My Grant Writing “Why” | Stacey Mason

When I think about my why for writing grants, I think about the many people that have poured knowledge into me during my public health and educational journeys and the voices that have advocated and inspired me to promote healing and justice. Having grown up in East Saint Louis, Illinois, I often wondered why, to some, the area had such negative connotation. For me, it was home, but witnessing the unequal distribution of resources, the substance misuse, and wondering why I was granted the opportunity to attend schools in what some may consider ‘better neighborhoods,’ propelled me to want to make changes that are beneficial for underserved communities and those that are often misrepresented.

Stacey Presenting at the 2016 STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta, Georgia

I was a wide-eyed graduate student who honestly wanted to make positive changes in the world when I decided to embark in the field of public health. My first graduate public health experience was as a volunteer, and later a health educator, for a couple of adolescent health, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) sexual risk-reduction interventions. My roles involved me working with young women that looked and spoke like me. I conducted health education sessions around HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), safer sexual behaviors, including condom use skills, partner communication, and informed decision making. In the beginning, I was nervous about how my cofacilitator and I would come across. There was uncertainty around whether the young ladies would feel comfortable sharing stories or engaging in activities with us. As time went on, my nerves went away, and each group of ladies that joined brought something special to the sessions that made me realize the power of holding space: space to just be, space to share knowledge, and space to discuss relevant health topics. I realized that I, as well as the young women themselves, were advocating for young racial and ethnic minority women’s sexual health rights and understanding that sexual health is vital when achieving overall health. In conjunction with this, I went on to assess how public housing, or relocating from public housing, impacted individuals’ health risk behaviors through the HOPE VI Atlanta Public Housing Relocations Study. Again, I noticed that some people I interacted with spoke like me and looked like me. After doing deeper reflections of my experiences, I revisited my why. Why was I asking about such intricate details around one’s health behaviors? Why did I feel such attachment to the people that I interacted with? These questions led to my first introduction into grant components as I put together a plan for a healthy youth development program as part of my culminating program planning capstone. As time would tell, all the experiences in my graduate studies at Emory University University’s Rollins School of Public Health were additional elements towards achieving my ultimate why of wanting to promote equity and advance health agendas of those populations that are often forgotten.

Presenting on Self-Care last November 2019 for the Sophia Project’s (a local non-profit in the St. Louis area) Keep It Safe & Sacred (K.I.S.S.)

Working as a government contractor was my first hands on experience when contributing to a federal grant proposal. At the time, I was working with Axiom Corporation supporting a HIV prevention project housed in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Prevention Program Branch. I worked with my supervisor to respond to a component of the proposal related to team contributions. This was helpful as it allowed me to assess each team member’s role and outline how the team’s skills could best fit the responsibilities of the project. Although my contribution was small, it was significant in that allowed me to see the power that grant writing can have when opening doors for new opportunities and allowing people to utilize their skills to make positive changes.

Upon moving back to my hometown, I noticed that some of the health disparities and issues related to public health equity that I had learned about in my graduate studies, and beyond in my professional career, were made clearer. I had the opportunity to leave my hometown and go to Spelman College, one of my dream schools, but the desire that I had to return to my hometown was ever present. However, when I moved back, I noticed that while some things changed, some stayed the same. There was a louder reverberation of unsettled infrastructural things that hit me differently compared to when I initially left for college. Resource depletion in certain areas was still prevalent, and access to care, basic healthcare that is, was not as sufficient as it once was. Given this, I decided to volunteer with Affinia Healthcare, a federally qualified health center, to understand quality of care barriers and diabetes self-management behaviors of the patients served. Additionally, I participated with The Sophia Project as a mentor to young women in the metropolitan Saint Louis, Missouri area to help increase positive self-and social awareness, build healthy relationships, and increase school and graduation readiness for young ladies that looked like me. Furthermore, I worked as a health educator to promote healthier behaviors to children and families at HealthWorks! Kids Museum Saint Louis, a local non-profit in the area. As faith would have it, the opportunity to enroll in Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice doctoral program also came my way. These actions resulted in me getting reacquainted in understanding what certain populations, especially those in my hometown, need to thrive.

Posing in front of the Mega heart as part of the All Systems Pumped! event in February 2019 at HealthWorks! Kids Museum Saint Louis

As a second-year doctoral student at Saint Louis University, I have learned a great deal from my advisor Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor and from her Grant Writing course. She has emphasized the importance of why and understanding that low-resource settings, underserved communities, have every right to equal distribution of resources and sustainability of health interventions and programs, just as those that are more resource sufficient. As I grow more into my career, I have learned that grant writing can be a beautiful thing, if you allow it. Grants have the power to shape communities and can be instrumental when advocating for those who are often displaced or misrepresented. While I have not submitted any independent grants, my approach will be to remember my why when I write a grant. What am I trying to achieve? And, for whom, what, is it for? The latter goes back to the youth, the people, and communities, including the one that shaped me, whose voices deserve to be amplified and for equal resource dispersion and program sustainability. To become a successful grant writer, I will not stop trying. There will be mistakes and upsets, but I will keep going. No matter the status of the grant, success or not, I will remember the people who have poured into me and those that have shaped my outlook on public health, well-being, and justice, and echo that with each grant submission that I complete- it will be just as much for them as it is for me.

Clear, Articulate Grant Writing By Doctoral Students For Doctoral Students | Saint Louis University