Erica Tolbert is an AmeriCorps VISTA member working as Health & Racial Equity Communications Coordinator for State of Equity, which is a program of the Public Health Institute. Erica handles the website as well as blogs, newsletters, and another comms needs for the program. We sat down with Erica to learn about her life and what brought her to this work.

Why did you choose to work with State of Equity? 

I chose State of Equity due to the organization’s values – focus on racial equity, collective care, self-determination, and accountability. State of Equity works in collaboration with government organization to shine light on the importance of health, racial equity, and environmental sustainability across public health institutes in California. This organization was appealing to me because I previously worked in racial justice, and I didn’t think I would find another organization that focuses on these values. This program stood out to me in the AmeriCorps options. 

What are your core values and where did they come from?

One of my core values is togetherness. I believe that community should stick together. I grew up in a community where people are separate, but I knew that if we all stood together for a cause, we would see change. Another is non-violence. In Youngstown I would participate in an annual nonviolence parade. Teaching non-violence and different approaches other than violence were important. I believe in not being a silent witness to wrongdoing, whether it’s violence or people just trashing your community or taking away from community. If you see something, say something. Things won’t change without us being a part of the solution.

What are/were some of your previous experiences that led you to this work?

It was all born when I was in high school, and I went on a “moving classroom/emerging journey” trip with Sojourn to the Past. Sojourn is a civil rights and social justice classroom emerging journey that takes students through the hallowed past of the modern civil rights movement and America’s struggle for freedom. On my trip we went to Atlanta, Memphis, Jackson, Meridian, Little Rock, Birmingham, and Selma. The organization works in Youngtown, OH where I was born and raised, and here in California. I had to apply to go on the trip. I knew I always had an interest in learning about the civil rights movement, but it turned into community. I have had the opportunity to meet civil rights icons that were on the frontlines in the early days of the civil rights movement. Individuals such as Congressman John Lewis, the Little Rock 9, The Dahmer Family, and Emmett Till’s family, to name a few. Through Sojourn, I got involved in activist. I was part of a planning committee that drafted a letter to the Ohio State House in Columbus to ask for the implementation of nonviolence week as a state holiday in October in every year. It ended up getting signed into law.

What is your motivation to work at the intersections of racial equity and social justice? 

I am motivated to be in this field of work because it has always been a passion of mine to implement change throughout my community and the world. Having grown up and being affected by racism, violence in my community, and lack of resources that would otherwise help me better myself, I knew that if I wanted to see a change for the better, I was going to have to put my best foot forward.

How will you implement change doing this work?

I will implement change by continuously learning to pave the way in my community. There isn’t one way to tackle racism and oppression against Black Indigenous People of Color. Learning the many ways to maneuver through this social justice journey will lead me to many answers.


What are you doing now?

I am currently pursuing my MPH, focusing on health and racial equity at Simmons University in Boston, MA. In that program I’m taking classes such as epidemiology (the study of diseases and aspects within communities), biostatistics, and social determinants of health, and health policy, just to name a few. Through school I also participate in a school-based nonprofit called Here4Justice, and last year we did a voter registration in states including Virginia, Massachusetts – where we designed postcards and sent them out. We were able to get 1,000 postcards out to unregistered voters in communities where people are facing barriers to voting access.

What are some of your future goals?

My future goals are to run a nonprofit that contributes resources to the community such as financial literacy, health services, educating the community o how to speak up against wrong-doings and address them by not being a silent witness. I plan to stay in California but would like to launch a nonprofit that can work both here in California in Youngstown, OH – my hometown. Maybe we’ll be able to expand to other states as well.

What are a few things that bring you joy in your life?

I love music such as Motown, old R&B music and classic Hip-Hop. I love the beach – sitting by the ocean really relaxes me. I love to travel and spend time with family. And I’m a foodie. When I travel to a new city, I look up new/unique restaurants to try.