Julius Kolawole, Cofounder of African Alliance of R.I., Wins ACAP Leadership in Advocacy Award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 21, 2018                                                  

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Jeff Van Ness, (202) 204-7515


WASHINGTON – The Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) today awarded Julius Kolawole, President and co-founder of African Alliance of Rhode Island (AARI), as well as co-founder and board member of Oasis International, with its 2018 Leadership in Advocacy Award. Mr. Kolawole was nominated by Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.

In 2004, Kolawole, who immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, co-founded AARI to tackle the obstacles African refugees face regarding health and well-being. The organization is dedicated to aiding vulnerable refugees through outreach, education, economic opportunities, and access to healthcare, while forging a community from the African population. AARI fulfills this mission through hosting community soccer games, encouraging preventive care, educating their members on a healthy diet, and partnering with other community organizations.

To address the social determinants of health in a culturally-sensitive way, Mr. Kolawole led AARI in constructing five community gardens across Rhode Island. African immigrants run the gardens which grow crops unique to Africa. A sixth garden is in the process of being built.

Beyond helping to maintain a culture-rich African community in the state, the gardens increase environmental awareness, access to nutritious foods, and economic opportunities for low-income immigrants who are adjusting to a new country. Mr. Kolawole also organizes culinary classes so refugees can sell African dishes alongside their produce at local markets.

Those gardens also address the ongoing issues of depression and anxiety among newly-arrived African immigrants.  The AARI found that many immigrants were choosing to stay in their homes, afraid to engage with the outside world.  The taboos in this community surrounding mental health make addressing this issue even harder.  Kolawole and his team quickly discovered that these gardens give immigrants a reason to leave the house and to interact with others, thereby addressing many of these concerns.

Kolawole also leads AARI’s Annual African Health Summit, which links low-income and immigrant African communities to advocates, health care providers, and community leaders. The summit encourages a healthy lifestyle and initiates a conversation around preventative care with populations unlikely to be familiar with it. Each year, employees of the Rhode Island Department of Health, and other community leaders, attend the event, leading to a larger discussion around the barriers to adopting healthy lifestyles. The Health Summit is open to the community at no cost.

Significantly, these Summits are often the first time people in this community learn they are eligible for services and benefits like Medicaid.  Visitors to the Summit can meet with medical professionals as well as staff from Neighborhood who help them navigate the process of applying for Medicaid benefits.

“ACAP is excited to recognize Mr. Kolawole for his dedication to improving the accessibility of health and wellbeing for a population close to his heart,” said ACAP CEO Margaret A. Murray. “He is an outstanding example of the change that is possible when you work closely with the community. Understanding your community is crucial to tailoring your initiatives so that your solutions stick.”

“Julius and his team never lose their focus on our state’s most at-risk residents, and that aligns perfectly with Neighborhood’s mission,” explained Peter Marino, President and CEO of Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island.  “Partners like the African Alliance of Rhode Island are absolutely critical when it comes to connecting people with the health care they need and deserve.  Julius’ leadership in supporting Neighborhood’s preventive care efforts is just part of the reason we were so happy to nominate him for this award.”

About ACAP
ACAP represents 61 Safety Net Health Plans, which provide health coverage to more than 21 million people in 29 states. Safety Net Health Plans serve their members through Medicaid, Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Marketplace and other health programs. For more information, visit www.communityplans.net.

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