Friday, November 3, 2023

Season 2, Episode 22:

Lived Experience Is Data. Periodt.

In today’s episode we are talking with Dr. Marissa Robinson about the power of qualitative research and recognizing our lived experiences as data.

Season 2, Episode 22: Lived Experience Is Data. Periodt.

by Dr. Joyee Washington and Dr. Marissa Robinson


Welcome to the Public Health Joy podcast, the safe space for real and honest conversation about what building a public health research career is really like: the challenges, the triumphs, and all the lessons we learn along the way.

I’m your host, Dr. Joyee, a Public health researcher, PhD survivor, and entrepreneur. In today’s episode we are talking with Dr. Marissa Robinson about the power of qualitative research and recognizing our lived experiences as data.

This is where research meets relationship and together, we will find our Public Health Joy!


When it comes to qualitative research, lived experience offers a wealth of valuable information that can shape and enhance the quality and relevance of public health studies. Few researchers know this better than Dr. Marissa Robinson, DrPH, MPH, RPCV, a strategic leader, visionary, and disruptor within the field of infectious disease. Dr. Robinson focuses on HIV/AIDS research, educating on the need to increase opportunities and diversity in the public health workforce. She currently serves as Initiative Coordinator of Ending the HIV Epidemic in the US (EHE), coordinated by the US Department of Health and Human Services with the goal of reducing new HIV infections in the US by 90% by 2030. In today’s episode, Dr. Robinson shares her perspective on the power of qualitative research, recognizing our lived experiences as data, and breaking into the public health field as a Black woman researcher. We also touch on the value of taking an ethnographic approach, the importance of holding those around you accountable, and of course, what brings Dr. Robinson joy in her work. Tune in to learn more about using qualitative research to ensure that your programs, grants, interventions, and data drive positive impact and long term solutions, bringing joy to your communities!

To connect with Dr. Marissa Robinson:

Dr. Marissa Robinson

Dr. Marissa Robinson on LinkedIn

Dr. Marissa Robinson on X

Links mentioned in this episode: 

Ending the HIV Epidemic in the US (EHE)

For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit

Key Points

  • Why Dr. Robinson is proud to be a person of color in the field of infectious disease. [02:01]
  • How she broke into the space as a Black woman researcher. [04:51]
  • Reasons that qualitative research is just as important as quantitative research. [10:09]
  • Advice for finding your place in the vast field of public health and making an impact. [13:01]
  • The crucial role that storytelling has played in marginalized communities. [16:48]
  • Highlighting the value of taking an ethnographic approach to your research. [20:28]
  • Why lived experience should be considered valuable data. [25:40]
  • The importance of celebrating small wins and holding people accountable. [30:38]
  • Making “good trouble” and other things that bring Dr. Robinson joy in her work. [34:15]

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[0:00:50] JW: Welcome to another great episode of The Public Health Joy Podcast. Today, we have Dr. Marissa Robinson with us, who is a strategic leader, visionary, and disruptor within the field of infectious disease. She focuses on HIV/AIDS research, educating the need to increase opportunities and diversity amongst the public health workforce. I was just sharing with Marissa. I don’t even remember how we met. I don’t remember how we met. I feel like there’s 80 to 90% of my connections with folk, I’m like, I know it has something to do with LinkedIn. I have no idea how we met. Somehow, we just vibe with each other.


[0:01:33] MR: We vibe, yeah. We vibe.


[0:01:34] JW: The energy matched and magic happened. I have no story about how we met. That’s okay. 


[0:01:47] MR: That’s okay, and just fine. We’re still here. We’re still connected.


[0:01:49] JW: Exactly. The connection is what matters and those are the best relationships anyway. We don’t even remember how we connected. I’m going to go ahead and turn it over to you. Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, what’s happening, what’s going on. 


[0:02:08] MR: Guys, so, hello. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Wherever you’re listening to, or listening in from. Hey, how are you doing? I’m Marissa Robinson. I am originally from the DMV area. Currently, working in the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy for Health and Human Services in the office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Mainly there, I’m the Ending the HIV Epidemic Coordinator, where I am facilitating a lot of different conversations, convening senior leaders, and working on the Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative in the US. 


I pride myself on being a woman of color in this space, because there are not a lot of women in the infectious disease workforce, but also specifically when we’re talking about the HIV workforce and being in the senior leadership cohort. There are far and few African Americans in this space. So, I pride myself on occupying these spaces and helping collaborate and bring in community voices, private and public partnership voices, other federal stakeholders, and just a real woke perspective to the important and essential work that I do for the federal government. 


Additionally, I’m a really big proponent of networking. So, I think part of the reason why you and I connected on LinkedIn is was, just because of your platform and because of the great work you’re doing, not only for Black researchers, but also just women, and persons of color, and just really bringing public health insight and well-being to the LinkedIn space. I want to commend you for having this platform and bringing me on and just really helping me to branch out and come onto the podcast and talk a little bit more about my experience and how I can make a difference to those that need it most. 


[0:03:57] JW: Yeah. Let’s talk about it, and I appreciate that. Let’s talk about Black women researchers. 


[0:04:03] MR: Hello.


[0:04:04] JW: Right? It’s time for us to stand up and stand out, which we have always been doing, although people didn’t always recognize it, but we’ve always been doing this. So, like how do we break into these spaces, like creating our own tables, right? Being able to show people we are worthy, we have value, we deserve to be in these spaces, and we deserve to hold our own space. Definitely, being researchers, it’s so hard, and I catch myself all the time because we know about research being harmful, right? It’s knowing that these research tools can be helpful, but trying to do it in a different way. 


As Black women researchers, how do we break into these spaces and change this narrative and really face what needs to be happening? What really needs to be happening is a revolution. That’s what really needs to be happening, but people don’t like to say those words. People are afraid to face that sometimes. For you, I’m interested to hear the story. Number one, how did you break into this space? Number two, what is it like for you, especially being in the federal government, and being in that type of position? How did you break into this space, and what is it like for you? 


[0:05:29] MR: Absolutely. When I first started to think about life after high school, where did I want to go to college? What do I want to do with my life originally? I thought I was going to be a chemistry major. I was going to go to medical school. Ultimately, I had a lot of health challenges growing up. That shaped why I was really into sciences and medicine. In high school, I had a wonderful opportunity to have an NIH-funded research program that I did for the summer of my junior year. It was at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. I got the opportunity to work with a renowned psychiatrist who was named Dr. Lydia Temoshok. her work really looked at the intersection of science and medicine, but also the full-blown requirement of AIDS. 


When I was looking at the data, I was a research assistant there. When I was looking at the data, I was looking at the demographic, but obviously, all of this is de-identified, but when I was looking at the data, I was like, “What is AIDS? What is HIV? Why are all these participants or study participants Black?” So, at the time, I didn’t really understand what HIV was. I didn’t understand what full-blown AIDS was, but I educated myself to learn. Okay, in sex ed, we might have breezed by this topic, but we did not spend a lot of time on it. 


In middle school, or that fifth-grade class that we had before going into middle school, nobody takes any of that stuff seriously. If you’re saying an engorged penis, or you’re saying like all of these genitalia, and you are all of 11. It’s a joke to you. Fast forward to me being 17 and being like, “Oh, my gosh. HIV is disproportionately impacting African Americans, the people that look like me. I need to learn more about this.” 


When I went to Spelman, I had several opportunities to conduct research. I also learned that chemistry was not my ministry, okay? I was not meant to be in a lab. Listen. Listen – it is not for the weak, number one, but number two, I was very much a social butterfly. I was trying to do entirely too much when I got to Spelman freshman year. I knew that I needed to switch majors. I switched to psychology. I double-minored in both environmental and public health. 


It was during that time that I learned about epidemiology, that I learned about environmental toxicology, that I got those biostatistics, that intro to public health, and I was like, “Okay.” Instead of just having a patient population where I can make a small but definitely impactful change, I can make changes that are systemic and help populations of persons, specifically those that are marginalized of color, don’t have as many opportunities, and or are not afforded the same opportunities that some of our other white counterparts are. 


Once I figured out that this was where I wanted to go. Oh, child, the sky was the limit, honey, because I just knew that there were so many things in each and everything in this world is public health-related. You cannot say one thing that is not somewhat related to public health. I think that that is what opened my eyes to the fact that maybe it’s not just patients and that direct care of being a clinician that I could be helpful in, but thinking about how can I do speaking engagements, and how can I really do behavior change? From a Black woman’s perspective, I feel as though, obviously in the STEM sciences, technology, engineering, and math, there is not a lot of people of color there, period. 


When I started out as a chemistry major, it was really that push of being one of one, and being a pioneer in that, right? But I also thought that I could do the same thing within the public health space. I’ve tried to carve out unique opportunities for myself, and I found that infectious disease work is really not overly populated with folks that look like us. However, we are disproportionately impacted by several infectious diseases, cardiovascular and non-communicable diseases, and other neglected tropical diseases from a global perspective. This was definitely a place that I knew that I could make some changes. I could shake the table as well as bringing my own chair to the table.


I knew that from a perspective of looking back on my own medical challenges and my journey from that point, I knew I could still make a difference for those that are marginalized or stigmatized or have to overcome medical challenges. So, for being a Black researcher in this space, I did think going into research that, “Oh, I have to do quantitative. I have to do quantitative.” Like that’s all that matters. The epi is all that matters, but really as I’ve explored this space, and you have gotten to this level of being in the federal government, the qualitative is just as heavy and holds just as much weight as the quantitative. I want to say to all my young people out there that are in the mix of trying to figure out, what does life look like? I don’t have it all figured out. One it’s okay. Breathe. 


It will be okay, because you will have ups and downs. You will have challenges. You will have doors closed where you think it’s the end of the world, and it is really the opening of a new beginning. To the simple fact that as a qualitative researcher, I think many people of color have brought qualitative research to the table because we were missing the how and the why. We had all this data of what it actually was, and how to identify that, but not why. Why are social and structural determinants of health that are all things that are outside of the individual affecting their behaviors? 


What things they are disproportionately impacted by the food and security, unstable housing, the lack of health care, the levels of education, transportation. All of these things are outside of sometimes the individual’s control. Looking at it from that perspective and hearing and understanding and interpreting data that it’s not just these data points, but these are persons lives, these are lived experiences. 


Being a person of color, I bring that to the table, because sometimes when you’re in this space, people forget that we have these targets, and we have these initiatives, and we have all of this data that we need to be moving things forward in a positive trajectory, but sometimes we have to take a pause. We have to take a step back and say, “Why are these systems in place that are disproportionately impacting a certain population, or what can we do to make a change to something that has been around for over 40 years, and the same people have been at the table, the same interventions have been happening, and it’s not working, sweetie?” We have to change. I bring this unique perspective of bridging all of these experiences together. 


I think I want those that are listening, and those that may listen to explore all of the options that are out there, because sometimes it’s those options that are not your first choice, that actually will put you on a trajectory in a different path that will open up so many doors. Because I know for a fact, when I was starting college, I was like, “I’m going to med school. I don’t want to hear nothing about nothing else.” 


[0:12:46] JW: Same.


[0:12:48] MR: Okay. So many of us that feel like if you’re not a doctor, a lawyer, an astronaut, or something just – an engineer, you are just not going to be satisfied financially, or just satisfied with life. The truth of the matter is, public health is so vast. You can see so many different walks of life in the field of public health; folks that went to business school, went to law school, went to medical school, went to get a doctorate of some sort, and still are making waves in the field of public health. 


I’m going to wrap that all up with a bow and say as a Black researcher, and as a woman, I think it is so important that our voices are heard, and we’re thinking about new and innovative ways to address science, to address medicine, and to address all of the systemic issues that we have in public health. It starts with acknowledging systemic racism. It starts with acknowledging the microaggressions and all of the work that has been done before us, but also looking at what can be done differently for those that are coming after us. 


Then also just being present and holding people accountable, and trying to look at things from a glass-half-full perspective, but also knowing that there’s always more work to be done. There’s always voices that are not currently at the table that need to be at the table. I think persons like you and I are folks that can do just that of bringing those outside voices into the table, and into these conversations that are so essential to moving public health in the right direction. 


[0:14:17] JW: Yes. Dr. Robinson just gave us a whole sermon. I think that’s – podcast. 


[0:14:21] MR: I know. Thank you for your time. 


[0:14:23] JW: She’s done. That’s it. The whole word that we – is this over with, but you brought up so many good points though, like number one, I had so many similarities across my journey and across my story being introduced to research at a very early age. I actually, when I was that age, 16, 17, something like that. I participated in the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition.


[0:14:51] MR: Okay.


[0:14:52] JW: When I was in high school. That was my first introduction to research and starting to think differently about things. Then, having the opportunity through college to participate in research, and seeing just things from a different side. Being a Black woman, being able to see things from a different side, and understand how is this impacting my community? How is this impacting the people that I know and love, and trying to figure out how can I move my dream from being a doctor, a medical doctor, and having impact in a different way? That’s so important to think about, and for – like speaking to the young people, because we’re the old people now. I guess.


[0:15:36] MR: I know.


[0:15:39] JW: Speaking to the young people here. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do, you got time to figure it out, because trust me, we don’t know what we doing most of the time. So, you have time to figure it out. We have to, as Black women, think about how can we be introduced to all the different methods, all the different tools, all the different things to bring back to our community, so that we can have, our community can have ownership and power and control over the data, over the things that we have going on, over the research, because that’s important, because we have been, as Black people, we have been silenced for so long. I remember the first time I was introduced to qualitative research. I was like, “Wait a minute. This is a thing?” I can look at words, images, and stuff that’s not numbers, and do research that will change the game – 


[0:16:32] MR: Game. Hello.


[0:16:34] JW: Like, oh, it’s over with. You know what? SPSS, baby. 


[0:16:39] MR: Right. I’m hanging this all over you. Right. Right. 


[0:16:42] JW: Just to be applied for a little bit. You’re still all right, but let me get into this qualitative over here. So, when we think about how we’ve been silenced as a community, and our stories are our treasures when it comes to the Black community, and how we learn about our history, how we learn about different patterns and things and trends in our community, it all comes down to our stories. We sit around all the time sharing stories about what Big Mama did, right? What Big Daddy did, right? What auntie and uncle and Cousin Peanut Mill, what we all do, and what we’ve all experienced. We pass those stories down to other generations, and there’s power in that.


We start to have to recognize, especially in that, like you’re talking about inclusion and diversity in the workforce. We need more people like us who can say there’s value in these stories. There’s value in these lived experiences. Your numbers don’t tell the whole story. Your chart of line graphs and histograms are not telling the whole story. There are people here. There are experiences here. We need to start making some human connections and building some relationships when we’re talking about research to better understand how we can drive true change because that’s the only way that is going to happen. 


[0:18:13] MR: I want to piggyback off a point you just made, because from a historical perspective, when we were not able to read and write, historically, we were marginalized. We weren’t allowed to even have discussions and have conversations. So, it started with songs. It started with telling our stories through song. Then from songs when folks got the ability to read and write, illegally now, we were able to then start writing our stories, but most of these stories were told because of the systemic issues of slavery from the slave trade of them not wanting us to communicate, to not be able to speak to one another, or even understand each other, coming from multiple different tribes, coming from multiple different countries.


You have all of this historical trauma. This is all historical trauma. From a research perspective, I feel like when we’re talking about certain systems that were put in place early, early on when research first began. We really have to look at why some of these things are discounted at the beginning, right? Then also, look at why do we still feel as though qualitative doesn’t hold as much weight as quantitative? It is from a systemic oppression mindset. 


When you’re looking at from an ethnographic standpoint, because this is a phenomenon of what is happening in real-time, not a lot of researchers do an ethnographic approach. Not a lot of researchers even are trained to learn about what is an ethnographic approach, but when we’re looking at the things that are verified by all the beings that be, sometimes we don’t get the grants. Sometimes we’re not getting the opportunities to even bring this research and these interventions to life, because of the systems that be. I challenge all of us to keep thinking and keep being innovative, because eventually they can’t say no. Eventually, when you’re doing something and it’s working and you’re doing it right, and community is supportive, you have external partners and stakeholders that are supportive, who can be against you, when you have continually broken down the barriers of all of the systems that are in place. 


[0:20:28] JW: This is a side note, for those who might not know, what is an ethnographic approach? 


[0:20:34] MR: Yes. So, when we’re using the phenomenon of things happening in real-time, you’re using lived experiences to then verify the data that you are collecting at the time. So, for example, if we’re looking at social media and the influence it has on youth, for example. Very broad, right? You can take so many different things, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, or X, it’s now X or threads or – There’s so many things. Right? 


[0:21:04] JW: Who knows at this point. 


[0:21:05] MR: Who know, right. 


[0:21:05] JW: It’s childhood – 


[0:21:07] MR: It’s published. Who knows, it might change again. 


[0:21:10] JW: I’ll be calling it the Rocking Robin by the time we get – 


[0:21:15] MR: Yes. But if you’re looking at a certain niche of data that you’re trying to collect and you want to use it from persons of lived experience. You’re using an ethnographic approach. Not a lot of people use an ethnographic approach, because they’ll say, “Oh, it’s not valid.” Or, “Oh, how is it credible?” Or, “How did you do triangulation?” The fact of the matter is a person’s lived experience is data. Period. Full stop. It doesn’t matter if you understand it. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it. It doesn’t matter if you have the same perspective. It is valid. It is data. 


When we’re talking about the unique experiences of “people of color,” okay, not everyone’s going to understand where you’re coming from and all the systems that are in place that you are not able to get through or trying to navigate. For one person, it’s like, “Oh, you have several missed appointments. Bad. Shame on you. We’re going to charge you for missing those appointments.” But you don’t realize that they might be a single mother. They might not have a car. They have to rely on public transportation. They might have missed dropping off their children at school. They might have had all of these things pile up for them to now miss this appointment and now not have their medication in this example, maybe for their HIV medication. Now they’re putting themselves at risk or their partner at risk. 


We’re looking at one data point of they missed their appointment. But we’re not looking at again, those structural determinants of health of all of the environmental factors that put them in that scenario to miss that appointment. So, from an ethnographic standpoint, we can talk to that individual and talk about all of the different systems and things that are in place that had the circumstance of them missing that appointment. But it really takes a step back from the outcomes data, because data is very outcome-driven. If X, then Y. If X, then Y. But sometimes we have to look at, why did the Y even happen? An ethnographic approach can really dive into the specifics of that. 


[0:23:18] JW: Yeah. Side note. This is going to be a business idea for you, because I just wrote the quote – put it on a t-shirt. My lived experience is data. Period. You need to – see, what I mean. 


[0:23:31] MR: That’s good. Yes. That is a shirt. I’m sure people would buy it, especially, about research. 


[0:23:37] JW: Yes. I remember when I was doing my dissertation. I did it in the middle of COVID. 


[0:23:44] MR: Same.


[0:23:44] JW: That’s a whole other story. 


[0:23:46] MR: That’s a whole other trigger. 


[0:23:48] JW: Yes. I did the dissertation in the middle of COVID. I was like, “How am I going to do this?” I kept switching to the methods, trying to figure it out. I went to my advisor and I was like, “Maybe I could do something like a self-case study type thing, because I’m deeply connected to the topic, like something that.” My advisor said, “Oh, you want to do an auto-ethnography?” I was like, “A what?” I was like, “I know about ethnography.” But I was like, “What is auto-ethnography?” Just like you’re talking about the ethnographic approach is that lived experience of myself. That is data. 


I had no clue auto-ethnography was a thing until my dissertation. So, for my dissertation, I did an auto-ethnography of my own lived experience going through sex education as a student in Mississippi, going through as a teacher, because I was an education instructor. Then, also sex education as a researcher and what does that look like? You mentioned about, people are like, “Well, that’s not real data. How do you check things and do triangulation,” and all that type of stuff. 


This is the way I did it. I said, “I’m going to write out my story.” Right? I’m going to write out all of my lived experiences. All of my stories. Then I’m going to go do external interviews with others who are leaders, who are native Mississippians, and see what their experiences are like. Then see how closely it matches up to mine. It was amazing to not only hear the stories, but then I could be like, “Oh, I’m not alone. Oh, you’re frustrated too with sex education in Mississippi. You’re seeing some of the same things that I’m seeing.” So, understanding that our lived experience is data and should be valued. 


[0:25:44] MR: Yeah. Right.


[0:25:45] JW: That’s something that should be in our control, something that we own, something that we share in the way that we want to share it and use that information in the way that we want to use it, that our communities want to use it. What does that mean in terms of who needs to be brought into the fold, into the circle, making sure that our community members are at the forefront whenever it comes to that research because their lived experience is data? 


[0:26:14] MR: It is. I think from the standpoint of being a Black researcher. There are so many barriers that we have to overcome, including microaggressions, but also just the validity of, “Oh you’re doing qualitative. That’s not good enough.” Or, “You’re not doing mixed methods. That’s not good enough.” Then some of the interventions that we might utilize or propose might, because again, lived experience, this is what will work in our communities. You’re not of our community, so you wouldn’t understand. I think that that is a larger conversation that we have to challenge, and we have to begin having. 


Having individuals like you and I in those spaces of, who’s working in these grant application offices? Who is working at doing the judging of these interventions and of these funding announcements? From a federal perspective. I know there are several different diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and pathways that folks can apply to, but sometimes as a Black researcher, I might not want to do a DEI-funded project. I might want to do a RO1. I might want to do a K12. I might want to do one of the biggest grant funding cycles out there. It might not be just about diversity, equity, and inclusion. That should be okay. 


I should still be able to achieve that because I’m meeting all of the requirements that are put in the funding announcement, or in the grant application. I think that that’s like a whole other podcast, number one, but that’s also from a researcher’s perspective, many of us go into this work, because we want to see the changes or behavior change or resources put into our communities that were extracted. For us, we want to make sure that there’s a continuation of shared knowledge so that, if we’re extracting something from the community, we’re giving something back. 


We’re not just taking and leaving them and saying, “Hey, we took your data. See you all.” Like there’s follow-up. There are community events. There is just this constant check-in, and merry-go-round of we’re going to utilize these resources for the good, but we’re also going to pour back into the communities that we’re getting this data from. I think that as we move forward and address some of these issues, having these conversations is a starting point, but really actually holding up the mirror to some of the systems that are in place right now is another larger conversation that I think is going to take place over the next couple of years if we really want to see a change for Black researchers and for the populations that we want to impact change on. 


[0:29:03] JW: Yeah. Not even just holding up the mirror, but once we hold up the mirror also, holding these organizations, these agencies accountable. 


[0:29:11] MR: Accountable. Absolutely. 


[0:29:13] JW: There’s a whole different conversation, because you can show somebody what they look like and they can be like, “Oh, I look good and you look fresh.” Like, I mean, you have to be able to hold these organizations accountable. Sometimes I think when we’re talking about organizations and agencies and where the funding comes from, it’s almost like, this is what came to my mind. If y’all have ever seen the Wiz. It’s like Oz. 


[0:29:40] MR: Yes.


[0:29:40] JW: It’s like, we all go into Oz like, can you play Dorothy over there, like I just want to go home. We over there, like we just want a grant. A scarecrow over there like, “I want a brain.” All talking to Oz and it’s really like just this big perception and ain’t nobody in there. Richard Pryor, I’m going to blank it. They don’t know what they doing. They’re not doing it the right way. You got to hold a mirror up to them and hold them accountable. It’s more than a one-step process. I’ll be excited to see when we can pull the cover off our eyes and actually hold – I’m just starting to cover the eyes now. 


[0:30:24] MR: Yeah. But that is a great analogy. I think a lot of people will resonate with that and understand the analogy there. Also, just from a standpoint of, “Okay, where are we going to make changes?” Small wins are our wins at the end of the day. Having a conversation about it is great. Figuring out a plan to move forward with some outcomes, there goes that word again, and the data to support that, it holds people accountable. Also, when we’re looking from a larger perspective of long-term changes, having individuals of color at the table is always going to be a step in the right direction and having people of lived experience also at the table is another gap that I think we really have in the research space. 


Historically, we have had in the research space, because we’ve always been extractors of information and data, but never have really had persons of lived experience at the table when we’re thinking about, “Okay, how do we approach data?” If we’re talking about, for me, HIV. We need to have persons that are living with HIV and thriving with HIV at the table. Those that may also have substance use disorder or those that might be in all walks of life. You folks that are living – older folks that are living with HIV all across the spectrum. 


Then also folks that may be in circles where they might be at a larger risk or have more reasons why they could acquire HIV. They should also be at the table. Not after the grant is already out. When we’re seeking grantees to come and address these issues, we need them at the table when we’re thinking and building these programs up, so that they are part of, well, this is stigmatizing. We don’t want to use that language or this could really be detrimental to the community. We should think about altering it and making it this way.


Again, you only get that from doing qualitative research of having listening sessions, of having technical expert panels, of having message testing. All of those things are going to help you to make sure that these programs, these grants, these interventions, and some of the data that you’re putting out is actually going to help the community and not harm it.


[0:32:40] JW: Yeah. I think the other thing that sometimes is hard to wrap our minds around. The number one, this didn’t happen. We didn’t get here overnight, right? We’re not going to be able to correct everything, overnight.


[0:32:55] MR: Yeah. In a day. Yeah.


[0:32:57] JW: Number two, this is not so far removed from us either. We’re still experiencing systemic oppression and racism. This is not like, “Oh, this happened 500 years ago.” Like, you all. There are so many things happening today – 


[0:33:19] MR: Today. Right now. 


[0:33:19] JW: Right now. If somebody tells you a story about something that’s happening today, you would be like, “Oh, no, that happened in 1655 or something.” It’s like, “No, that happened today.” 


[0:33:31] MR: Right. That happened today. 


[0:33:33] JW: Today. Today, hun. We’re still dealing with stuff. So, we have to understand our history. We have to understand how we got here. We have to understand the current space of what it looks like and how it has been impacted and influenced by things that have happened in the past. Then, figure out how do we move forward? How do we get to the future, the equitable future that we want to see and what does that look like? As we are wrapping up the podcast, I do have a question for you. 


[0:34:08] MR: Oh, a question.


[0:34:10] JW: I bet you can guess what this question is, but.


[0:34:12] MR: Yes. 


[0:34:13] JW: This question is, what brings you joy in your work? 


[0:34:18] MR: Two things, I will say. The first thing is working with communities and working with individuals who are trying to make the changes that we’re talking about today. There are so many individuals from private-public partners to stakeholders to community-led organizations to students, to folks that I meet just out in the public. There are so many people working to make this world a better place. I think that that is a motivator for me to constantly see, okay, we’re fighting the good fight. In the words of John Lewis, “We have good trouble happening all over.” Oh, stop. Oh, stop. 


[0:34:59] JW: Oh, wait. You learned it, but my shirt is Resident Good Trouble – shout out to Health Equity Jazz with the t-shirts, Resident Good Troublemaker. 


[0:35:11] MR: Yes. We need to be having a good trouble. Being in these spaces, I think gives me motivation of, okay, there are a lot, and I’m not going sugarcoated, there’s a lot of BS going on every single day that we have to put up with, because we are trying to make a difference, but it is not done in vain. There are so many shoulders of giants that we stand upon so that we can do the work that we do. There are a lot of spaces that we occupy in 2023 that even 20 years ago, we were not in, and 30 or 40 or 100 years ago. We we’re not even thought of. 


I think we have to look, as I said earlier, we have to look at the glass half full and see all of the progress we have made, but hold each other accountable for the progress that we still need to make and the things that we still need to do to make the world a better place. Then the second piece, I didn’t talk about this earlier, but I also am a Zumba instructor on the side. I’ve always loved the idea of working out and going to the gym. It releases so many endorphins for me. I wanted to do something that was not just lifting weights or getting on a machine because all of that can get so repetitive and boring. Unless you’re switching it up constantly, you can plateau very easily going to the gym and not see any progress. 


Zumba is just this wonderful community. I do mean community, where we literally come together from all different fitness levels, from all different age groups, and just come together and dance. You really don’t pay attention to the fact that you might have just done a thousand squats, or that you just dropped it low, and you’re trying to get it back up, or that you are just your heart rate is at this constant high interval intensity training level. Just bringing all of these different cultures musically, I think is a wonderful diverse pot of folks from all different walks of life, and it brings me so much joy to help other women, men, and persons of trans experience, to this place of – hey, I don’t really necessarily like working out, but I do like doing some twerking. I do like different types – listen. We twerk responsibly, but we do like twerking, and like this music melting pot. Okay.


[0:37:33] JW: Everybody needs to twerk responsibly. 


[0:37:35] MR: Yes. Twerk responsibly. 


[0:37:36] JW: Now we have a whole line. Let me call –


[0:37:38] MR: Yes. You guys have a lot of t-shirts, girl.


[0:37:41] JW: Let me call Target, really quick.


[0:37:42] MR: Right. Right. Yes. Those are the two things that bring me joy. Seeing the folks that are doing this work, and being like, “Okay, we’re in this fight together. We’re getting in good trouble.” Being able to impact change, where health, dance, and music all collide to the betterment of people’s health and wellness. 


[0:38:02] JW: I love that. I agree 100%. Message of this episode. Number one, your lived experience is data. Twerk responsibly. Love it. 


[0:38:14] MR: Yes. 


[0:38:16] JW: If people wanted to get in touch with you, how was the best way, where can they find you? 


[0:38:22] MR: Yes. I am definitely on LinkedIn. I am on LinkedIn very much, so that’s like probably my biggest platform. I also have a website, Definitely, reach out to me, If you want to talk ideas, let’s connect. Connect with me on LinkedIn. You can also follow me on Twitter, Dr. Marissa Rob. Please, like I’m always here for folks that are aspiring public health innovators. If you change careers and want to figure out how to map it out, if you want to have me as a speaking guest, I’m always down to do speaking opportunities. 


Ultimately, I am here to make a change and help those that are coming behind me and those that have come before me to continue the good fight. Whatever I can do, however I can be connected to you, I am so grateful for this opportunity. I’m grateful for all of you that are listening today. I just hope you all be well. Stay strong. We are in this fight together and don’t feel like you’re alone, because you are not. We are here to support you every step of the way. Thank you, Dr. Washington, for bringing me all your wonderful podcasts and just having a real down-to-earth key, key, but also, we hit a lot of gems. we were spitting a lot for today’s podcast. 


[0:39:39] JW: Yeah, of course. Thank you so much for sharing your lived experience and your expertise and all of the stories and gems you had to share as well. We definitely appreciate you. We might have to have you back. We might have to have a whole deconstructing of the weeds and how it – 


[0:39:55] MR: Yeah.


[0:39:55] JW: Because I can see a lot of different similarities there. We might have to think about that. 


[0:39:59] MR: We might think about that. 


[0:40:00] JW: Yeah. But I appreciate you so much. This is one to wrap up another episode of The Public Health Joy Podcast. 




[0:40:08] JW: I am so grateful for this time we got to spend together. If you enjoyed this episode, I need you to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impacts, visit This is where research meets relationship. I’ll see you next time on The Public Health Joy podcast.



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