Sake of All study. The video, “Gateway Gauntlet,” which is available on Vimeo, highlights how health disadvantages occur between populations. “The idea was to present some of the data and concepts from For the Sake of All in an accessible way to audiences who may or may not be aware or see themselves in the issues we’ve raised,” Purnell stated.
The six-minute film is the combined work of four hundred drawings, nine months, and three rewrites. Presented in video game allegory, the video emphasizes the study’s purpose in uniting every member of the community. We are all part of the kingdom, and every player in this video game has the potential to save the princess and the kingdom.
As told by Purnell and “Gateway Gauntlet,” “health and life itself are not equally distributed in our region.” Some players start off with reduced health, others with better mobility or resources. The most startling fact? Living 10 miles apart in the St. Louis area can mean a difference in 20 years of life expectancy. It is a narrative relayed time and again by racial maps, studies, and news reports. Now told in animated format, the video will hopefully reach new audiences with stories of health disparities in the region, and how all might help to alleviate them.
Purnell emphasizes that “[t]his is a critical time for the St. Louis region, and we’re gratified to be part of the conversation and the action around making this a more equitable community. Though our focus is on health, we’ve been adamant since the beginning of the project about the interconnection of issues across traditional sectors and silos. Everyone is needed to ‘save the kingdom.’”
After the viewing, attendees were directed toward volunteer opportunities. Inside the station, families and friends talked over pizza. There, they continued the conversation just as the creators of “Gateway Gauntlet” had hoped.
“Gateway Gauntlet,” which is funded in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, is one aspect of the project’s attempts to educate the public. The program includes many partnerships, including collaborations with FOCUS St. Louis and the Ferguson Commission. From these partnerships, the project has created Discussion guides and Action Toolkits, which are released at a series of Community Action Forums.