When UNITY asked 25 Under 25 Awardee Ally Gee what her greatest personal achievement was, she described how she helped her community during the global pandemic and how it impacted her future goals in Public Health.
Ally wrote: “Walk in Beauty” is the philosophy my people live their lives by. We find value in all living things and believe that you should respect all life around you. I am originally from the small community of Low Mountain, Arizona located in the central region of the Navajo Reservation. Here, we value kinship and culture. Here, we were also impacted by COVID-19 at a rate higher than other groups of people. Growing up with this philosophy, I knew that I wanted to someday be a healer for my people so I could help others walk in beauty. March of 2020 I was given the amazing opportunity to create a public health campaign to help mitigate COVID-19 in my community. Through collaborating with Fort Lewis College administration, public health faculty, and campus marketing, we were able to create a 5-minute video explaining how K’e (kinship and respect in the Navajo language) and COVID-19 prevention were related.
I was asked to provide an Indigenous ideology to the project and knew that framing COVID-19 through a lens of community care would be most effective. As a Native-serving institution, this was the college’s first public health campaign completely centered on a Dine’ philosophy of life. We focused on the 4 pillars of community care (pre-vaccination): hand washing, physical distancing, mask wearing, and symptom tracking when framing our campaign. When the vaccine became readily available for the public, we also began to include this into our framework of community care. The work I did with this campaign inspired me to continue pursuing an education in health; I have seen what impacts Indigenous ways of life can have in the public health world.
I then went on to be hired by the college post-graduation as their COVID support specialist. In this role, I advocated for students of color by recommending stricter COVID policies to protect those still struggling with COVID in their tribal communities. As a result, we have been able to stay in-person with minimal case numbers and zero evidence of in-classroom transmission. As a staff member, I have collaborated with a coworker to research the impacts of COVID-19 within our campus community. With this information, we plan on reporting campus leadership and record rates of those impacted by Long COVID.
I am most proud of this work because as a student, I often felt unseen and unheard. Through the K’e campaign and my work for the college, I had the ability to be the advocate I needed as a student and connect my Dine’ identity with my passion for helping others.