Michiana Chronicles — The Importance of Listening: A Conversation about Public Health

Sep 9, 2021

April Lidinsky and Debra Stanley
Credit Ken Smith

This is April Lidinsky.

And I am Debra Stanley.

April: thank you so much for making time to have a conversation with me. It’s always wonderful to be with you, and, you know, you just have my deep respect for all the public health conversations you’ve had, around HIV/AIDS, around sexuality in our community, and other topics, as well. I consider it my great good fortune to have watched you teach a sexuality education course to high schoolers, and to see how you have a real genius, I think, for reaching people where they are. 

So, this seems like a really important time for people to have conversations about public health, and I wanted to hear a little bit from you about what you’ve learned from having these difficult conversations that we could learn from, too. 

Debra: [laughs] So, what I’ve learned: The importance of listening — listening to people’s concerns, listening to people’s fears, and becoming a real part — a genuine part of community. 

People fear what they don’t know. And so, again, if I want you to listen, I need you to know me. I need you to trust me.  And so, that means spending time with people, often.  And so that’s what I really did — I immersed myself into community.  And I decided early on that the topics that I was going to discuss were those very challenging, hard topics that that nooooobody else wanted to talk about. And so, to bring them to people, where they are … which is why I have a radio program on a faith-based channel. You know, the church needs to talk. [laughs] 

So, that’s the approach I took. And, again, even thinking of who I was when I came to all of this. You know, what made me listen was being able to trust the people that was delivering the message. So, I chose to talk about … everything I talk about is based on that.  So, I started out wanting to talk about HIV, but realized I couldn’t talk about HIV without talking about sex and sexuality and about substance misuse.  And so, having to learn, and learn, and learn for myself, I understand that everybody comes to this without a whole lot of knowledge. So, if I wanted to learn, and then share my information, that was very, very important. 

Then, understanding that when I talk about people’s fears, and the stigma attached to health issues — oh, my God! Understanding that stigma is another one of those social constructs, like race, designed to keep people from accessing resources. And so, trying to overcome the objections and fears that people have, regarding these things. 

So, it’s just like HIV testing: I took the test, to be able to better educate about the test. You know, experiencing the experience for myself. So, being in relationship with people is so very important to being able to communicate any kind of information. I have to understand the politics, the economics, the legalities of all of these issues … and then package it so that it can be accepted and understood.  

But, again, listening first to who my constituency is, what their concerns, what their fears are, what they already know, and then just building on that. 

April: [laughing] Wow, I asked one question, and there’s the full class! I mean, really, I wish we had a whole bunch more time! So, you’ve given us a lot to think about, and this is too short, but we’ll look for you in the community. 

So, for Michiana Chronicles, this is April Lidinsky …

Debra: And Debra Stanley

[shared laughter]

 Music: "Fabulous" by Jaheim