Critical Futures

An interview-based podcast by the IHJE. It’s Critical, because the time is now to conjure the world we want to live and thrive in. It’s also Futurity: the intentional imagining and materializing of liberated futures.

27 August 2023

Series 1, Episode 7: "Community Health Workers"

Featuring Denise Octavia Smith, Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah, & Rumana Shams Rabbani

About Our Guests

Denise Octavia Smith, NACHW Executive Director

Denise Octavia Smith, MBA, CHW, PN is the founding Executive Director of the National Association of Community Health Workers, Visiting Scholar at the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care Program in Global Primary Care and Social Change, Aspen Institute Healthy Communities Fellow, and a Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Leader. Denise envisions a culture of health where individuals have self-determination and dignity, where communities meaningfully contribute to system design and governance and where societies eliminate structural barriers to well-being. Denise led development of the first National CHW Policy Platform, 2021 National CHW Workforce Survey, and is a co-founder of the Community Based Workforce Alliance and the Vaccine Equity Cooperative.


Highlighted Work:

Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah, CHASM Co-Founder

Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah was born and raised in San Bernardino, California during America’s war on drugs and mass incarceration era. Abdullah first experienced incarceration at age 9 and by age 17 he was sentenced to prison as an adult for 8 years. While incarcerated Abdullah was inspired to shift his world view and began to tenaciously pursue a journey of self and community healing and restoration.

In 2011, Abdullah was trained to implement the CDC funded Multnomah County Health Department, Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere initiative. In 2017 he adapted the program to be community led inside North Carolina Cape Fear Region now titled a Community-Based Public-Health response to Violence and being scaled in other parts of the country.


Highlighted Work:

Rumana Shams Rabbani, CHASM Co-Founder

Rumana Shams Rabbani, CHW-VPP, MHA, received her Master’s in Health Administration (MHA) focusing on strategic management. She is currently a Doctoral student in the Health Policy & Management Department minoring in Implementation Science at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Rumana is also a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar. Rumana has been the PI for the past eight years focusing on sustainable and equitable pay for the CHW workforce. She serves as the Chair of the Policy Committee for the Community Based Workforce Alliance and one of the principal authors for the APHA CHW Policy statement 20227.


Highlighted Work:

The National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW)


The National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW) is the national voice for Community Health Workers, unifying CHWs across geography, ethnicity, sector and experience to support communities in achieving health, equity and social justice. We amplify CHW professional identity, leadership and capacity, and promote strategies, innovations and policies that respect, protect and authentically partner with CHWs and their Networks.



Community Healing through Activism & Strategic Mobilization (CHASM)

Community Healing through Activism and Strategic Mobilization (CHASM) is a Community-Based Organization (CBO) of strategic learning that aims to build capacity for Community Health Workers (CHWs) and CBOs within historically marginalized communities (HMCs), and neutralize systemic inequities in order to enhance harmony within the ecology of our society.



Anti-Racism Consortium

The Institute for Healing Justice & Equity (the Institute or IHJE) aims to eliminate disparities caused by systemic oppression and to improve individual and community health and well-being through systems change and deep community partnership. As part of these core goals, IHJE created a panel of content experts, community advocates, and organizations called the Anti-Racism Consortium. Each consortium member has a history of working to:

  • develop and advocate for anti-racist health policy;
  • address the root causes of health inequities; and
  • develop programs and interventions that address multiple levels of medical racism, structural racism in health and the health care system.

In the Critical Futures podcast series, Consortium members describe their work and perspectives related to anti-racist health policy as well as structural racism in the healthcare system. These interviews are also conducted with a community partner that the members have worked alongside — with the goal of highlighting how to deeply work with community in a way that shares power and that moves us all towards liberation.

Additional Credits

This episode was produced as part of the work of the Anti-Racism Consortium. Support for the Consortium was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

Episode Host: Ruqaiijah Yearby | Co-Founder, IHJE.

Audio Production: KJ Schaeffner | Web Developer + Designer, IHJE.

Podcast Artwork: Wriply M. Bennet.

Theme Music: Future Vision/FineTune Music via Adobe Stock.