Rebecca Desir had her eyes set on one goal since her adolescent years: She wanted to be a teacher.
Jokingly, Desir says growing up the daughter of Haitian immigrants, her parents expected her to become a doctor or an engineer.
While she didn’t choose those specific career paths, her current work aligns with both health and education.
Desir graduated from Florida International University in Miami with a Master’s Degree in Public Health.
She recalls a project presented by one of her professors that tasked her class with breaking down a public health issue of their choice.
She said many of her peers chose prominent issues like HIV/AIDS. Desir, however, chose to go in a different direction for her presentation.
Living in Miami, she noticed a trend of plastic surgery, specifically Brazilian Butt Lifts.
She says while it’s a popular procedure and gained major attention on social media, many may not realize that it can kill you, especially if done wrong. Adding, the implications of trends like this should be discussed regularly.
Her professor said she had a unique way of looking at healthcare.
Now, Desir is using her perception of public health to educate communities here in Metro-Orlando.
In 2019, she created the Sanford-based nonprofit organization called Black Health Commission.
The organization’s mission is to educate and bring awareness to the root causes of health disparities through programming, volunteerism, and collaboration with other organizations.
Witnessing a family member’s health complications was the catalyst behind her decision to create the organization.
“I think my niece was about to die,” Desir said.
Her sister-in-law had a child on the way, but there were major issues during the pregnancy.
“My sister-in-law, she had a really tough pregnancy, and she wasn’t really being heard during her pregnancy, so she had to be transferred to [an] Orlando hospital from Brevard County,” Desir said.
Desir said if her family did not advocate for her, the situation could have ended horribly.
This prompted Desir to begin researching Black maternal health disparities, which led to the first event hosted by the Black Health Commission.
Desir, along with organization members and volunteers, held a community baby shower for eight families, providing them with pregnancy health resources and maternity products.
Desir desired to do more community events, but COVID-19 hit shortly after.
So, she transitioned to digital health education on social media platforms like Instagram.
Desir intertwined pop culture and health issues, bringing social media users relatable health education.
“…Stay in tune with the trends and use that to educate people since they’re already talking about it,” she said. “When people are talking about a certain celebrity and they’re having a mental health breakdown this is a great opportunity for public health professionals.”
The non-profit used icons like Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and American rapper Kanye West to discuss the mental health stigma in the Black community on social media. Following his death, American Rapper Biz Markie was also featured on the page, highlighting the disproportionate impacts of diabetes in the Black community.
Desir says she has even used the latest crate challenge, to educate people about the impacts of COVID-19 on the hospital system. Groups of people gather several milk crates and stack them on top of each to form stairs. Then participants face the challenge of walking across the crates without falling before making it to the other side.
“Hospitals don’t really have room for you to go in with your broken neck or whatever happens if you fail the challenge because they’re filled with covid-19 patients,” Desir said.
In 2020, Desir said it seemed like only bad was news being shared across platforms. She said the coverage following the death of George Floyd and the deadly impacts of COVID-19 became overwhelming.
“It became very depressing to keep pushing that kind of content and I knew if I was feeling that heaviness then I was also pushing that heaviness on our followers,” she said. “I decided to make a difference and change the narrative.”
She began brainstorming ways to bring joy back into the community after witnessing widespread loss. Soon after, the idea to host the Black Joy Festival was born.
The Black Health Commission is partnering with Forma Therapeutics, Inc. Saturday to present the Black Joy Festival.
It is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28 at Blue Jacket Park.
Desir said it’s a one-stop-shop for health resources and a good time.
The non-profit is partnering with Orange Blossom Family Health to bring a mobile vaccine clinic, local pediatricians will be available to discuss children’s health and other organizations with mental health resources will also be at the festival.
Food, vendors, music and games like spades or various activities like Double Dutch will also be available.
“I want people to feel like despite what’s going on, despite the circumstances we’ll get over any hurdle,” Desir said.
Her biggest hope is that everyone who comes to the festival leaves feeling a deep sense of joy.