Kenneth Steel

40 Under 40 Class of 2019

Phoenix, Arizona

Health Policy Analyst

Maricopa County Department of Public Health
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The reality is that the dominant narrative of what causes health outcomes in communities throughout Arizona is still heavily rooted in personal responsibility and in access to healthcare. Therefore, I plan to continue working alongside trusted partners in Maricopa County and throughout Arizona to not only advance policy initiatives within key areas of the social and economic determinants of health but also to continue to educate and build awareness about what health and health equity really are.

BOLD SOLUTION: Kenneth is a founding member of the Maricopa County Food System Coalition, which funded and completed a comprehensive Regional Food System Assessment, developed of the City of Phoenix’s groundbreaking Food Action Plan, has been recognized as an EPA Local Foods, Local Places site. The mission of the Maricopa County Food System Coalition is to support and grow a food system in Maricopa County that is equitable, healthy, sustainable, and thriving.

Five Questions for Kenneth

Kenneth and fellow Policy Office colleague serve on the Department’s Health Equity Cloud.

1. Who or what inspired you to enter the field of public health?

As an undergraduate studying advertising, I came across an Austin- and Portland-based social marketing agency called EnviroMedia. They were doing super creative work for clients in the public health and environmental fields. I was instantly drawn to the idea of using advertising for social good. I ended up interning with EnviroMedia my last semester of college. At the same time, I became interested in how to engage in meaningful social justice work. Upon graduation during a tanked economy, I found that a public health degree was the most practical way to make a real impact on the issues I was seeing in communities.

 2. What are the greatest challenges you face in your public health work or area of focus?

Although I’m a policy analyst, I rarely sit behind a screen and read or write policies. I spend a lot of time building and sustaining coalitions. Building a coalition isn’t particularly difficult. However, keeping people around, making sure they are engaged in the work of the coalition, and ultimately making an impact on policies and systems is a different story. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, but not when the parts aren’t functioning or simply disappear.

3. What’s a story or experience that keeps you going, even when you’re feeling challenged?

In grad school I spent some time interviewing individuals experiencing homelessness. We sat down and had full conversations with folks. To know that so many people are a couple lost paychecks away from being in a similar situation is motivating. These issues shouldn’t exist in this country. The inequity shouldn’t be so stark. I think about the people I spoke with, their stories, their faces.

4.  As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a small business owner. Growing up in an (half) Asian household, a lot of family friends owned restaurants. I still have a tiny bit of hope for my coffee shop idea.

5. Describe yourself in three words.

Enduring. Thoughtful. Strategic.