As a doctor serving communities in East Africa, Latin America, and tribal reservations in the U.S., Paul Park saw firsthand how closely a person’s health is tied to the environment in which they live and their access to wealth, education, housing, and food. And he saw how barriers to good health are deeply rooted in racism and the legacy of colonialism.
“I thought a lot about why certain people are poor,” Paul says. “And I couldn’t help but think that if these communities were not Black and brown, they would be in a different situation.”
Now, as Solid Ground’s new Senior Director of Programs, Paul is applying that same anti-racist lens to the work of dismantling the barriers that keep people in poverty. In this role, which Paul started in August, he’ll be working across Solid Ground’s housing, homelessness prevention, nutrition, and monitoring and evaluation programs to bring them in alignment with Solid Ground’s mission of solving poverty and dismantling racism and other forms of oppression.
“I thought a lot about why certain people are poor. And I couldn’t help but think that if these communities were not Black and brown, they would be in a different situation.” ~Paul Park, Senior Director of Programs
“Paul takes a holistic look and approach to health and wellness, which is something that the community, our Community Needs Assessment, and our clients and program participants have all told us they’d like to see more of in our work,” says Shalimar Gonzales, Solid Ground’s CEO. “I am always excited when we get to bring on someone whose first steps are to identify the bright spots that are happening in one of our programs and then pull it across all of our programs and break down some of the silos we have.”
Paul grew up in Indianapolis, where he experienced both overt and systemic racism as the son of Korean immigrants. Paul says anti-racism became the foundation of everything he did as he went to medical school and moved into a variety of clinical and public health roles, including direct clinical care, implementation, policy, and research.
Over the years, Paul launched a global health partnership in Guatemala, practiced primary care medicine on Navajo Nation and Wampanoag reservations, studied the implementation of health-delivery systems in Kenya, and served as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Chronic Disease for Partners In Health in Rwanda.
“Paul takes a holistic look and approach to health and wellness, which is something that the community, our Community Needs Assessment, and our clients and program participants have all told us they’d like to see more of in our work.” ~Shalimar Gonzales, CEO
But Paul says he decided to refocus his work after seeing that many of the disparities he was addressing abroad were growing problems back home, particularly after the pandemic struck.
“Health inequities in the United States were getting worse. The racism – the murder of George Floyd and others, and violence against Asian Americans – was seemingly getting worse,” Paul says. “I felt compelled to shift my focus from an international lens to domestic challenges.”
While most of Solid Ground’s work would not be considered “health care” in the traditional sense, Paul says the areas where the agency does work – in housing, transportation, nutrition, and youth development – all contribute directly to the health of the individual and the community. He says he looks forward to continuing to bring those program areas together and integrate them with access to health care services so that Solid Ground can serve people more holistically.
And Paul isn’t done with medicine. He still holds an appointment at Harvard Medical School and practices primary care medicine a few days a month at federally qualified health centers in King County.
“I really enjoy it,” Paul says. “Just as our case managers work face-to-face with participants, this is my chance to work directly with patients and talk with them about nutrition, transportation, housing – all these important social determinants of health and wellbeing.”