OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- This Black History Month ABC7 News is highlighting people and organizations working to Build a Better Bay Area - making a difference in the Bay Area's Black community.
In the heart of East Oakland, at 99th and International Blvd., the Roots Community Health Center is on a mission.
"To uplift those impacted by systemic inequities and poverty and really to address some of the disparities that we were seeing right here in East Oakland specifically for people of African descent," said Noha Aboelata, M.D., founding CEO of Roots Community Health Center.
89% of Roots' active clientele are African American with a larger number depending on Medi-Cal.
If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live
Aboelata, born and raised in Oakland, sees the health consequences faced in this historically under-resourced community, first-hand.
Take life expectancy for example.
In the 94603 zip code where Roots is located, the average life expectancy is seven years less than the Alameda County average, according to county health data published in 2016.
Roots is working to turn that tide, patient by patient.
"We do that through direct medical and behavioral health services through navigation and benefits, enrollment, street outreach, and workforce development as well as advocacy," said Aboelata.
That advocacy started in 2008 as a mobile clinic to address troubling health issues in East Oakland. The nonprofit's footprint and mission has since expanded to a dozen sites across Alameda and Santa Clara Counties.
"It really has been a journey in terms of just learning from the community," she added.
Roots continues to respond to the needs of the community.
The nonprofit jumped into action at the outset of the pandemic, live streaming community health updates as "The People's Health Briefing," and offering one of the first walk-in COVID testing sites in the East Bay in April 2020.
"We immediately said we're gonna have to step into action and there's no one coming to save us. We realize we're going to have to be the ones that put these services in place immediately," she said.
Just this week, Dr. Aboelata received the 2022 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for her organization's response to the pandemic.
Along with the recognition, the foundation is also providing Roots Community Health Center with a $250,000 grant and additional support resources.
ABC7 News was there as Roots offered its daily free COVID testing, drop-in covid vaccination, and free meals to anyone in need on "Welcome Wednesdays".
But Roots isn't only serving up healthcare and wrap-around services, it's offering up second chances too.
Just ask Kisha Williams.
"I'm previously incarcerated," said Williams. "Roots gave me the opportunity to make better choices, have better opportunities in life."
Now, Williams is able to connect others to those better opportunities as a client services specialist making sure those in her community have adequate health care.
"It gives the Black community a foundation. They can be heard and seen and they can be taken care of," said Williams.
"When you come on our campus, you're going to see people who look like you, who understand you," said Aboelata.
She emphasized how important cultural competency and congruence in delivering healthcare is as Roots expands its mental and behavioral health services that are in high-demand these days.
Aboelata likes to call these visits "check-ins," and said clients, under the stress of the pandemic, are more willing to share mental health concerns than ever before.
"I've been able to help the people in my community and people with the same skin tone as me," said Keith Delaney, a health navigator. "It's a beautiful thing. There are so many times that we are overlooked by everyone. When we are able to help one another it just shows you that we are supposed to be a village."
Aboelata is confident that the people in this village, deeply rooted in the community, are enough to be the change they want to see.
"I think what really makes me hopeful is to see when we do have a common goal that we're all pushing towards really anything is possible," said Aboelata.